Are you having trouble remembering the vocabulary words on your flashcards?
Do you feel ready to give up?
Well, don’t! Maybe you just need something different to help you learn English vocabulary—something colorful and fun!
Every year, people from all over the world compete in the World Memory Olympics. In one event, they sit down at small tables and spend an hour memorizing the order of many decks of playing cards. That’s hundreds of cards, in order, for an hour. Sounds incredible, doesn’t it?
But these people don’t just stare at the cards until they remember them. They use strategies (thought out plans) to help them memorize the cards.
Isn’t it frustrating (troubling and unpleasant) when you can remember an unimportant fact you learned years ago—like words to a song—but you can’t remember the word you just saw on a piece of paper two minutes ago?
Many people who want to learn new English vocabulary start with flashcards, but you might find that it isn’t easy to remember new words this way. Why is that? Your brain has trouble remembering too many random things. And that’s all flashcards are—random words.
Flashcards are great to remember words you already learned. But to actually learn a new word, you have to see it in a sentence, use it in your daily speech, or in any other way that will give it some context. Once you link the word with something bigger, it sticks better in your mind.
How to Make the Most of Your Vocabulary Building Activities
When you do any vocabulary building activities, there are a few things you can do to help yourself actually learn the definition. If the word you don’t know is in a sentence, use context clues. This means you should read around the word to try and figure out what it means. For example, even if you don’t know what the word “intricate” means, you might be able to understand it by looking at this sentence: “The plan was so intricate, it was too complicated to follow.”
Reading that sentence, you might not get the word’s full meaning, but you can understand that it might mean something like “too complicated.” And you’d be right! Intricate means “complicated or complex, having many connected parts.” See how using context clues can help you figure out what a word means?
Sometimes a sentence doesn’t have enough information to figure out what a word means. If you still can’t understand the word, look it up in a dictionary or ask somebody to explain it to you.
And if you’re having trouble remembering words from flashcards, try some of these ideas instead:
11 Fun and Effective Ways to Learn English Vocabulary
1. Join Meetup.com
People don’t always use words the way the dictionary tells them to. One of the best ways to learn real vocabulary that you would use in a conversation is by actually having conversations with other people. But talking to others can seem scary, especially if you’re a beginner. You might get lost when people speak too fast, or be afraid of saying the wrong thing when you respond.
Don’t worry! All you have to do is find the right group of people to speak with. Joining a Meetup group about something that you’re interested in can help ease your fear about speaking to new people. Meetup.com is a website where people start groups about hobbies in their area.
They then get together and enjoy the hobby together. For example, if you live in New York and like playing the guitar, you might like to join the NYC Guitar Group. There’s a meetup for everything, so you’re sure to find something you’ll enjoy.
You will all be talking about a topic that you like, so it will be fun! Don’t be afraid to ask people to slow down—you will discover that most people are very sympathetic (understanding) and have no problem helping you learn. You might make a few new friends that way too.
2. Watch Fun YouTube Videos
Watching YouTube videos can be a key strategy in your vocabulary building journey. The reason for this is that there are lots of YouTube videos that provide input and context. This means that you will be able to associate the vocabulary with images, actions and visual cues.
There are some fantastic YouTube channels dedicated to teaching you new vocabulary in a fun and engaging way. For example, if you want to learn new adjectives, then why not learn with the sister of the great detective Sherlock Holmes, Enola Holmes. In the video below, you’ll learn quirky and common English adjectives through this fun movie trailer!
In fact, if you want to keep learning in this way, then be sure to subscribe to the FluentU English YouTube channel. You’ll be able to learn vocabulary, speech and other parts of English learning in an enjoyable and motivating way!
3. Read, Read, Read
The more you read, the more you learn. You will pick up new words without even realizing it when you read. Reading lets you see how words are used in sentences, and lets you understand them through context clues.
There are even some books that are meant to teach vocabulary. These are usually written for students studying for the SATs, but they make a great tool for anyone who wants to learn English because they have definitions of many of the words right there in the book. Books like “The Ring of McAllister” and “The Dropanchor Chronicles” are full of over 1,000 words and definitions, but are also as fun to read as a good fiction novel.
If these are too difficult for your English level, you can try reading comic books instead. Comics have a lot of dialogue, and their text is in smaller, easier to understand parts. Superman, Batman, and the other well-known heroes are full of words for you to learn. If you don’t like superheroes, there are many other options out there, like Calvin and Hobbes or even Garfield.
4. Use FluentU to Learn Vocabulary in Real-world Contexts
I said earlier that new words need context for you to remember them. One of the best ways to get real-world context from home is with FluentU.
Unlike traditional language learning sites, FluentU uses a natural approach that helps you ease into the English language and culture over time. You’ll learn English as it’s spoken in real life.
