Learn tips and tricks to increase your vocabulary. First learn how to pick up new words, then learn tips for memorization. Always study the pronunciation and practice words out loud!
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In this American English pronunciation video, we’re going to over how to increase your vocabulary.
One of the challenges in learning a foreign language is remembering all of the new vocabulary. In this video, we’re going to go over a few tips for learning new words, and for remembering them.
First, expose yourself to the language. For example, read. I still learn English words from reading. I find that every couple of months the New York Times uses a word that either I’ve never heard before, or that I’ve heard but I’m not totally solid on the meaning. So I look it up, learn the meaning, and then go back to the sentence and solidify it. One good idea is to think of another word that you know that you could replace it with in that sentence. A word that wouldn’t change the meaning. Then say the sentence with that word. Tying the new word to a word you already know, and studying it in the context of the sentence will help you remember it.
If you know my channel, you know it’s a pronunciation channel. Always learn the pronunciation when you learn a new word. When you look up a word in the dictionary, the pronunciation is always right there. Many online dictionaries also play an audio file so you can hear a native speaker say the word. Practice it out loud several times.
You want to read at the right level to learn. If it’s too easy, you won’t learn many new vocabulary words. If it’s too hard, you don’t really get the context because there’s too much that you don’t know. Try reading at a level where you look up, at most, one word per sentence.
As you discover new words in your reading, write them down, along with the meaning and the context. You can either use a notebook, or flashcards if you prefer that. Make a system that works for you so you know you’re going to actually go back and study the words again. Most words you won’t remember from just looking it up once.
When you look the word up, look for related words or other forms of the word. For example, let’s say you’re learning the word ‘adjust’, which is a verb. You may find in the dictionary that ‘adjustable’ is an adjective and ‘adjustment’ is a noun. Write these down too.
It’s also a good idea to look for one antonym or one synonym. An antonym is a word with an opposite meaning, and a synonym is a word with the same or similar meaning. So, let’s say you’re learning the word ‘blurry’. A synonym would be ‘fuzzy’. An antonym would be ‘clear’. If any of these words are unknown to you, write them down too. You can find synonyms and antonyms by looking in a thesaurus, like thesaurus.com.
Another great way to learn vocabulary is to watch TV, movies, and online videos. But you can’t just sit back, relax, and be entertained. You can do that sometimes, you’re going to learn more if you actively participate in learning. When I was in Germany, I watched a lot of TV with my notebook in hand. When I heard a word or phrase that I knew I could identify but didn’t know the meaning of, I immediately stopped paying attention to the television, or paused what I was watching, and wrote down the word. Then I looked up the meaning and wrote down the context. It was so easy to remember new words I picked up this way because I had the visual of what I had been seeing, I had the visual of the word written down, and I practiced out loud several times. The context of the situation helped solidify that word or phrase. If you can rewind and watch again, do this, and pay attention to the pronunciation. Imitate the pronunciation out loud 5 or 6 times. Make sure you write the pronunciation down, either using IPA or another system that works for you.
This is also great for learning phrases or sequences of words that are frequently used. When I was in Germany watching a drama, I heard the phrase: Es tut mir furchtbar leid. I had never heard this phrase before. I knew ‘es tut mir leid’, which means “I’m sorry”, so I recognized the phrase, and I learned a new way to intensify it with ‘furchtbar’. I’m terribly sorry.
When you learn a new phrase, write it down. Ok, so what do you do with all of these words and phrases you’re writing down? By learning them in the context of reading or video, you’re already helping yourself memorize them. But you’re still going to have to put in some work.
Try to memorize, really solidly memorize, 3-5 words a day. If you have a great memory, then maybe go for 10. But limit yourself to that.
Tip 1 for memorization: The Laura tip. I’m naming this after my friend who was studying Spanish abroad. Laura would write down and learn four or five new words that she heard in conversation throughout the day. At the end of the day, she would turn them into a song. This might involve gestures or movements to help her understand. It might contain just the word, if the gesture was clear, or the word and definition, or the word in a sentence. Adding music, adding a melody, really helps your brain hold onto information. She taught me one of her songs and I still remember it, 8 years later. And I wasn’t even trying to study Spanish at the time. Let’s come up with an example song. Let’s say you’re learning the words sprint, deceive, increase, and concern. Your song could go something like this:
Sprint! Don’t deceive me. Increase. I care because I’m concerned.
Don’t spend much time on it. It should be short and fun. Sing it 10 or 12 times. Then sing the one from yesterday a few times. Adding motion and melody will help you memorize. It doesn’t matter at all what the melody is, or even if you’re musical. It will still help you remember.
Tip 2 for memorization: Repetition and grouping.
Go over your vocabulary words many times. Practice them out loud. Repetition is extremely important. If it’s a tough word to pronounce, slow it down, don’t rush: immediately [4x]. Put the words in groups and drill the groups together. Then group them differently and drill again. For example, if you wrote down 10 words or phrases while watching one episode of the Sopranos, practice those words together and think about the episode and the context for each word. Or, group them by vowel sound in the stressed syllable, for example, furniture, unearth, burley, return, jury, blurt, curse. These words all had the UR vowel in the stressed syllable. Or, organize your words by stress: typical, period, numerous, everything, difficult, curious, DA-da-da. These were all three-syllable words with stress on the first syllable. Or, organize the words by meaning, grouping together words of similar meaning. Or group them by how well you know them, putting words you know really well in one group, words you kind of know in a second group, and words you need a lot of help with in a third group. Creating various groups will help you memorize, and will make drilling vocabulary more engaging.
Tip 3: Visualization. When you learn a word, come up with a picture for it, a mini-story in one picture in your mind that makes sense to you. This is a common mnemonic device, and you probably used it when learning vocabulary in your own language.
So, absorb as much of the language as you can through reading and watching video, or even writing down words from conversation around you. Organize these words in a system that works for you: maybe a notebook, maybe flashcards. And get creative when memorizing. The more often you come back and study your vocabulary words, the more you’ll be able to remember them and to use them yourself in writing and conversation.
Do you have other methods for learning vocabulary? Let me know in the comments below.
Also, I’m happy to tell you that my book, American English Pronunciation, is available for purchase. If you want an organized, step-by-step resource to build your American accent, click here to get the book. Or, see the description below. I think you’re going to love it.
That’s it, and thanks so much for using Rachel’s English.