We’ve compiled the most useful tips to learn vocabulary from different ESL sites for you.
Read. Learn. Succeed.
1. Use visual aids
Vocabulary underpins all subjects; it plays a pivotal role in academic success, and so it is important to be teaching it the right way. It’s not enough to send home spelling lists because the words were selected on the basis of teaching common spelling constructs. From the perspective of reading comprehension or general word knowledge, they are of little use. Children need to be taught words that are useful and relevant. Once we’ve identified the most useful words, we then need to ensure that we are teaching them effectively, in a meaningful way.
Use visual aids that helps student picture the words and makes the learning process more fun and engaging. It is also important to teach vocabulary in curated lists with common themes so children learn how words are related to each other. In other words, teach synonyms or words in categories such as ‘food words’. Children won’t remember random lists of words connected by their Latin root unless a lot of effort and care is taken to discuss the root of the word and how it relates – correctly – to the word. Another thing to bear in mind is that vocabulary acquisition is a process happening all the time, not just in the classroom. This means that it is important that you, as a parent or teacher, should be using a wide range of vocabulary when speaking with children – science shows that it has near immediate knock-on effects.
From Sofia Fenichell
2. Practice narrow reading
You don’t just want to study flashcards for a score—you want to actually know these words and improve your English, right? Narrow reading and narrow listening are fantastic methods for really developing your English vocabulary in preparation for the IELTS.
Here’s how it works: you select a topic that you know about and are interested in, maybe a current news development or a subject you enjoy studying. You then read (or listen to) as many different texts as you want, all on that same topic. This is what makes narrow reading narrow: focusing on a single topic. Because you already know about this topic, you will use up less of your cognitive load on comprehension, and free up some attention to notice new vocabulary and grammar. You will encounter the vocabulary relevant to this topic again and again in this ‘narrow’ pocket of texts. This ‘incidental’ vocabulary learning is really important. If you practice narrow reading, studying won’t feel like studying, and you’ll actually be able to use all the new words you learn!
From Rob Sheppard
3. Acquire vocabulary
From Second Language Acquisition Theory, it may actually be more accurate to say “acquire” vocabulary rather than “learn” vocabulary. Learning tends to imply putting forth some cognitive effort to gain knowledge of some sort. Acquiring vocabulary, on the other hand, implies gaining knowledge through more effortless means. Consider the way a child learns a language. He listens and interacts and experiments with language without reserve. Students from language rich families consistently have higher vocabularies than students from language poor families.
In the world of ESL such understanding can be applied in the classroom. Learning vocabulary from rote memorisation may allow a student to pass a simple matching test (i.e. matching Spanish to English translation), but it will not often transfer to authentic language use. For this reason, the language teacher must create opportunities for students to use new vocabulary in authentic scenarios grounded in experience. These experiences should be rich in visuals and kinesthetics, both of which will help engrain the vocabulary within a practical syntax connected to an experience. This also helps with retention. It could also be said that learning is not yet accomplished unless the individual can transfer the newly acquired knowledge to a different scenario. For this reason, vary the experiences with the same vocabulary to help with transfer of vocabulary words from one scenario to the next.
It is difficult to find these experiences in the classroom, so teachers are bound to contrive them with whatever means available to them. A wonderful method created by Blaine Ray by the name of Total Physical Response Storytelling (TPRS) guides teachers in doing just this. Teachers focus on specific vocabulary and grammar structures within silly and real world stories, all the while providing student input (listening and reading) and encouraging student output (speaking and writing).
From Aaron Marvel
4. Recording the word with the translation
One of my tips to learn vocabulary is the usual sticker on the object around the office or home. My second and more effective way is recording the word with the translation… this has been very useful considering that I speak five languages and understand nine.
From Lidia Aviles
5. Read out loud
Many ESL learners learn vocabulary as if they were studying for a test, they write an English word down on one side of a card with its German or what have you equivalent on the back and then go through the cards whenever they find the time. The idea is to be able to go through all the cards and understand each word without having to look at the back. The problem is that this method doesn’t help with context and it doesn’t guarantee that the word will be used correctly as words can be translated differently depending on the context.
