How to Improve English Vocabulary: 17 Fun and Effective Ways to Learn New English Words
Are you having trouble remembering the vocabulary words on your flashcards?
It’s frustrating (feeling bad because you’re stressed or troubled) when you can remember the words to a song you heard years ago, but you can’t remember the word you just read on a piece of paper two minutes ago.
Flashcards are great for remembering words you already know. But to actually learn a new word, you have to see it in a sentence, use it in your daily speech or contextualize (to put into context) it in some way. Once you link the word with something bigger, it’s more likely to stick in your mind.
If you feel ready to give up on learning English vocabulary, don’t do it just yet! In this post, we’re going to look at 17 fun ways to learn vocabulary words effectively.
- 1. Join Meetup.com
- 2. Watch Fun YouTube Videos
- 3. Read, Read, Read
- 4. Use FluentU to Learn Vocabulary in Real-world Contexts
- 5. Play a Vocabulary Game That Helps End World Hunger
- 6. Play Text-heavy Games
- 7. Have Fun With Word Magnets
- 8. Start a Blog in English
- 9. Use New Words in Storium, an Online Community Writing Game
- 10. Find Ways to Use “Words of the Day”
- 11. Use Pictures
- 12. Use Context Clues
- 13. Connect Similar Words Together
- 14. Break Words Into Their Parts
- 15. Take Quizzes
- 16. Link Words to (English-speaking) Cultures
- 17. Study Words With Friends
1. Join Meetup.com
People don’t always talk the way they do in your English textbooks. More often than not, they’d use slang—whether they’re online or offline.
One of the best ways to learn vocabulary that you’d use in an actual conversation is by having conversations with real people. But talking to English speakers 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 in return.
Don’t worry! All you have to do is find the right group of people to speak with on a website like Meetup.com. There, you can start or join groups about hobbies in your area. You can then meet other members in person, and enjoy your favorite hobby together. For example, if you live in New York and like playing the guitar, you might want to join the NYC Guitar Group.
By joining a Meetup group about something that you’re interested in, you might be less fearful about talking to other people. And since you’re talking about a topic you like, it’ll be fun.
Don’t be afraid to ask people to slow down when they talk. You’ll discover that most people are very sympathetic (understanding) and have no problem helping you learn their language. You might make new friends that way, too.
2. Watch Fun YouTube Videos
Watching YouTube videos can be a key strategy (plan to achieve a goal) in your vocabulary building journey. The reason for this is that there are lots of YouTube videos that provide input and context. This means you’ll 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 (strange but fun) and common English adjectives through this fun movie trailer.
3. Read, Read, Read
The more you read, the more you learn. Without even realizing it, you tend to pick up new words when you read. Reading lets you see how words are used in sentences and 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. For starters, they have definitions of many of the words right there in the book.
For example, “The Ring of McAllister” by Robert Marantz features over 1,000 words that show up in the SATs, with definitions at the bottom of the page. Since this is a mystery book, I can’t give you the summary (short version) of the book without spoiling it. (Spoiling, in this context, doesn’t refer to food or drinks that have gone bad. Rather, it refers to revealing important information about the story or characters that you shouldn’t know before reading the book.)
If these types of books are too difficult for your English level, you can also try reading comic books instead. Comics have a lot of dialogue, and their text is in smaller, easier to understand parts. Here are some exciting comics for English learners I’d recommend!
4. Use FluentU to Learn Vocabulary in Real-world Contexts
It 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.
Start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store. Click here to take advantage of our current sale! (Expires at the end of this month.)
5. Play a Vocabulary Game That Helps End World 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 Freerice, a free game you can play online. The game tests your vocabulary skills by giving you a word and letting you choose its definition.
What makes this game really special is that, for every question you get right, Freerice will donate 10 grains of rice through the World Food Programme (WFP). So, you can study vocabulary words and help end world hunger! That gives you even more reason to get those questions right.
6. Play Text-heavy Games
You probably already play games on your phone or computer. So why not play games that you can learn vocabulary from? There are many English vocabulary apps and games that make learning fun.
For example, Influent is basically a more fun version of the immersion activity where you stick English words on objects around your house to help you remember them better.
In the game, you click on objects to hear their names in English. But that’s not all: You also get time-based quizzes to test and help you remember what you’ve learned.
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.
For example, you can use these tiles containing essential English words. Some of the words may be familiar to you already, while others may require you to use a dictionary. You can even use tiles that have themes (topics) like “kindness” and “peace”—just type the words “word magnets for fridge” into Amazon.com.
