Words are tools for speaking a language.
Like all tools, you need to make sure you have the right ones.
You can’t build a table without a hammer. You can’t fry an egg without a pan.
And you can’t express yourself in English unless you know the right words!
That’s why it’s very important to build a strong and varied vocabulary. It’s the basis for all other English language skills.
Learning vocabulary can be hard. But if you practice every day, you’ll start to see just how magical the English language can be. Your vocabulary will grow beyond your wildest dreams.
But how do you start? There are so many words!
Let’s look at everything you need to know about learning English words. With this guide, you’ll be ready to have a fluent conversation in English about any topic!
How to Learn English Words
To learn English words, you have to hear them and use them in a natural context. It’s not just about memorization. There are so many great tools available to help you learn English words. Make sure to use them!
Use Technology to Make Learning Fun
You should be using modern technology to immerse yourself in the world of vocabulary. Context is everything when it comes to learning English words.
For fun and effective vocabulary practice, I recommend FluentU.
FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Each video has personalized vocabulary lists. You can also use the interactive English subtitles to look up any word and find its definition.
FluentU is an amazing way to learn English words in context while having fun at the same time!
Read, Read, Read
Maintaining a consistent reading schedule is a great way to help build vocabulary.
Start small. There’s nothing wrong with starting with children’s books and then slowly increasing the difficulty level with short stories and news pieces.
Keep a pencil nearby and take notes as you go, especially when you find a new word. Remember, you don’t have to understand everything. But when you do come across a new word, make a note of it. Later, try to use it in a couple of sentences. Keep your favorite online dictionary open if you want.
Speak English Constantly
Once you learn a new English word, it’s important to put it into practice. If you’re not using vocabulary, it can easily be forgotten.
Search for a language instructor or an exchange partner and start speaking. Encourage your partner to tell you when you make an error. You can even make a list of your most common errors. You can continually refer to this when practicing your English.
Look for Cognates and Synonyms
Cognates are English words that are similar to words in another language.
For example, the English word “bicycle” and the Spanish word “bicicleta” are cognates because they’re very similar.
Synonyms are words in the same language that have similar meanings.
For example, the English words “fun” and “enjoyable” are synonyms because they almost mean the same thing.
Learning cognates and synonyms is a way to build upon what you already know. It can help you learn words faster.
Practice Every Day
The most important study tip is to stay dedicated. However you choose to practice, try to practice every day.
You can do it!
The Basics: The First English Words You Should Learn
How many words should I learn?
This is a very common question.
But it might be the wrong question to ask.
The right question is: Which words should I learn first? You need to be clever and think strategically!
Think of English words like money. Each word is worth a different value depending on how often you use it.
You should begin with easy vocabulary and common words. These are our building blocks, which are very high in value.
By learning simple and common vocabulary, you should be able to communicate on a basic level after just weeks of study. Not only is this a fantastic feeling, but it’s also the basis of more advanced learning.
The Pareto principle states that 80% of effects come from 20% of effort, and definitely applies to learning English. Quality is more important than quantity. If you’re learning advanced or old-fashioned vocabulary first, you might not know the basic words you need for most conversations. But if you learn 20% of the most common English words, those words will get you very far!
What this tells us is that with just a couple hundred of the most commonly used words, you’ll be able to understand a lot of spoken English.
You should be using vocabulary lists. They’re goldmines of the most commonly used words. They help us to start building a usable English vocabulary.
Once you know the most common English words, start learning English verbs and English conjunctions in greater depth. This will give us all the pieces of the puzzle to start constructing more complicated sentences. Then, you’re ready to grow your vocabulary more and more each day.
Something else to consider is your goals and motivation for learning. If you’re learning for travel, then the language may differ slightly from a person learning business English. That being said, all beginners should start in the same manner to ensure a wide variety of useful vocabulary that can be used immediately.
Let’s take a look at some of the most popular categories of English words.
English Numbers, Counting and Time Words
Numbers, counting and time words are used in many English interactions. Because of this, knowing how to count in English allows you to be precise with your speech.
Whether it’s for meetings, knowing prices, telling someone your age or thousands of other reasons, it’s very important to understand English numbers.
Knowing the numbers will also help you in other number-based tasks such as telling the time in English. You’ll be able to navigate public transport, meet up with English speaking friends (on time) and answer the common question: What time is it?
English Words to Describe Your Daily Routine
Talking about yourself is a great way to learn new vocabulary. One of the most important and easiest ways to speak about yourself is to talk about your daily routine!
Using vocabulary to talk about your daily routine is a great way to start having native English conversations. It’s a typical topic of discussion and won’t require too much difficult vocabulary.
English Words for Talking About Food
Learning vocabulary about food is a great way to acquire new vocabulary.
Food is a totally global topic. Everyone has to eat their vegetables, right? If you learn food words, there are fewer chances of being misunderstood in everyday situations. It also opens up the opportunity to have a basic conversation about one of the best topics in the world: food!
