Learning new words by guessing is a good idea but it is not enough.
Guessing new words from context is an important skill because if you use a dictionary every time you meet an unknown word you will read too slowly. This makes reading less fun but also slows your vocabulary learning as research shows you need to meet the same word ten to fifteen times before you’ll remember it. Reading slowly means this won’t happen enough. But, there are two big problems you’ll face when guessing new words:
Target high frequency words to boost your vocabulary learning.
Learning vocabulary can often feel demotivating as there are just so many words in the English language. How do you know which ones to learn?
You could aim to learn all the words in the English language but as English has over 80-100,000 word families that is something even native speakers wouldn’t attempt! Alternatively you could try to learn as many words as a typical native speaker. The best estimate is that a well educated native speaker knows something like 20,000 word families, having learned a thousand a year up to the age of 20. This might be achievable but would take you a long time.
Read for pleasure to improve your vocabulary, speaking and get better test results.
There are now hundreds of graded readers designed for English language learners at various levels. These short simplified books are designed for extensive reading (reading for pleasure) and using them has many benefits – here are just three of them:
- Extensive reading can double your vocabulary.
Extensive reading of just one graded reader a week increased learning by 76% over simply using a typical course book. If you aim to read one to two readers a week on average you will double your vocabulary. (Rob Waring)
Use a bilingual dictionary to accelerate your learning.
Many students and teachers think learning new words through translation is a bad idea but as vocabulary expert Paul Nation says:
“This attitude is quite wrong. Translation is one of a number of means of conveying meaning and in general is no better or worse than the use of pictures, real objects, definitions, L2 synonyms and so on.“
Learn chunks to sound fluent and natural.
Have you ever seen a pre-fabricated house being built? It’s a lot faster and easier than building a house brick by brick. Languages like English come with their own prefabricated parts called ‘chunks’. These are words that are commonly used together and learning them as single units makes it quicker and easier to construct sentences than doing it word by word. That’s a good thing because it will make you sound more fluent, confident and natural. Continue reading
Don’t overload your vocab learning – instead start off ‘basic’.
Learning a new word can feel challenging. You need to know how to spell it, say it and use it correctly with other words in sentences. And to make things more difficult many English words have multiple meanings.
So should you try to learn everything about a word all at once like on the card above?
Don’t just study words – test yourself!
Learning new words by testing yourself is called “active recall”.:
- Testing your vocab saves you time.
In 1969 researchers compared students who learned vocabulary by simply reading the word again and again with students who learned by testing themselves. The students who tested themselves just one time created memories which were as strong one day later as those who studied the word five times.
26 tips that will make your vocab learning faster and more effective.
A part of my job is talking to language learners from around the world to see what they think about our ideas. I try to talk to at least one learner every day and in the last week alone I’ve spoken to people from Istanbul, Sao Paolo, Shanghai, Spain and Switzerland. It’s always a learning experience and not infrequently a humbling one!
I have been surprised that many language learners aren’t aware of techniques and strategies that academic research has proven to make vocabulary learning more effective.
We’ve spent a lot of time looking at these strategies as part of the development of Lingopolis and I’m also trying to use them in my learning of Turkish. I am going to share this info in the form of an A-Z of vocab learning tips – hope you find it useful!:
Image from wikicommons