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!?

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