Students often ask me how to learn and remember new words. They complain that they study new words one day and the next day they have forgotten most of them! I've experienced the same thing myself when I've tried to learn another language. The most important things to do are the first two on the list: record new words and review them regularly.
1. Write new words down
For me, actually writing a word on paper seems to help me to get it into my brain. Use a vocabulary notebook and divide the page in two. Write the English word on the left and a translation in your language on the right. If you prefer, you can use a phone or computer to record new words, but I strongly believe that old-fashioned pen and paper are the best.
2. Review new words regularly
If you look at new words once, you might only remember 10% of them. If you review them once, you might get up to 50%. If you review them a few times, then you can get up to 100%! So test yourself. Cover the translation or explanation and try to remember it. Then cover the English and try to remember it. Alternatively, make yourself lists in an app (My Dictionary or Quizlet for example) and use them to test yourself.
3. Set a target
Decide how many words you want to learn each day and set yourself a realistic target. I would suggest 10 a day but some people might manage only 5 and some people can learn up to 20. Most people can't learn 100 words every day!! I certainly can't anyway!
Decide which words are most important or useful. If you have a long list of new words, maybe there are too many and you don't need them all. Perhaps there are some words that you will never need again.
5. Try using only English
If you're feeling clever, instead of writing a translation in your language, you could write an explanation in English or draw a picture. Using an English-English dictionary can help you with this. Try Longman, Cambridge or Oxford.
6. Write example sentences
If you have time, write new words in an example sentence in your vocabulary notebook. Again, a good dictionary can help you with this but it’s even better to make your own sentences. This will help you to remember the word and how to use it correctly.
7. Learn the pronunciation
Don't forget to learn the pronunciation as well. You can listen to the correct pronunciation if you use an online dictionary. The Cambridge and Longman dictionaries give both the British and American pronunciation. Learn the correct sounds and where the word stress goes.
8. Organise your vocabulary
Think about how to organise your vocabulary. Sometimes I just write random lists of words but I think it's better if they are organised into topics, such as food, money, useful verbs, adjectives of personality and so on. I've even tried using cards, one for each letter of the alphabet.
9. Grammar and word families
Learn the grammar of a word. Is it a noun, verb, adjective or adverb? What other words can be built from it? For example, from success (noun), you can make successful and unsuccessful (adjectives), successfully and unsuccessfully ( adverbs) and succeed (verb).
10. Read a lot
Reading is great for learning and remembering vocabulary because the same words are repeated many times and that helps you to remember them! Choose something to read that interests you. This might be books, magazines, newspapers or websites.
If you would like to know how to improve your English vocabulary and how to remember new words, this e-book will help you:
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