I think that once past the learning stage and having large enough vocabulary to allow for free expression in nearly every situation, all foreign English speakers can call themselves fluent.
Yet the process of improving one’s spoken English is lifelong, and it inevitably involves learning new English words and phrases on a regular basis. Bulk of that new vocabulary is picked up naturally during conversations with other English speakers, and to tell you the truth – anyone who spends a lot of time among English speakers will grow their vocabularies even if they don’t put much conscious effort into the process.
If you’re eager to improve your English at a much faster rate, however, I bet you’re making sure to learn an extra number of new English words every now and then, don’t you? Well, if that’s the case, I’ll also hazard a guess that sometimes you’ve been wandering on what grounds you should choose new English vocabulary words to learn.
Should you learn all new English words that come along regardless of how obscure they may be? Should you learn English word lists using online services such as Word Dynamo, for example? Or should you write down every new word you come across when reading English fiction and make sure you memorize them?
If you often ask yourself such and similar questions, the rest of this blog post is definitely going to shed some light on the issue!
Don’t look for new English words – let them find you!
I believe any English learner should learn the language for practical reasons or else it’s going to be extremely difficult to maintain motivation needed to keep improving the language. The best reason of all, therefore, is USING the language. Interpersonal communication, entertainment, your own hobbies, the Internet and social networking offer a vast array of opportunities for any foreigner to use the English language and it’s quite natural that you’ll constantly come across new English words and expressions without much looking ❗
It’s even better if you work in an English speaking environment or live in an English speaking society – you simply won’t be able to avoid new English words bombarding you on a daily basis, so I don’t really see a problem with finding them!
A few useful tips on how to learn those new words best:
- don’t hesitate to ask your conversation partner to explain what a particular word or a phrase means;
- if you choose to write down new English vocabulary – use other English words to explain it and stay away from your native language as much as possible!
- use spaced repetition technique to memorize new words and phrases – and make sure you use those new words in conversations right after you learn them so that they settle permanently into your brain;
- whenever possible – learn those new words in the context (memorize typical word combinations including that word); the worst thing you can do is learning a separate word followed by a translation in your language!
The bottom line here is simple enough – instead of learning some obscure English word lists that will probably be of little benefit in real life situations, get yourself involved in those situations as often as possible and learn new vocabulary that’s going to be USEFUL for you ❗
Jot down random words crossing your mind.
I have situations when an odd English word suddenly crosses my mind – a word I’ve heard previously but whose meaning I still haven’t figured out. What you should do in situations like this is – jot the word down on a piece of paper so that you can look it up on an online dictionary, an iPhone app or a hardcover dictionary later on.
The reason for your brain spitting out some odd English word every now and then is the following. You must have heard or read the particular English word a good few times, and it’s already settled into your brain, but your brain doesn’t know what it actually means. So it can randomly surface up and I believe it’s your subconscious mind nudging at you and saying: “Common, you have to figure out what this word means, common…”
I’d say you definitely have to take advantage of this fact, because normally you’d make some effort to learn a new word or expression and it would require a few repetitions to memorize it.
In this case memorization has been already done by your brain and all you have to do is clarify what this word means and in what context it’s used!
Whenever you’re stuck for words – find out the English word you’ve been looking for and learn it!
When you’re having those moments when you feel you’re struggling to explain yourself properly because you can’t think of the exact word, the right thing to do is – paraphrase, use other words.
But you should still make the effort and figure out that exact word so that you can step it up a notch and make your spoken English more fluent and native-like.
Let’s say for instance, you need to cash a check so you go to your local bank to deposit the check into your bank account. You’re waiting in a line and when your turn comes you’re saying to the person behind the counter: “Hi, how are you? I’d like to cash this check, please! And can you also …” and this is when you hesitate a little bit because you have a feeling that there is a word describing the process of putting money into a bank account, but you just don’t know the word. You finish off the sentence by saying “… put that money into my bank account?”, but what you should do right after that is – find out if there’s another, more specific word that you could use to describe the same action.
When you find out that it’s the word ‘to deposit’, you can memorize it if you hadn’t heard it before; it’s going to be even easier if you knew the word but just didn’t know that you can use it as a verb. In either case, you should memorize the whole phrase “to deposit money into my account” to make sure you can use the new word in a similar situation.
Also, bear in mind the worst thing you can do is – learn all meanings and applications of the word ‘deposit’ at once. If you do so, you run the risk of creating unnatural mental associations between them all that in turn may impede your English fluency!
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