We have bad news and good news for you.
The bad news is that there is not one perfect way to learn English.
The good news is that there are many things you can do to make the learning process easier.
This is especially true if you’re learning new vocabulary words. For some people, learning new words is easy—it seems like all they have to do is see the word and its definition, and then that information immediately gets stored in their brains to use later.
Many others, though, struggle with learning and memorizing words, their definitions and how to use them in sentences.
If you’re having trouble learning new English vocabulary, why not try something new? Try any of the tips below and you might discover that vocabulary learning is suddenly much easier.
Find Your Learning Style
What kind of learner are you?
Some people learn best by listening, others learn best by writing. You cannot know which learning tips and methods will work best for you until you know which kind of learner you are.
For example, if you remember words better when you write them down, you should try something fun and productive that involves writing. Try writing a blog.
If you pick up a lot of new words from listening to audiobooks and podcasts, try using FluentU to learn even more.
It all depends on how you learn best.
Once you figure that out, you are ready to start really learning!
If you are not sure which learning style works best for you, then you can try all of the suggested ways to learn English below. You will learn a lot about yourself and your brain by trying different methods.
The 13 Best Ways to Learn English Vocabulary
1. Keep a list
Words are all around us. Sitting down and looking up words in a dictionary is not the only way to find new vocabulary. You can find new words by talking with English speakers, watching shows in English, reading the news—anywhere, anytime. To keep track of new words, keep a vocabulary list.
Put this list somewhere portable (easy to carry around)—a little notebook, your phone—so you can access it from anywhere.
As you find words you don’t know, write them down. Make sure to keep plenty of space between words so that you can write more about the words later. When you get the chance (at the end of the day, or at the end of the week) find out what these words mean. You can write the definition however you want, translated to your native language, copied from the English dictionary or written in your own original words.
However you do it, we recommend also writing down the part of speech (e.g., verb, noun, adjective), different versions of the word (for example, if you write down the word “fish” you could also write down information for fishing, fishy, fisherman, etc.), and a full sentence using the word.
2. Use new words in conversations
Now that you have a list, it can be easy to forget about these words as you move on to new ones. This is especially true for common words and words that you’re not sure how to use. The more you use the words, the better you’ll remember them.
Read your list at the end of each week. Try using your new words during the week as often as you can. After you have been recording lists for a while, go back and read your old lists. How well do you remember those words from the older lists? Take any words you have forgotten from your old lists and add them to your new list.
3. Play games
There are lots of games you can play to strengthen your vocabulary. In fact, you can find a list of vocabulary board games right here on FluentU!
Games are a good way to learn because they make learning fun, and they help give you context for your new words. That means you’re giving the word you learn an extra meaning. For example, you might remember the way that the word was used during the game. You might remember your friend laughing about how the word was used. You might remember that it was very hard to think of that word the first time while playing! Having a real-life memory attached to that word makes it much more memorable.
4. Use FluentU
One of the best ways to learn new vocabulary words is to hear them being used. When you’re talking to an actual person, you might not have time to write down any new words or to look them up in the dictionary.
That’s why videos are a great option for vocabulary learning.
Using FluentU, you can watch entertaining English videos at your learning level and stop them at any time. The best part? You don’t even need to open the dictionary to look up new words—FluentU has interactive subtitles that show you every word’s meaning. Just click any word you don’t know, and you will see a definition, a picture, an audio pronunciation and usage examples, all so you can understand and remember that word better.
Each video gives you a list of the vocabulary words found in the video before you watch it, so you can see what the words mean and then hear them used. The repetition and the different methods of learning—reading the word then seeing and hearing the word in context—makes it much easier to learn new words.
You can also create your own personalized vocabulary lists as you go. Active learning tools will help you practice them in many different ways.
It might be the most fun and effective way to learn new English vocabulary!
5. Don’t try to remember words alone
As we already mentioned, it is better (and easier) to learn new vocabulary by giving them some context. One way to do this is to remember words in a sentence. This is a great option because you will not only know the word, but you will also know exactly how to use it in conversation.
Another option is to remember words by groups. If you just learned the word “humongous” (very large), you can memorize it by thinking of a group of words getting bigger and bigger—large, huge, humongous. This also gives the chance to learn even more words at the same time.
For example: large, humongous, gargantuan. What do you think “gargantuan” means?
6. Visit dictionary websites
Sure, you can use a dictionary to look up a word. But many dictionary websites these days have so much more to offer!