This is why we put emphasis on reading out loud. This method forces the learner to pronounce words they would otherwise not use and read them within their intended context and therefore understand their pragmatic meaning.. If the learner doesn’t understand the word, the teacher should explain the word in English. If there is no teacher available, the learner can simply look the word up, preferably in an actual dictionary. Often when we read on our tablets we can just click on word we don’t understand and have the meaning given to us instantly. The problem is that this takes no effort and I believe you are less likely to remember the word than you would if you took the time to look it up in a book.
From Guy Arthur Canino
Guy Arthur School of English
6. Read one book at a time
Proven system to increase vocabulary reading one book at a time. Research shows that if you read one book a month from a particular field within 10 years, you will become in the top 1% of that industry. Increase your vocabulary, read with 100% comprehension rate, and become a leader in your industry by using this proven system taught to the White House and endorsed by 3 U.S. Presidents.
7. Practice conversation with a native speaker
Once you have the basics down, you can find native English speakers in your area, who are also learning your native language! Schedule meetings in person, and spend 30 minutes speaking in each language. This allows both learners to immerse and practice conversation with a native speaker – for less than a private tutor!
From Walsh Costigan
8. Memorise music lyrics
English is a rhythmic language, and one of the best ways to learn English vocabulary is by memorising music lyrics and singing along with the melody. The melody helps to provide the learner with access to how words, and the syllables within words, can be stressed. Balladic songs are generally the best, because they usually contain the greatest amount of vocabulary and tell a story (The Piano Man by Billy Joel, for instance), but any type of music works. The Important thing is that you enjoy it, as you sing along!
From William R. Naugle, PhD
International Programs/Intensive English Program at Clarion
9. Read a lot of stories and listen to interviews
Read a lot of stories and listen to interviews. Why? You will see the context in which the words are used so you can understand them and the story itself will help you remember the words more easily. When we connect words to people, places, and real-life events we memorize them naturally.
For example, international students who study in the US, even though they can speak English fluently, their language skills improve significantly after they are put into situations where they get to hear new words. Even if they never heard the individual words before, because they know the context they can understand the meaning of those words and make the connection.
From Lisa Reeves
10. Repeat it enough times
Learning vocabulary should be an active process as a result of which you will start using the new words in your speech. It’s a rule of human memory that you can only memorize something if you repeat it enough times so that a neural pathway is formed in your brain. Revising the vocabulary day after day can be a tedious process though. Luckily, technology can help us out. I recommend using interactive flashcards. There is a free program called Anki that is based on human memory research. You can create your own flashcards with the words that you are learning in it or download packs created by other users. The cool thing about it is that you can add voice recordings and images to your flashcards which will help engage different types of memory. While working with the program you will evaluate your own answers. Based on that the program will repeat certain words more or less often for you during each session until they are hard-wired in your long-term memory. One more effective activity that most of my students dislike is making up your own sentences with the new vocabulary. Say your sentences aloud.
From Alina Liaonava
Green Zebra English Course
11. Be visual and Create a need
TIP #1: Be visual
Many times, especially lower level English language learners, get even more confused when faced with a definition. A great idea is to have visuals that will automatically link this new piece of information with the learner’s previous knowledge of the world and their first language.
TIP #2: Create a need
When learning new vocabulary, the key is to not only become aware that the word exists and its overall use, but to also learn how to use the newly acquired words. That’s why if you are teaching new vocabulary words it’s good to create a need to use them in and out of class by including them in your speaking and writing exercises. If students go through the process of seeing it in context, understanding the meaning and the use, and finally using it themselves, it’s much more difficulty for them to forget it.
From Tatiana Gómez Ramírez
ELT Think Tank
12. Spaced repetition
The optimal time to study something is the point when you are just about to forget. This allows for optimal reinforcement of that synapse. The best method for implementing this is spaced repetition. Spaced repetition attempts to calculate this point in time when you are just about to forget. If you are using physical flashcards you can use the Leitner system which involves sorting your flashcards based on how well you know them and sets a point in time to re-test yourself. Flashcardstash offers a learning mode which implements a spaced repetition algorithm that calculates the optimal time to study based on your performance with fill in the blank and multiple choice questions. As you use learning mode, the site “learns” the best time to quiz you on a particular term.
From Dave Lynam