“DAMN! What’s the word I’m looking for?”
You must have found yourself uttering this sentence in many situations.
You are looking for a word, but it is nowhere to be found.
You try to recall the word, but it won’t come off the tip of your tongue.
Instead, frustration drains down your brain.
You try and try…
And finally, you get out of the situation by replacing that word.
You use a simpler form of the word, or use supporting words like ‘very’.
Or a synonym of the word that doesn’t do justice to the situation.
Maybe you have faced such a situation during a presentation in front of a crowd eagerly waiting for you to continue speaking.
Or during your dream job interview, where the interviewer is patiently staring at you with question marks in their eyes.
Whatever the situation, it’s evident you don’t want it to happen again.
You want to fix this problem.
You have a strong will to take your vocabulary to the next level.
All you need is a good starting point to get you off on the right foot.
Here’s the good news:
This article is going to help you do just that.
While there isn’t any magical way to fill up the gaps in your mysterious vocabulary bank, there are most definitely practical ways to acquire new words that add up to your level of fluency.
If you’re wondering exactly what things you can do, here’s 30 ways for how to build your vocabulary (easy, fast and effective).
30 Practical Ways to Build Your Vocabulary
Before we dig deep into the ways to improve your vocabulary, let’s talk first about the mechanism behind vocabulary learning so you can acquire the method that suits you the best.
A human brain experiences two types of vocabulary acquisition: active and passive.
Active vocabulary is the type that you can easily remember, actively understand, and use when writing, speaking, and thinking.
Passive vocabulary is what you grasp from your surroundings when you listen or passively experience it. This vocabulary isn’t actively used during any conversation or writing.
When we are looking for a word, it is in our passive vocabulary, you know it is lying there but won’t come up because it isn’t active (pun intended).
What happens is that your new vocabulary gradually gets absorbed into your passive vocabulary.
Once you have encountered the word several times, and you know the meaning and usage, it moves over to your active vocabulary.
So how does that work?
The drill is to acquire passive vocabulary and upgrade it to your active vocabulary at the same time. This means you have to read and listen to take in new words (passive vocabulary) and then develop a system to incorporate these new words in your writing and speech (active vocabulary). This way you make both your conscious and unconscious brain working.
In this article, I will be listing 30 different ways of improving both your active and passive vocabulary acquisition.
Ready? Let’s dive right into it!
1. Try Observational Learning aka People-Watching
Yes, just like bird watching, you watch people conversing around you. By people in this context, I mean the people with advanced language skills. Watch and observe people who can articulate their speech outside of your normal word range.
How do they use the language in a certain context?
What is the frequency of their use of advanced words?
What can you learn about the words by observing the mannerisms/attitude attached to them?
The key is to pay attention to the pattern of speech of advanced level speakers. Reflect on it and imitate it into your active speech.
2. Become A Vocabulary Scanner For 10 Minutes Per Day
I know, I know… who even reads a dictionary, when you have Google? But bear with me.
We find ourselves skipping pages of magazines unless something interesting catches our eye. Why not do the same with a dictionary. It also helps maintain your language level.
How so? If you have an advanced level of English, you might already know plenty of words in it. Not only do you get to revise and pat yourself on the back, but also learn new synonyms.
And did I mention, using an English-to-English dictionary is the best way to learn associated words?
Use whatever versions you prefer — in print, software, or online, but if you want to scan efficiently, go for the print dictionary. Skipping pages is a different kind of fun on paper.
3. Organize Your Learning Through Journaling
It is important to keep track of new vocabulary that you acquire on a routine basis. Not only can you refer back to your journal and build your vocabulary, but you also get to keep tabs on your progress.
Also, the journal provides positive reinforcement for learning. How to journal is totally up to you.
Check out this guide to keeping a journal.
4. Read Meaningful Content that Matters to You
You must have heard people suggesting that reading is the most effective form of learning new vocabulary. Read, read, and read. “The more you indulge in reading, the more words you get exposed to.” Now, before you skip this section for me pushing reading on you, hold on.
My point is not reading, but reading the right thing.
Don’t fancy reading literature? Don’t read it. Read that magazine you like, or why not read the recipe blog rather than watching a video about the cake you wanted to bake?
The key is reading for pleasure and using your interests in your favor. If you’re a beginner at reading and having a hard time finding the right book, check out this article.
5. Diversify Your Vocabulary Intake Sources
Ever heard of reading burnout? Reading the same sort of things can limit your range of vocabulary while you get burnout for nothing.
So what do you do? Diversify the topics you read.
Here’s how: Read different topics you think you will enjoy. Rather than re-watching your favourite movie, why not read the book it’s based on, or accompany your reading with its audiobook, or check out the writer’s interview on YouTube (or a podcast).
