A traditional means of building IELTS vocabulary in a new language is using phrasebooks. Phrasebooks typically contain basic conversation categories that are used in everyday life. They also usually contain a basic dictionary at the back.
Phrasebooks make it possible to learn how to communicate without worrying about the details of the grammar or the meanings of the individual words – they encourage memorising various phrases without getting into the mechanics of the language.
Phrasebooks can be very useful for someone that just wants to learn “enough” language to get around in a short period of time. You can go through them quickly and they are usually small enough to keep with you, so that when you have a few minutes of free time, you can pull it out and read through it.
The downside to this method?
You may spend time reviewing phrases that you’re already familiar with and miss others that you haven’t reviewed yet. A more systematic review and study of a phrasebook will yield better results, but there’s a limit to how much you are going to be able to learn in this manner. You also aren’t going to learn how to adapt the different phrases to different contexts. More info on phrasebooks can be found here.
Build your own IELTS phrasebook
One of the best ways to build your vocabulary, particularly for IELTS, is to read, read, read, and read some more. As you come across new vocabulary, build your own phrasebook along the way!
How to start with your phrasebook
Pick a newspaper, magazine, tv show, podcast, or radio program that you find interesting (so that it is enjoyable for you!) As you encounter words or phrases that are new to you, try to figure out what they mean based on the context of the article or show (this part is critical!).
After you’ve made your best guess, check its meaning in a dictionary and add it to your phrasebook. Beside the word, note its meaning, and anything else that will help you remember the word/phrase – maybe an example sentence containing the word, synonyms or even a picture – whatever helps you remember what the word means and how to correctly use it.
Should I use the word if I am not 100% sure?
Many IELTS prep sites out there will point out that there are some topics (technology, education, environment, crime, etc.) that tend to appear more frequently than others, and they do.
You don’t want to limit yourself to studying just these topics though,
…and you definitely don’t want to just memorise vocabulary lists for these topics. As I mentioned before, this is a surefire way to trip up during the exam. One good rule of thumb – if you’re not 100% sure what a word means and how to correctly use it, don’t. And you aren’t going to be 100% sure of how to use a word if you just memorise it off a list.