Have you ever wondered why it’s so hard to remember new vocabulary in English? Do you feel like you study for hours and hours and then, when it comes to having that conversation on the street, you can’t remember a single word!? Why is that?
Well, you’re probably learning the wrong way! Simply writing a list of new words on a piece of paper and trying to memorize them is NOT the best use of your time. Your brain needs some sort of organization, and some tricks to help it remember.
Every learner is different – some people are visual and need a picture, others like to write and copy everything down, and some prefer just to listen. It’s difficult to give one set of rules which works for everyone. So, here are five useful tips on how I like to learn, and it works really well for my students here at EEC too!
Movies, TV Shows and Entertainment
I LOVE to watch movies and TV shows on sites like Netflix and Icflix (for those of us in the Middle East). I’m truly addicted! I usually choose a movie that’s in my target language (in my case Arabic) and adjust the settings so that the subtitles are in my own language (English). Then I watch and listen carefully. When I hear some vocabulary that’s new, or seems particularly useful, I write it down on a piece of paper. For example “What are you doing?” is a phrase that is used A LOT in real life, so I make sure I know how to say this, and I keep listening for each time they repeat it. If certain words are used a lot throughout the movie, then I know that this is a popular word in real life and that I’m going to need it. I do this throughout the entire movie until I have a big list of phrases and words.
Then, I watch the movie again – this time using subtitles in the TARGET language (Arabic). I check that my phrases and words are correctly spelled, and I make sure that I didn’t mishear anything the first time. By the end of the movie, I have a whole slew of new words! I also like to watch inspiring speeches and video clips and the best site for this, other than YouTube of course, is TED.
TED is a site where lots of people (experts) get up on stage and talk about a particular subject. There are numerous different topics and you can choose your favourite, type in the number of minutes you have to spare (maybe you’re in a taxi on the way home and you only have ten minutes to listen) and you can put subtitles on so that you understand what the speaker is talking about. The talks are really fun to watch, never boring, and the best thing about them is that you’re learning about new things as well as just learning the language. If you are trying to prepare for an upcoming IELTS or TOEFL exam, this is one of the best sites to prepare for your writing section! So, now that we have all of these new words and phrases written down from …..now what?
Now that you have these new words, you need to organise them a bit. I like to use posters or large pieces of paper for this and stick them to my bedroom wall – something I can see every day! Each poster has a fairly large category, for example descriptive adjectives, animals and nature, or action verbs. You can choose any category you like. Some people prefer to use grammar (nouns, or verbs, adverbs, adjectives, prepositions) and others like to use topics (weather, restaurant, hospital, greetings) – I like a bit of both! I look at my words and decide which category they belong in and then I see which prepositions usually come with those words. For example, when I teach my students the word ‘think’ I would scribble it down on the ‘verbs’ poster and I also teach them ‘about’ and ‘of’ with some example sentences. ‘Think’ is never really spoken alone without a preposition. Make sure you have lots of posters by th e time you’re finished!
Start playing around with your new words..
Now for the practical application! First, I try to use my new vocabulary in sentences that I make up myself. Usually I make A LOT of mistakes doing this, but mistakes are what help us learn so I don’t really mind. I’m lucky enough to have lots of Arabic speaking colleagues and friends who can check my sentences for me, but if you don’t have this, you can use sites such as busuu or italki which are great for connecting with native English speakers.
At Busuu, they will help correct your work for you, in exchange for you helping them out with their own language learning. At Italki, you can connect with teachers and individuals to practice your speaking and show them your writing too. I can’t recommend these sites strong enough – they’re amazingly helpful and you should be using them every single day if you’re serious about your English.
So, we’ve collected lots of new vocabulary and phrases from our movies and TV shows (let’s not forget radios and podcasts too. which are great for listening!) and short videos and clips from sites like youtube. There’s lots of material out there. We’ve then organised our new words into categories and put onto posters on the wall, and we’ve practiced turning them into sentences. Remember to check those sentences with a real native speaker and NOT Google Translate!
So now what?
Well, there’s no use learning new words if you don’t know how to use them in speaking, is there? If you’re in an English-speaking country, then practice these words with everyone and anyone you can. Don’t be shy! When you go to the mall, speak with the shop assistant and make small talk, chat with the person next to you on the bus, or see if your friends want to practice with you. However, for most of you who aren’t in an English-speaking country, you’ll need to be resourceful! You have a number of options open to you. You could join an English academy like EEC where you could connect with a native English teacher, immerse yourself in English, and meet new people in the process. You could practice with a private tutor which are also available at local institutes and academies, or you could use websites which allow you to connect with teachers online through applications like Skype.
Whichever you choose to do, the most important thing to remember is to KEEP USING your new words. After you start saying them out loud in real conversations, they will stick to your memory like glue – trust me!
Read, read and read some more…..
Lastly, any good advice on vocabulary wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the value of READING. This is so important for picking up new words, especially if you’re interested in taking the IELTS or TOEFL exam in the future. The more you read, the more you learn, and the more you’ll want to continue! My advice is to focus on current, up-to-date and authentic reading sources. For example, look at the news each day on CNN, BBC or Al Jazeera, or whichever news outlet you prefer.
Read interesting articles in magazines which cover subjects you like. If you’re a budding photographer, then read articles on cameras and angles, but if you’re more of a fashionista then read about the latest trends in clothing and design. Twitter and Facebook are great for giving you a constant flow of information here so that each time you pick up your phone to scroll, you’ll be faced with new words – as long as you adjust your settings to your new language that is.
So, try it and see how you get on! Let us know how it works for you and if you have any other tips on how you learn vocabulary. Good luck!