How to learn more words in English

by Ciara Gillan
February 02, 2021
woman using her mobile to look up English words

There are as many challenges as fun parts to learning a language. Getting your head around the grammar is usually what preoccupies most beginners. This can be quite stressful. However building your vocabulary is one of the most significant parts to language learning and it doesn’t have to be stressful. From being able to order a coffee with oat milk as opposed to regular milk, to expressing your thoughts on a local political crisis, developing an extensive vocabulary is key to language progression. 

Learn more words in English with our five best tips

Some things to consider when building your English vocabulary.

  1. Try and learn as many new words as possible. 
  2. Understand the different contexts for each word.
  3. Repetition. Repetition. Repetition. 

This last tip is really key. Unless you have a photographic memory or are an exceptional learner, most of us need to see a word a few times before being able to remember it. Through little actions (e.g. writing a word down, looking at it, covering it, then repeating!) you can build repetition into your daily language learning routine.

Tip: buy a little book where you can gather your new vocabulary in one place and revert to it on a regular basis. Or if you prefer something digital the Google Translate app is pretty convenient. When searching for a word, you can save the new word and search for it quite easily later.

What are the best and most effective ways to learn more words in English?

1. Listen to podcasts

There are lots of language learning podcasts for all levels. Some are slow to provide you with time to listen and really grasp any new words in their context. Our tip would be to stop the podcast when you hear a new word. Look it up and write it down. Then rewind the podcast so that you can listen to the word(s) in their context. What’s also helpful is to save the episode and go back and listen to it again, which will further help to commit your new words to memory. Seek out short podcasts like BBC Learning English News Review so you aren’t overwhelmed by extremely long episodes.

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2. Switch everyday items to English

Combined with repetition, using your new words in the correct context is essential. A great tip on how to do that is to change the settings of everyday items into the language you are learning. Switching your phone into English or taking money out of the ATM in English can help you recognise new words on a regular basis.  This is perhaps a little advanced for a complete beginner, but definitely something you can work up to doing.

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woman using an atm machine in english language to help learn new words

3. Flash cards and sticky notes

Nothing beats the visual reminder of everyday items. While you possibly can’t put sticky notes everywhere you go… (people on public transport might take issue with it) you can do it at home and possibly in work. A little note to remind you of the names of everyday items (bed, fridge, cat, wallet) will go a long way to building your vocabulary in those early days. While flash cards are used more widely in memory test games, you can post them around your home with full phrases in English as a way to remember essential basic conversation topics. 

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4. Watching TV with subtitles

This is a little more on the advanced end of the language learning spectrum but it is a great way to build your vocabulary. If you’re already living in a new country and happen to have a TV, taking ten minutes every day to watch the news or a particular show can do wonders for your vocabulary.

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5. Read children’s books

The language in children’s books is perfect for beginners and pre-intermediate learners. From books for toddlers to young adult fiction, there is a wide variety of themes and subjects to choose from, based on your level. If you don’t have access to a library or a bookstore, then a simple Google search will throw up some additional options. You can then progress to newspapers and articles as your confidence grows and your language bank expands. 

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BONUS: Eavesdropping

This is a personal favourite and a great way to learn local phrases. With practice and patience you can learn to eavesdrop on strangers (yes, extremely nosy, but go on admit it. You do it all the time). In the calm and quiet of public transport there is always someone talking. Close your eyes and tune out everything else. In the beginning you may only catch a word or two, but with diligence and regular eavesdropping prowess, you’ll soon be an expert and recognising those local phrases. Be sure to write down the words you don’t know and look them up later. 

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