Improve your English Vocabulary

In my first book – Inglês na Ponta da Língua – I write that vocabulary is the most important thing in learning a second/foreign language. The thing is: you can learn, if possible, every single English grammar rules and exceptions; however if you don’t have a good vocabulary, you won’t be able to communicate properly.

However, learning vocabulary is not about putting single words into a list and memorizing them. You can certainly make a list of ten to twenty words, set the commitment to memorize them, repeat them two, three, four times, etc. That won’t be enough! You’ll learn lots of words; but if you don’t know how to make real use of the words you learn it’ll be useless.

Nowadays, ELT/ESL Professionals, Methodologists and even Grammarians agree that what it really matters is usage, that is, how a certain word is really used by, say, an English language native speakers. Let’s take the word “wish” as an example.

You can learn its meaning in your own language, you can learn a couple of interesting grammatical things here and there (it’s a verb, a noun, etc). The real questions, however, is: can you really use the word “wish” as a native speaker does? Can you use it naturally? Do you know the words that it collocates with [collocations]? What about the grammar that involves it? How is it really used with other words? Common expressions? And so on!

Learning 20 words (or even more) a day is not the ideal thing to improve your vocabulary and, most important, develop your fluency. Learning rare and difficult words like fathom, anew, abet, waif, timorous, etc is not useful as well. Think about it: what’s the point in learning words which are rarely used in everyday conversation?

The truth is that as an English language learner, you should pay closer attention to the way words are really used, their collocations, the grammar that involves the words and this sort of things. Then, you may ask: “Denilso, English Language has more than 1 million words; so, what words should I pay attention to?“.

The short answer to this question is: “Pay attention to words which are really used in English Language, specially those with a lot of meanings and which are part of the 200 most used words in everyday conversation and texts“. These words are of paramount importance in everyday use of English Language. The sooner you get used to how they are used, the better your vocabulary and communication skill will get.

Examples of such words are: get, take, look, back, do, have, way, wish, just, only, mean, know, like, want, very and a few others. Think about expressions, collocations, the grammar and everything else that goes with these words. When reading a text or checking a dictionary pay attention to the way they are used. Spend your time investigating them! Do not spend your time trying to memorize lists of [rare] words.

Your learning has to be useful and significant to yourself! So, how about making it simpler and painless!?

10 Comentários

  1. Thanks, Denilso!This blog is terrific!I liked so much!Keep your work!Have a good week!

  2. A prova maior de que isso é verdade, é que eu consegui entender tudo o que você escreveu aqui, mas não saberia como dizer as mesmas coisas em inglês…(eu nem me arrisco a escrever esse recado em inglês, como fizeram os outros)

  3. I had studied English for many years in Brazil,grammar rules,and now living in Canada my challenge is speak correctly,to be understood and feeling more confortable speaking in English.I know the rules but I don't have enough vocabulary(for an advanced chat)and this is a big problem.I wanna be fluent.Tahnks for your tips.

  4. Amazing topic Denilso! I've been following u since last year on Twitter and day by day you always bring a rich content to english students! Thank u so much for gave us a rare opp in Brazil to read, learn and the most important thing, UNDERSTAND a simple way to study english! Inglês na Ponta da Língua rooooockkkkss!

  5. perfect! Denilson. I have realized this point in my process to improve my english vocabulary, in begining i used to use word list, but i did not get to advance, so i decided to change and i am using the strategies above and i am seeing the results. But we students have to remember : "it is a process a bit slow. it is necessary to be patient". thanks. congrats.

  6. Hi Denilso! Excellent tip. The idea of using the comment of one of your followers was great, too!Take care!


  8. Hi Denilso,since we are talking about vocabulary, could you tell us something about "woulda, coulda, shoulda"?Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us and congratulations for the blog. What a great job!! ^^Take care

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