Ordering food in another language is a great milestone to reach. Walking up to the fast-food counter in the United Kingdom and ordering your fish and chips or any other style of fast food is a great way to measure your level. It also gives a little confidence boost.
The other great thing about learning English food vocabulary is that you can incorporate it into your daily life. Watching English cooking videos and following English recipes are all fantastic ways to learn food vocabulary while practicing additional skills.
English Words for Talking About Clothes
As we have discussed, when learning English words it’s important to begin with simple, common words.
In this way, building a clothes vocabulary is a great starting point. It’ll be very useful for shopping, giving compliments and talking about yourself and your style.
English Words for Talking About the Weather
All around the world, people love to talk about the weather! Learning weather words will give you something to talk about on any occasion, from formal to informal. It’s a good topic for when you have nothing else to say.
To start, make sure you learn about all the different seasons in English before moving on to more complex topics.
English Words for Talking About Feelings
One of the traps that we fall into when learning a new language is repetition and simplicity. For a new learner, it may seem impossible to fall out of these common interactions such as: How are you? I’m fine, how are you? I’m fine! (And on and on it goes.)
When you start to develop your vocabulary regarding feelings in English, you put yourself on the path toward better understanding and more meaningful interactions. You can describe sensations, events and emotions with accuracy.
English House Words
When talking with English-speaking friends or exchange partners, one of the most interesting points of discussion is the difference in culture and lifestyle.
Due to this, being able to talk about your home in English is a great way to be prepared to share your similarities and differences.
English Sports Words
In a similar way to food, sports are very culturally significant and a big part of global travel. Knowing plenty of sports vocabulary is a great way to help your understanding of international events.
Building your vocabulary around a global sport such as football (soccer) words means you’ll have the language to connect with English speakers from around the world. You’ll be able to share a common passion and discussion topic.
If you’re a passionate sports fan, then that’s even better! Take advantage of this interest and you can boost your vocabulary in no time.
English Words for Traveling
One of the key reasons to develop a new language is for travel purposes. After all, the goal is to communicate, and what better place to practice than in a country where the official language is English?
If you learn tourism vocabulary, you can put your study into practice by constructing useful phrases and expressions during your trip. This will make it easy to find your way around on your travels without any big issues.
If you learn essential tourism vocabulary, you’ll have no problem ordering beer and wine at the British pub, or using airport vocabulary to avoid missing your flight.
English Holiday and Seasonal Words
Happy Holidays! One of the easiest, most immersive and most fun ways to learn English is to learn about holidays, seasons and festivities.
This is because there’s different vocabulary associated with each holiday and each season. This means that no matter where you are, you can know about what’s happening on the other side of the world!
If you’re traveling to an English-speaking country in the summer, start by learning summer vocabulary so you can talk about sports, outdoor activites and going to the beach.
If your favorite holiday is Easter, learn some Easter vocabulary. You can also learn basic Spring vocabulary since spring is when Easter takes place.
Learning winter vocabulary is a great way to get into the holiday spirit alongside Christmas vocabulary.
There are many words and expressions Americans use during the Christmas season. The team at FluentU English has created a video where you can learn the most important ones:
If you like it, why not subscribe to FluentU’s English YouTube channel and hit the notification bell so you don’t miss any seasonal or holiday video in the future!
Lots of holidays have special cultural meanings. That makes them even more fun to learn about! For example, you could learn all about Halloween vocabulary due to its rich history and tradition or focus on something a little more modern such as words for Valentine’s Day. If you’re interested in U.S. culture and holidays, you should learn vocabulary for talking about Thanksgiving foods.
Our tip for learning seasonal vocabulary: Create a calendar of all the holiday vocabulary that you come across and share with your family and friends. You can even see if there are some similarities in your own holidays or cultural traditions!
How to Expand Your English Vocabulary and Achieve Fluency
We’ve given you some examples of the first English words you should learn.
What comes next?
Well, these basic word lists will only take you so far. Learning English words for every occasion will allow you to develop a rich vocabulary and is one of the best ways to increase fluency.
Making the leap from beginner to advanced vocabulary can feel overwhelming. To make it more manageable, we suggest taking a specific topic and focusing on all the vocabulary that’s associated with it. It’s a simple strategy that gives great results
You can even build a mind map or other visual aid to learn all the vocabulary related to a topic.
A great starting point is to begin with what you know and enjoy. This will help you remain focused and increase your motivation.
If you’re a fan of water sports, for example, a simple activity could be to start by listing vocabulary about the beach. You can then add all associated vocabulary that you know related to the beach and water sports.
If you love being outside, you could start with nature vocabulary, which could then branch into camping words and so on and so forth.
Of course, it’s important to break out of your comfort zone and explore different areas. That could include anything from shopping vocabulary to lifestyle and fitness vocabulary all the way to medical vocabulary.
The important thing is to start with one central idea and branch out from there. This means you’ll be able to talk at length on a specific topic, share your thoughts and passion and take a real interest in someone else’s point of view or passions all while showcasing and learning an impressive vocabulary.
Troubleshooting Difficult English Words
English is a global language, but it can be really difficult to learn.
