The English language has a vast range of vocabulary. According to the Oxford English Dictionary about 170,000 words are in current use, with 20,000-30,000 words used on average by each individual native-English speaker.
You can see why one of the hardest parts of learning a new language is learning the vocabulary. So how can you improve your English vocabulary quickly? The best way to increase your vocabulary is to immerse yourself in the language, by watching films, listening to podcasts and reading books, or if you are lucky enough to go to the country and speak to the locals!
However, in addition to this, there are some great scientifically proven techniques for improving your memory and thus increasing vocabulary, that are perfect if you need to learn vocabulary quickly for an exam. This article will explain 5 of these techniques.
1. Improve vocabulary by putting words into context
Research shows that we remember things better when we associate meaning or attach factual knowledge to them. For example, you might remember a phone number based on a person’s name or a particular place by its history. When you learn a word try to associate personal meaning to it by putting it into context.
What to do:
Make sentences/ a story Write down a few words you want to learn and make them into sentences. When you learn the sentence you will find it easier to remember than just the word as you are placing it into context.
Give personal meaning to the word by making personal sentences with your opinions e.g. I don’t eat meat because it is cruel to animals.
Associate with images Look up the words in google images and see what comes up. Once you see the images not only will the meaning be clearer but the vocabulary will stay in your mind. This method takes advantage of an amazing fact about human memory: most people remember images better than verbal or written information.
Use youtube Videos are such a great way to find words in context, write down sentences that you hear and use subtitles to see them visually.
2. Music & Rhyming helps you retain vocabulary
- Rhymes are easier to remember: In schools in England, children are often taught the rhyme "never eat shredded wheat" to remember the order of North, East, South, West. This is something people remember throughout their lives because the human brain is much better at remembering information in the form of a rhyme.
- Music is very similar. You’ve probably noticed that you are able to remember the lyrics to songs years later? Learning English through songs is a fantastic way to remember vocabulary.
What to do: Try Lyrics training, which is a great website that is a fun way of learning vocabulary through listening to music and it’s completely free.
3. Sleep on it: After learning new English vocabulary go to sleep!
Never underestimate the power of sleep. Sleep ‘resets’ our brains which is crucial for learning and memory; if we don’t get enough sleep new memories can’t be stored easily. It may seem like an obvious one to sleep before learning but have you thought about having a nap immediately after learning? Studies show if you take a nap of 45-60 minutes immediately after learning you could boost your memory 500%!
What to do: Take naps before and after learning!
4. Associate Vocabulary
Studies have shown that association is one of the most effective ways of remembering vocabulary. We remember groups of words better if they are related under a common theme. The more organized the information, the more successful your brain will be in locating the information.
What to do: Try this brainstorming technique: Draw a picture and write the vocabulary under it then surround the picture by associative words. Then to those words add other associations. This creates a theme of associations which is key to cementing new words in your long-term memory. This is also a natural way to improve vocabulary as it gives you motivation to learn in small lists rather than feeling overwhelmed.
5. Repeat, repeat, repeat
Every time you repeat a word, the nerve connection is strengthened and so the more it will stay in your mind, which is why techniques like reviewing your notes or using flashcards help you retain information.
What to do: Write the piece of vocabulary down when you hear it. Seeing a word visually is really beneficial for remembering it. Write vocabulary on post-it notes and stick them around your house or keep a notebook that you can carry around with you.