6. Use Podcasts as Your Listening Resource
Speaking of podcasts… If you are an adult, chances are that you already have a busy routine due to work, studies, family and social life. If that’s the case, listening is a great way to practice for your vocabulary improvement. Listen to podcasts right up your language level and choose a topic of your interest. Maybe our own podcast is of interest to you?
Check out this article to see how podcasts can boost your language learning.
7. Watch Your Favorite Videos with Subtitles
Learning a foreign language becomes easier and more efficient when you do something you enjoy. And if you like watching films, you can improve both your listening and reading skills by watching your favourite films with subtitles.
Always watch them with English subtitles. Seeing a word along with hearing how it is pronounced can help you store that word in your memory bank.
8. TED Talks – watch videos of your choice
Another way to combine your skills while diversifying your vocabulary input is through Ted Talks. You can watch them on YouTube or simply download the application. Based on your areas of interest and your leisure time, you can learn about any topic under the sun.
What’s more, TED Talk subtitles are always perfectly synced, so you can also read them.
9. Grasp New Words and Their Pronunciation Through Audiobooks
We know that either reading books or listening to music greatly benefit vocabulary acquisition, but somehow the idea of audiobooks is still a bit obscure to many. But why not give it a try?
Listening to audiobooks can greatly improve your listening skills and thus your vocabulary. And if you are a person with a tough schedule who wants to use their time efficiently, audiobooks come in handy while driving or cooking dinner.
10. Subscribe To “Word of The Day” Feeds
Wouldn’t it be great if someone could just feed us one advanced-level word per day to expand our vocabulary? Well, there are plenty of platforms specialised in doing just that via the website, an app, or email. Here are a few:
11. Pool New Vocabulary from A Frequency List
Learning vocabulary using a frequency list is easy once you are past the beginner phase. At this point, you know the area you want to improve your vocabulary.
Incorporate frequency charts in that area or check out this platform that has put together a word frequency list of 5000 words in the English language based on scientific studies.
If you acquire only 10 new words a day, you will have learned 300 new advanced words by the end of the month.
12. Visualize Your Vocabulary World
You have come across a word that you’d like to be part of your everyday vocabulary. It is important to visualize it to keep it in your memory.
This can be done by associating the word with an image, or by defining the word briefly in your mind. If you are a visual learner, you can go a step further and virtually doodle it in your mind. (Find out your learning style through this quick quiz.)
If it’s an abstract word you may draw the feeling associated with it. Try visualizing new words and you may be amazed at how many you can learn over a short period.
(Here’s my “melancholic cloud” for your reference.)
13. Start with One Word and Work Your Way Up
Making association is a great way to multiply your vocabulary. Say the new word aloud or write it on paper. Next, write as many words as you can associate with it.
Associating the new word with what you already know helps your brain organise the words in a group. The next time a word is stuck on the tip of your tongue, the one closest to it will be at your service.
A common way of doing so is drawing a mind map like the ones this visual thesaurus provides.
14. Activate Your Word Knowledge by Applying the Rule of 3
This technique is similar to associated words, however, this time you add new words to your list. As the name reflects, you learn words in a group of three.
Start by writing new words and then apply your knowledge of suffixes, prefixes, and/or synonyms to turn one word into a group of three look-alikes.
This way you not only help your brain to transfer words to an active vocabulary bank, but you also learn word relationships.
15. Make Sense of Vocabulary By Adding a Personal Touch
This way of remembering vocabulary includes details. The bottom line is that the more personal the event associated with a word, the easier it to remember it is.
When you learn a new vocabulary, try using it in a sentence that describes an event or simply talk about your daily life using it.
This makes the vocabulary relatable and memorable. Check out the journaling technique (#3) to find out how to incorporate new words into your personal journal.
16. Study The Language Roots And Pattern as a Linguist
If you want to indulge deep in language learning, you may go for this technique used by linguists. Most words in the English language share roots with Greek or Latin language.
Therefore, once you figure out the root of the word, you can figure out the meaning of a number of words only by the knowledge of prefix, and suffix.
While this technique is time-consuming, it is also quite efficient and useful in the long term. If you’re interested, check out the following websites. You’ll be surprised to find many common words in your language.
- EnhanceMyVocabulary.com: English Vocabulary Derived from Latin
- Word for Word
- The Study Hall: Prefixes, Suffixes, & Roots
17. Develop Practical Vocabulary
It is quite easy to move words from passive and comprehensive vocabulary to active and expressive vocabulary. You just have to learn how to properly pronounce, spell and define the words. Say them out loud and use them at every opportunity to move them into your active set.
A great way to do so is actively listening to podcasts, or even better, talking to natives. Both are considered best practices to gain a command over the idiomatic language. Check out the podcast (#6) and language exchange techniques to learn more.
18. Help the Words Move In And Settle Down
We all know children start speaking after experiencing the language for several months.
Similarly, to be able to use the new vocabulary we need to make sure we experience the word several times to be able to settle in our mind and memory.