Sometimes English can seem overwhelming and even frustrating. Many new learners will find themselves making the same mistakes over and over again when it comes to growing a vocabulary.
Why is English hard to learn? English has lots of words from Romance languages, but also some from Germanic or other languages. This means that sometimes English words don’t follow exact rules.
There are also many word pairs or groups that may appear similar but are actually different.
Let’s take a look at some difficult words that English learners struggle with.
If you want to work on these difficult English words, you can keep a list of errors you make a lot. If you practice writing sentences or use flashcards to help yourself remember difficult words, you can overcome all of these issues.
Difficult English Word Pairs and Word Groups
Here are some of the most difficult pairs and groups of English words. Click on any of the links to learn how to use these words!
- To and for: These two essential English words can be confusing since they’re both used to talk about reasons and purposes.
- Has and have: The verb “to have” is very common in English, but its irregular conjugation rules can be hard to remember.
- To and too: Due to identical pronunciation and a slight difference in spelling, it’s very common to mistake these words.
- Look, see and watch: While these are all verbs that refer to a visual action, there are subtle differences among them.
- Make and do: This is one of the most common errors for English learners, since these words can have very similar meanings. They also appear in many phrasal verbs.
For even more information, check out these commonly confused word pairs and this list of similar words in English.
Words with Difficult Definitions or Meanings
Many English words are tricky due to their opposite meanings that change over time.
Some of the most confusing words in English are homophones, which means they’re pronounced the same but mean different things. (For example, buy and bye).
To make matters worse, there are also numerous English words that have multiple meanings.
Flashcards are a great way to learn these tricky words.
As you progress with your English language learning, you might struggle with spelling.
Spelling is a common issue for native and non-native speakers alike! English-speaking schoolchildren frequently participate in “spelling bees,” where they compete to spell the most words correctly.
It’s important to start by understanding why English is difficult to spell and what some of the most common errors actually are.
After this, you can continue to develop your vocabulary with lists of the most commonly misspelled English words.
English pronunciation can be hard, too.
Whether it’s silent letters or a full range of sounds associated with one specific letter, learning English pronunciation takes dedication and a ton of native input and conversation.
Of course, you can also start by looking at some of the most commonly mispronounced words in English. In addition to this, learn some of the words people say wrong whether native or non-native speakers!
Watching native English content like English TV is a great way to learn how to pronounce English words. FluentU is a great online resource for this.
Interesting English Words for Curious Learners
English is a language rich in vocabulary.
Even a native English speaker learns new words all the time.
That’s why every now and then you might come across some weird or strange-sounding words. While it may not seem it, these words can be quite commonly used.
Obviously, unique words will make you sound like a native speaker. They can also be interesting to learn, and even very beautiful. By learning beautiful English words you’ll be able to expand your learning and slowly start to incorporate poetry, literature and creative writing into your study routine.
Once you’ve established the foundation, you can start to learn advanced English vocabulary. English music and poetry are great ways to learn advanced words.
One super fascinating study technique is to learn about English word origins. You’ll also learn that there are many English words from other languages. It can be so exciting to learn that an English word comes from a language you speak!
English Slang Words
The connection between language and culture is reflected in a number of different ways.
Slang is one of those ways. Slang is different in every English-speaking place.
It goes without saying that utilizing slang gives a native feel to your speaking and is an impressive goal to reach for a language learner. It’s also a fantastic way to bond with a speaking partner. Slang has a more personal feel and shows deep respect and passion for the language.
Slang is also a way to pinpoint something specific, contemporary or modern that might not be covered in the traditional vocabulary range.
Slang can be broken down into a number of different categories.
For example, you could have useful English slang words which are more general to English, or specific groups of slang words like internet slang or slang used mainly by teenagers.
You can also dive deeper into global cultures by looking at slang from around the world.
- Australian slang: Australian slang is known for its short, descriptive words. Much of Australian slang is a simple abbreviation of normal English words such as avo (avocado) or, the most famous of all Australian slang words, g’day (good day).
- New Zealand slang: While it shares many similarities with Australian slang, New Zealand slang also borrows many words from the native Māori language. One of the most common greetings in New Zealand for English speakers is kia ora (a Māori greeting).
- British slang: English, or more specifically, British slang can seem an entirely different language. Some of the most common English slang words are bloody (an intensifier or soft swear word) and knackered (very tired).
- American slang: American slang is perhaps the most famous of all English slang. You’ll notice that due to the U.S. domination of pop culture, many American slang words might be familiar to you such as wheels (a car) or awesome (great).
- South African slang: South African slang is incredibly unique. Perhaps this is due to the various languages that it’s able to draw from. If your South African friend invites you to a braai, don’t be confused: they’re simply inviting you to a barbecue!
Which slang will you choose to learn?
Learning English words doesn’t have to be a tough challenge. With the right approach, correct tools and an open attitude you’ll be speaking with colorful and native language in no time. Dive into the wonderful world of English vocabulary and you’ll be surprised just how far you go!
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