How can I remember the new words that I learn?

How can I remember the new words that I learn?

Learning new vocabulary is an important part of language learning. The new words that you learn will make it possible for you to construct more advanced sentences and to understand more when you are reading or listening to English.

Which words should I learn?

Your choice of new words will depend on how you are learning English. For example, you may have word lists in your course book or you may be working with specific reading texts.

Here are some general tips on improving your vocabulary:

Select the words that will be most useful to you

If you are reading a long text, don’t try to learn every new word. Think about the words which will be most important for communicating the text’s key messages.

Learn words that are relevant to you

If you are likely to talk about a subject regularly, it’s a good idea to make a list of the most common words and expressions in relation to this subject and to learn them. It saves you having to look them up all the time and repetition will help you to remember them. Similarly, if you come across an obscure new word that you are never likely to use, it is unlikely to remain in your memory. Therefore it’s good to prioritise which words will be most useful and to concentrate on these words.

Learn frequently used words

There are lists of the most common words in any language and some people like to use these lists to make sure that they know the words which are likely to come up in general texts or conversations. However this strategy is only really effective if you learn how to use the words in context.

How should I go about learning the new words?

Everybody has different learning strategies. Also, different tools suit different learning styles, so you need to discover which way of learning is most effective for you.

Here are a few ideas:

Word lists and example sentences

However you organise your new vocabulary, it’s good to make a note of example sentences so that you can see how the word or phrase is used in context. This will also help you to learn the correct prepositions and word order for when you want to use the word again.

Vocabulary apps

There are many online vocabulary trainers and vocabulary apps for smartphones which give you a set of words and their translations or which allow you to create your own vocabulary lists. These products are useful because they also allow you to test yourself, highlighting the words which you have not yet learned. Another advantage is that most people carry their phones around with them all the time, so if you’re using an app, you don’t have to think about taking a set of flashcards or your English vocabulary book with you.

Vocabulary spreadsheet

I have seen examples of vocabulary spreadsheets which also work well. Students add to them each time they learn a new word and there are filters so that the list can be sorted by topic, type of word, known or unknown word etc. This takes more work to set up initially but it may be a better option for those who would rather work at their computer than on a mobile device.

Vocabulary cards

If you want to get away from the computer screen for a while and you would prefer a low-tech solution, you could make your own vocabulary cards.

How can I make sure that I remember the new words?

In order to remember the new words, you have to use them. Committing the words to your short-term memory is not enough. It means that you might be able to pass a vocabulary test the next day but this won’t help you if you can’t pass the same test the following week.

The more you use the new words, the easier it will be for you to remember them. Therefore you should try to build them in to your speech and writing. Also look back at your notes, vocabulary cards or whatever you use regularly so that the new vocabulary stays fresh in your mind.

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Kirsty working with students