Top 5 tips to quickly improve your vocabulary

If you want not only to learn more useful vocabulary, but also to remember it in the long-term, you should definitely follow these 5 tips recommended by prestigious experts in the field.

Woman with books and ipad studying for college test

1. Write down the new vocabulary you learn
According to several studies (Schmitt and Schmitt, 1995 [1]; Fowle, 2002 [2] or Walters and Bozkurt, 2009 [3]), having a vocabulary notebook is one of the most effective methods to improve your vocabulary. Having a specific notebook for your vocabulary will help you to keep it organized, thus being able to review it easily and add new terms every now and then. Moreover, if you save 5 minutes a day to review your notebook, your learning speed will increase significantly.

2. Write your own definitions
This is a crucial aspect of the vocabulary acquisition process. By creating your own definitions instead of just reading the definition from the dictionary you will force yourself to define the meaning in your own language, making it much easier for you to internalize meaning. This idea is suggested by Robert J. Marzano, Ph.D. (professor at University of Washington) in his book Building Academic Vocabulary: Teacher´s Manual (2008); where he states that dictionary definitions are not written in conversational language and, as a result, students are unable to internalize meaning. Instead he recommends that words be defined using “student friendly” language.

3. Context is vital: sample sentences, additional notes, synonyms…
Providing a context is also essential if you want to remember the new vocabulary you learn, as many authors and teachers suggest. Just by reviewing the context that a sample sentence provides, we may easily remember the meaning of the word. Moreover, by creating our own sample sentences we are forced to use the new vocabulary we have just learnt, thus making it more difficult to forget. Professor Margaret G. McKeown (University of Pittsburgh) shares the importance of the context in her book The nature of vocabulary acquisition. Other publications, such as the paper The Effect of Three Consecutive Context Sentences on EFL Vocabulary-Learning published by the TESL Canada Journal in 2011 also state that there is a clear benefit in the vocabulary learning process when a word is joined by a sample sentence.

4. Categorize your words (idioms, business, FCE Exam…)
As reported by Lynne Cameron in her book Teaching Languages to Young Learners (Cambridge University Press) and shared by the Middle East Technical University (Turkey), using categories in your Vocabulary Notebook is quite useful during the vocabulary acquisition process, even with young learners. Categories allow you to group vocabulary and make it more comfortable to review. This advice is difficult to be followed when using paper notebooks, but quite easy when using digital vocabulary notebooks.

5. Review it frequently.
As any other subject in life, if you want to keep these words in mind in the long-term, it is important to review them regularly. Having your list sorted alphabetically or grouped by topics could be very useful in this case, as well as doing self-assessment tests. As Anne Merritt (a well known author in the field) states in The Telegraph [4], “review is essential in the first few days or weeks after learning new vocabulary”.

We really hope these 5 ideas have been useful for you. If you want to start following these tips, you may want to know about Vocabulary Notebook, a digital notebook that provides you with all these tools. It is very easy to use!

[1] Schmitt, N. & Schmitt, D. (1995). Vocabulary notebooks: theoretical underpinnings and practical implications. ELT Journal, 49 (2), 133-143.
[2] Fowle, C. (2002). Vocabulary notebooks: implementation and outcomes. ELT Journal. 56(4), 380 – 388.
[3] Walters, JD., & Bozkurt, N (2009). “The effect of keeping vocabulary notebooks on vocabulary acquisition.” Language Teaching Research. 13, 4.

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