In today’s article we’re going to focus on English vocabulary building the smart way. The English Harmony Way, to be more specific!
You see, the reason why I’m touching upon the subject of vocabulary building is simple enough. I’m getting quite a few e-mails on a daily basis along with questions disguised as YouTube comments in relation to building English vocabulary and new words.
“What’s the best way to learn new English vocabulary?”
“One English word has up to 50 different meanings, do I have to learn them all at once?”
“I’m trying to do spoken English self-practice as advised by you, Robby, but there are many English words I don’t know…”
Now, despite me having published quite a few blog posts and videos about vocabulary building over the last couple of years, it’s never hurt anybody to repeat and reiterate the main points from time to time.
So, here are the 3 steps for building your English vocabulary in the most effective manner possible!
Step #1: Finding English Words You Don’t Know
It sounds a bit funny, doesn’t it?
I mean – how can you possibly find something you don’t even know exists?
Putting all jokes aside though, finding English vocabulary you DON’T know is quite simple:
- engage in spoken self-practice sessions and EVERY time you think of something you don’t know how it’s said in English – WRITE it down using other ENGLISH words ONLY (this one is super-important – don’t involve your native language)!
- EVERY time you hear or read something you’re not sure what it means – WRITE it down and look it up later on (make sure to write down the entire sentence – never individual words!)
And here’s a practical example.
Let’s say for example, you’re driving to your work and you’re discussing last night’s dream. It’s a perfect way of exercising your spoken English – talking about anything and everything just so that your mouth gets trained to speak in English! Now, imagine you can’t find the right word to describe an octopus’s leg (last night you dreamt about being attached by octopi…)
Write it down – “octopus’s leg”.
Next thing – you’re listening to radio in the car and you’re not 100% sure what the following sentence means: “According to the latest Financial Regulator’s figures, up to 20 thousand households have fallen into mortgage arrears for 3 months or more.”
The bit that confuses you is “…have fallen into mortgage arrears” (“arrears” obviously being the exact word you don’t know).
As I said – always make sure to write new English vocabulary down in context, so don’t write down just that single word “arrears”.
Write down the whole sentence – “Up to 20 thousand households have fallen into mortgage arrears for 3 months.”
Step #2: Looking up English Speech Patterns Containing Those Words
You have written down 2 word combinations:
“Fallen into mortgage arrears”
In the first instance you’re trying to describe something you don’t know how it’s called. In the second example you don’t know what the word means. At first they might seem like two completely different types of vocabulary related word combinations, but there’s no need to keep them separate. Just write them all down, and over the course of a single day you may easily gather anywhere up to 15 – 20 such and similar word combinations ❗
20 is too excessive, however; I’d recommend acquiring no more than 5 – 10 new words and expressions a day simply because your brain won’t be able to handle that much content! And don’t forget – your aim is to add all this content to your ACTIVE vocabulary (vocabulary you can actually use when speaking), but we’ll get to that later on.
Anyway, by far the best tool for looking up new English vocab words is Google. To find out how “octopus’s legs” are called, just type “how octopus’s legs are called” into Google and hit enter. You’re guaranteed to find the answer almost immediately!
The trick is, however, to memorize speech PATTERNS – not individual words – so write down the new word “tentacle” along with “octopus”.
For best results I recommend putting in into a sentence so that you create vocabulary associations in your brain.
When it comes to looking up meanings of individual words – such as “arrears” in our case – please also learn those words in context! Don’t just look up the word “arrears” and learn than it means “a late payment”. What you want to do is – learn the ENTIRE phrase “to fall into arrears” – and learn that it means to be late on payments!
Context is the King!
Step #3: Use Spaced Repetition to Memorize Those Speech Patterns!
This one is VERY important ❗
Don’t just look at the new vocabulary word or phrase a couple times. Chances are – you’ll forget it!
Or you’ll just retain it into your passive vocabulary which means you’ll be able to recognize that word or a phrase, but you won’t be able to USE it!
What you want to do is the following:
- Whenever you write down a new English word combo – speak it out loud! A number of times!
- Next thing – think of sentences to put those words in and again – speak them out loud!
- For best results start developing your ability to improvise and just talk about some random things and use the phrase or word in question many times over just to cement it into your brain. Do it today, tomorrow, and by the time the day after tomorrow comes – you’ll have added that phrase onto your active vocab, there’s no doubt about that!
Personally I constantly speak with myself as I go about my daily business, and that’s how I’ve acquired all the English vocabulary I possess – by looking up things I read, see or hear and things that are relevant for my personal circumstances.
I don’t hammer some abstract vocabulary lists into my brain for the simple reason that they’re not necessarily the words I’m going to need in my work and daily life.
It’s quite simple – if you learn abstract vocabulary lists, you’ll waste 80% of your time and efforts on acquiring vocabulary you won’t even use!
I hope you’ll put this 3 step plan to good use, my friends!
Any questions – post them in the comments section below! 😉
Thanks for reading,
P.S. Would you like to find out why I’m highlighting some of the text in red? Read this article and you’ll learn why it’s so important to learn idiomatic expressions and how it will help you to improve your spoken English!
P.S.S. Are you serious about your spoken English improvement? Check out my English Harmony System HERE!