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 (eat). Fun and delicious!
8. Start a Blog in English
Of course, “read a lot” is only one of the many tips on how to improve English vocabulary. You can 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. One of the most popular options (if not the most popular option) is WordPress (WP). Here’s a complete guide on how to write a blog post using WP.
Share your blog with your friends. (Maybe your new Meetup buddies would enjoy it!) 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.
9. Use New Words in Storium, an Online Community Writing Game
If you want to have some fun writing, use your new words in Storium. It’s a game where you create a story with other users in real time . Real time is exactly what it sounds like: the actual time when an event (in this case, the game) is happening.
Every player chooses a character and gets a set of cards that influence (affect) 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 exercise!
10. Find Ways to Use “Words of the Day”
Every day, 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.
Not sure what “Word of the Day” to choose? Visit Britannica and check out their dictionary that’s specially designed for English learners. Each of the entries includes the type of word you’re looking at (e.g., whether it’s a noun, adverb or verb), its audio pronunciation, easy-to-understand definitions, example sentences and the opposite of the word. You can also click their archive for more words you can check out!
11. Use Pictures
Are you an artist? Do you doodle (draw random pictures or 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.
If you like to draw the old-fashioned way, you can purchase a complete art set online. You can also use tablets or other tools to bring your words to life!
12. Use Context Clues
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?
Let’s use another one: “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!
Sometimes, a sentence doesn’t have enough information to help you 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. You can also practice using context clues with this book.
13. Connect Similar Words Together
Aside from learning words in context, you can also try 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 you the chance to learn even more words at the same time.
One tool that can be useful for this is a thesaurus (a book that groups words with similar meanings together). For example, the entries in the Oxford Learner’s Thesaurus each have three to 10 synonyms (words that mean the same). The book has simple explanations for the subtle (small and not easy to see) differences between these words and how they’re used.
14. Break Words Into Their Parts
Many English 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, but other words that use these parts. You’ll also be better at guessing the meanings of new English words, because you’ll 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). You can read more about English prefixes here and English suffixes here.
Many dictionaries break down the word into these parts, and tell you where these parts are from. You can also read this book by Sarah Retter, which is all about the root words of various English words. If you prefer an online resource, there’s also a list of word roots on LearnThatWord and a more complete list that includes prefixes and suffixes on Macroevolution.
15. Take Quizzes
If you’re having trouble with flashcards, you know that memorization is simply not enough. You have to practice and apply what you’ve learned—in other words, “learn by doing”—to truly remember the information.
One of the best ways to remember what you’ve learned is to quiz yourself. There are many websites where you can take English vocabulary quizzes. Some of them, like Sporcle, are pretty fun, too!
You can also get a book like “The Vocabulary Builder Workbook”, which helps you remember over 1,400 new words. The book teaches you a handful of words at a time—complete with simple definitions, example sentences and explanations on each word. Most importantly, you get a quick quiz afterward to remind yourself of the words you learned a while ago.
16. Link Words to (English-speaking) Cultures
There are different kinds of English around the world. For example, although people who speak British and American English can mostly understand each other, there are differences between them. Remembering these differences can make new vocabulary seem more interesting and memorable to you.
For example, the word “color” is spelled as “colour” in British English. (If you click on the audio, you’ll also notice that there’s a slight difference in pronunciation.)
Also, British people used the words “brilliant” (to refer to something that’s amazing or great) and “cheers” (to greet people) often. On the other hand, Americans prefer to say “cool” instead of “brilliant” and “see you” instead of “cheers.”
If you’re traveling between the United Kingdom (which uses British English) and the United States (which uses American English), it might be helpful to keep a UK to USA dictionary handy. You don’t want to confuse people by using “lift” instead of “elevator” in the U.S. (and vice versa or the other way around).
17. Study Words With Friends
You don’t only have to talk to native English speakers to learn. Picking up new vocabulary can be easier and more fun when you do it with other learners.
For example, you can visit a website that teaches you English like the WordReference Forums. Here, you’ll find hundreds of threads started by learners (just like you!) asking questions about word usage, grammar, idioms and more. You can search for any topic by typing your question into the search bar. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, start a new thread of your own!
Learning new English words can be a fun part of your daily life. Just use the tips above on how to improve English vocabulary. You might not become a Memory Olympics competitor, but you’ll learn many new words without the frustration of flashcards.