To do that, repeat the word, use it in conversation, and include it in your write-ups. Do it until you find yourself using it without intending to.
19. Make Vocabulary Building Fun Through Board Games
You’re aiming to gain advanced level English vocabulary, so the chances are that you know of the words in simple games such as crossword puzzles for beginners, etc.
You can also keep a list to study your newly gained vocabulary from time to time.
20. Take Out Time for Language Exchange Online and Offline
Simply talking with other people can help you learn to discover new words. It helps you achieve valuable input on the pronunciations of different words and expand your vocab. You can host either virtual or in-house game night among your friends and colleagues having English fluency.
Get associated with English learners groups and language exchange platforms as much as you can. Tandem, HiNative, and HelloTalk are some of the popular, free of charge language exchange apps that connect you to natives.
21. Let the Constructive Feedback Be Your Guide
It is always wise to ask for help when you’re experiencing a hard time with your written vocabulary. Another set of ears can offer a great deal of insight and spot problems you may not notice yourself, including poor word choice.
Don’t be afraid to ask a friend, teacher, co-worker, or Kristian to track your progress and provide you feedback on your vocabulary.
22. Play Word Games on Your Smartphone
Dozens of apps can assist you to improve your written vocabulary. Download some fun word games onto your phone or computer so you can get some practice while unwinding after a busy day.
Some games are designed to build vocabulary skills, but there are plenty of others that will help you practice spelling and pronunciation. Check out this online platform and find the game that suits you the best.
23. Utilize the Power of Flashcards
Using flashcards is a quick way of retaining a large vocabulary in your active vocabulary bank.
24. The Troubleshooting Technique
Create your own word lists out of vocabulary you wish to learn. Select the word causing you “communication blockages”. Make a table and add these words.
Not sure which words to add? Reflect on what word you wanted to use last time, but couldn’t remember!
Draw a detailed table including few columns such as parts of speech; noun, verb, and/or synonyms, antonyms, common meanings of the words, related words, and sentences that illustrate how the word is used.
This table could be on your notebook or computer as a spreadsheet. It may look like a lot of work, but it’s a great exercise to assess your improvement and helping your brain activate vocabulary.
25. Immerse Yourself in Using the Newly Learned Vocabulary Where Possible.
Use a word immediately in a conversation after you learn it. Research about the concepts following the new word.
Try to slip in a new word into your everyday conversation, a journal entry, use them in your written assignments, or say them out loud.
Practicing context is exponentially more effective than drilling random words.
26. Identify and Replace Your Gap Fillers
In your speech, you can easily detect empty words, however, these words can be found in your writing as well. Minimize these empty words and substitute them with something more suitable. The same principle applies to phrases and sentences.
Make sure not to use six or seven phrases in a sentence that could be better communicated with a few carefully-chosen words.
27. Make Your Own Vocabulary Tests
One of the most effective ways to retain vocabulary is self-assessment. Maintain a new-word list having words that you learn every week. Try submerging them into writing and conversation.
At the end of each week, make yourself a quiz using the words to cement them in your memory.
28. Build Your Own Vocab App
You heard that right, you can now build your own vocabulary app and no you do not need to be a programming pro.
No more jotting things down on your notes. Have a look at the creator’s article to see how you can make your own personal vocabulary app.
29. Use Cambridge English C2 Sample Exams
Using Cambridge sample exams or past exams is great to take your vocabulary to the next level. This form of advanced study will challenge your mind and give you a chance to use words in context.
30. Rewrite Your Favorite Piece of Text
Be a writer for a few minutes per week. Or, if you cannot create your own texts, be an editor!
Go through your favorite reading piece or a book you have just finished and rewrite it by keeping the same structure. Look within your brain for more meaningful words or go for a thesaurus when needed. Ask yourself, “Do I know a better word to use instead?” You learn by positioning yourself to learn, and then the waters of knowledge flows.
Now It’s Time to Put These Tips Into Practice
Most who read this post will smile, nod their head in agreement, and implement precisely zero of these vocab building tips.
But not you.
You know knowledge that’s not put into practice is wasted. That’s why you’ve already picked out a few favorites, and it’s why you can’t wait to start building your vocabulary.
On its own, even the best tip is incapable of teaching you how to catapulting you to C2 level of English. But each one, little by little, can help you hone your English language skills.
Feel free to combine tactics: Paper books along with audiobooks, writing and journaling, or start with the rule of three and level up to a detailed table.
Remember the drill: Read and listen to take in new words and then develop a system to incorporate these new words in your writing and speech.
If you do all this, chances are you’ll build your vocabulary easier, faster, and more effective many times over.
So, are you ready to take your English to the next level? Ready to take what you know about vocabulary building and turn it up to 11? Ready for chunks of natural English to simply pour from you?
Then it’s time to get to work.
Let’s do this thing.