Explore dictionary websites like Vocabulary.com and Dictionary.com and you’ll find lots of resources and things to do or read that can help you learn new words. Online dictionaries often have interesting word-related blogs, games you can play and “word of the day” newsletter subscriptions.
Merriam-Webster even has a learner’s dictionary (with a “word of the day” option that teaches you a new English word every day) with useful words for people learning English. Perfect!
7. Write a blog
Reading blogs is a nice way to learn new words, but writing a blog is even better!
You can start a free blog on many websites like WordPress and Tumblr. What you write in your blog and who sees it is all up to you. You can write about fashion or cats…or cat fashion—write about whatever interests you.
As you write, you will probably need to look up words in a dictionary. As you look up words, you will start to remember many of them! Using them in your blog gives them great context which will help your memory. You will learn exactly how to use them in writing.
You can go back to your notebook of new words and choose a list of words that you want to use before you write the blog. Writing with these words will help you practice and remember them.
Share your blog posts with friends and native speakers. Ask them for feedback. This will help make sure you used your words correctly.
8. Learn word parts
Many words can be broken down into smaller parts. For example, the word “dictionary” comes from the Latin word dictio, which means “to speak.”
This is called the root of the word. A root word is a base used to create many words. Now that you know the root word dictio, you might notice it in other words too, like dictate, dictator and contradict. Even if you don’t know what the words mean, you now know that they have something to do with speaking.
Learning word parts is a great idea because you don’t just learn one word, you learn other words that use these parts. You will also be better at guessing the meanings of new English words, because you will know what some parts of these words mean.
There are more parts to words than roots. Along with roots, words use prefixes (word parts that come in the beginning of the word) and suffixes (word parts that come at the end of a word).
Many dictionaries break down the word into these parts and tell you where these parts are from. You can find a list of word roots on this website, and a more complete list that includes prefixes and suffixes on this one.
9. Read special vocabulary books
Reading is a good way to learn new words, but what you read can also make a huge difference in how much you learn.
Choose books that are a little bit challenging for you, and you will learn a lot more than if you read at your level. If you read a book at your level, you may already know all the words. If you read a challenging book, you will need to learn many new words.
You can also try reading special vocabulary books. These are fiction books that include over 1,000 vocabulary words and their definitions! These books are available to buy online, and can be found here or by searching Amazon.
10. Take vocabulary quizzes
Now that you’ve learned a few new words, how well do you remember them? You can have fun learning, but you need to make sure that you are making good progress.
After using your fun learning methods, test yourself later with a more traditional method—quizzes.
Try using quizzes to make sure you still remember each word you learned, and to remind yourself of the words you learned a while ago. There are many vocabulary quizzes you can use to test yourself. You can find some at Vocabtest, Merriam-Webster and Vocabulary.com, among many others. Don’t forget that FluentU will always keep you practicing the vocabulary words you learned while watching videos!
11. Learn the culture
There are a number of different kinds of English around the world. British and American English might seem the same, but there are many little differences.
When you are learning new words, keep in mind which country you plan to visit, live in or work in. You should learn British English if you plan to go to England, American English if you plan to go to America, and so on.
The word color, for example, is spelled as “colour” in British English. British people used the words “brilliant” and “cheers” often, but Americans prefer to say “cool” instead of “brilliant” and “see you” instead of “cheers.”
Keep this in mind as you learn new words, and remember to learn words from the right kind of English.
12. Learn with others
Learning is easier and more fun when you do it with others!
Find a group of friends who want to learn English with you, get an online native speaking buddy or join a website with other learners. Whatever you choose to do, you will benefit greatly from working with others.
One excellent group learning program you can join is called Toastmasters. This group has meeting spots all over the world, and it helps people learn to speak in public. This can be a huge help to you if you have trouble speaking English with others!
Another great idea is to talk to other English learners on Facebook. There are many Facebook pages for English learners. Some are pages where English learners have created an online community for support and friendship. Other pages have actual native speakers helping the group learn. Find one, and your studying will suddenly get much easier.
13. Ask “What does that mean?”
Finally, never be afraid to ask questions!
If someone uses words you don’t understand, ask them “what does that mean?” Many people are very patient and understanding if you tell them that you’re learning English. In fact, many will actually enjoy helping you!
Aren’t you glad there are many different ways to learn?
This way you can try everything and find what works best for you.
Study hard but have fun, and before you know if you’ll have a gargantuan vocabulary!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn English with real-world videos.