Improving your English vocabulary
a great English vocabulary doesn't just mean that you can understand
lots of words and phrases: it also means that you can use these words
and phrases and that you can remember them when you need them.
is the difference between an active and a passive vocabulary.
Generally, most people's passive vocabulary is far bigger than their
active vocabulary, and the secret is to try and "activate" passive
There are a number of ways that you can activate your
passive vocabulary in English, ranging from simple five-minute
activities to longer periods of study. Most activities work best if a)
you have a good dictionary, and b) you keep a vocabulary notebook.
Good English dictionaries
good English dictionary should be up-to-date (no more than five years
old!) and should be easy to understand. Make sure that the definitions
are written in clear English. Pictures also help you to understand some
words. I strongly recommend the Longman
range of dictionaries, as there is good coverage of spoken and written
English, British and American English, as well as clear example
come across a new English word or phrase, make a note of it! Look up the
meaning in the dictionary, making sure you are aware of any grammatical
information. (For instance, if you are looking up a verb, check to see
if the verb can be used in a passive form, if it is followed by any
particular preposition, and so on.) Check also for the pronunciation and
use of a word. Is it particularly formal or informal, or used in
certain word partnerships? For example, we say "do housework", but "make
When you find a new word, check to see if you can use
it in other ways. English is a flexible language – nouns, verbs and
adjectives often share the same stem. For example, a house, to house,
housing policy, and so on.
When you write down your new word in your notebook, try to include an example sentence in English.
people find it helpful to organise notebooks into themes. So rather
than having a list of words without any obvious connection, you divide
your notebook into themes, with one page containing words to do with the
house, another page with words to do with jobs, and so on.
Quick English vocabulary booster activities
1. An English word a day
a new word or phrase from your notebook and try to use it as often as
possible in one day. Think of situations where you would need to use it,
and write down a couple of example sentences. Go back to this word or
phrase after a week, to make sure you still remember it.
people find index cards useful. You can write down the word on the card
and carry it around with you for a day, taking it out of your pocket
whenever you have a moment and trying to put it into a sentence.
next time you have a spare couple of minutes, flick through your
notebook. You'll be surprised how much comes back to you! Choose a page
where you have already stored a number of words and expressions, cover
the page, and try to remember what you wrote. Then look at the page and
see how many you remember.
3. One word at a time
you read a page of a book or newspaper, decide you will only look up
one word in a dictionary. When you write it down in your notebook, also
make a note of any synonyms (words that mean the same) or the opposite
of the new word.
4. English word building
a prefix (such as "en", or "pre") and make a list of all the words that
can follow. (For example, encircle, enclose, enlist; prenatal,
premature, pre-war.) Here are some more prefixes you can use:
dis, il, im, ir, pro, anti, de, un, con, re
Longer English vocabulary learning activities
Read something that interests you. It could be a newspaper, a novel, a magazine, or even an English graded reader
(a simplified book). Working page by page, underline the words or
phrases that you don't know. Look up only those that are important for
understanding, or which are repeated. Use a good dictionary, and make a
note in your English vocabulary notebook.
Focus on a theme, such as sport. Divide one page of your notebook into
three columns. In the first column write down as many sports as you can
think of. In the second, write down all the equipment you need for the
sport. In the third, write down the scoring systems. You might end up
with something that looks like this:
tennis racquet, ball, net umpire, love, linesman
football pitch, ball, goal posts referee, offside, penalty
can use this method for many different themes: houses (rooms of house,
furniture, styles); jobs (names of jobs, places where these jobs are
done, characteristics of the job) and so on.
3. Word association
a key word in the middle of a page and draw a bubble around it. Then
draw lines out from this word connected to smaller bubbles. In the
smaller bubbles you can add words associated with the main word.
example, you could write "email" in the middle of a page. Then the
smaller bubbles could contain words such as "write", "compose",
"receive", "delete", "reply" and so on.