FluentU has a variety of engaging content from popular talk shows, nature documentaries and funny commercials, as you can see here:
FluentU makes it really easy to watch English videos. There are captions that are interactive. That means you can tap on any word to see an image, definition and useful examples.
For example, when you tap on the word "searching," you'll see this:
Learn all the vocabulary in any video with quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
The best part is that FluentU keeps track of the vocabulary that you’re learning and gives you extra practice with difficult words. It even reminds you when it’s time to review! Every learner has a truly personalized experience, even if they’re learning with the same video.
You can start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, by downloading the app from the iTunes or Google Play stores.
5. Play a Vocabulary Game That Helps End Hunger
What if you could learn new English vocabulary and make the world a better place at the same time? That’s the idea behind Free Rice, a free game you can play online. The game tests your vocabulary skills by giving you a word and letting you choose its definition. If you get the word wrong, you get an easier question. If you get it right, the questions become a bit more difficult.
Free Rice makes learning even more important though, because for every question you get right, Free Rice will donate 10 grains of rice through the World Food Programme. To date, almost 100 billion grains of rice have been donated thanks to people like you. You can study vocabulary words and help end world hunger! That gives you even more reason to get those questions right.
Some of the words here might be too advanced for a new learner, but there are a variety of topics to choose from, so you can view different kinds of words and find the category that best helps you. You can also try different subjects—not just “English vocabulary”—like math or geography, to learn new types of words!
6. Play Text-heavy Games
You probably already play games on your phone or computer, right? So why not play games that you can learn vocabulary from? There are many English learning apps and games that make learning fun.
Text-heavy games (games with lots of text) like Inkle’s 80 Days can introduce you to new words through simple phrases. Other games like Elegy for a Dead World can actually help you feel confident enough to write your own stories and poems. Games have a lot to teach us, and they remind us that studying doesn’t have to be boring.
7. Have Fun with Word Magnets
What’s one place you see every day? Yes—your fridge! Put some vocabulary words on your refrigerator so that every time you head to the kitchen for a snack or a drink, you’ll see the words right in front of you.
There are many different word magnet sets available to buy at stores and on Amazon, so pick the one that is the most interesting to you. It can have words about peace or words for making poetry on your fridge.
Whatever you choose, make sure it has words you don’t know yet! You can even make your own magnets, and paste words you want to learn on them. Then you can make sentences with them and get something to munch on. Fun and delicious.
8. Use New Words in Storium, an Online Community Writing Game
When you learn a new word, don’t just try to remember it on its own. If you make a sentence with it, you’ll remember it better. Good vocabulary sentences use the word correctly, and have the definition of the word within the sentence.
So a word like “respite” can become “I needed a respite from studying, so I took a break and had some tea.” Can you figure out what “respite” means from that sentence? Congratulations, you just learned a new word!
But instead of keeping these sentences to yourself, use them at Storium, a fun writing game. In this game, you create a story with other users—in real time. Every player chooses a character and gets a set of cards that influence how the story develops. Then you all take turns using your cards and contributing paragraphs to the story. It’s a very motivating way to get some English vocabulary exercises in context!
9. Start a Blog in English
Reading isn’t the only good way to learn new English vocabulary—you learn a lot through writing, too. Start a blog in English about a topic you enjoy. Write with a dictionary nearby, so that every time you can’t think of the right word to use, you can look it up.
There are many free places to start your own blog. If you have a Google account, you can easily start a blog on Google’s Blogger, or another popular option is WordPress.
Share your blog with your friends (maybe your new Meetup buddies would enjoy it!) and ask them to let you know if you used any words incorrectly. As you learn more words, you’ll see that writing your blog will become easier and easier.
10. Find Ways to Use “Words of the Day”
Every day when you’re having your morning coffee, choose two or three words to be your “Words of the Day.” Remember them and write them down somewhere. During the rest of the day, make it a game to try and find ways to use these words in conversation. Saying the words out loud in sentences will help you remember what they mean, and your friends might enjoy playing along too.
Want a “Word of the Day” sent straight to your email? The dictionary Merriam-Webster has a “Word of the Day” specifically for English learners, in addition to their “Word of the Day for native speakers. You can receive the daily word via email by entering your email address in the “Subscribe” field.
11. Use Pictures
Are you an artist? Do you doodle (draw random pictures/designs) in your notebook all day? Use that artistic side to help you learn some new words. Find new vocabulary words and draw what they mean.
How would you draw something that means languid (tired, slow)? What about to laud (praise)? Drawing what the word means helps you see the definition in your mind whenever you hear it.
Learning new English vocabulary can be a fun part of your daily life. Just use the tips mentioned above and you might not become an expert Memory Olympics competitor, but you will learn many new words without the frustration of flashcards.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn English with real-world videos.