English / TOEFL / Vocabulary

How to Learn New Vocabulary

Over the course of many years of teaching adults English writing, one of the experiential goals of university courses was to aid students in building vocabulary. If students employ a systematic strategy to increase their knowledge of English words, their level of English, particularly for TOEFL, will go up. You may be asking yourself, “How do I learn new vocabulary?”

First, make a plan to expand your reading, listening, speaking, and writing in order to be exposed to more English vocabulary. You can speak to native speakers and write emails to them to gain knowledge of new words. For both reading and listening, strategize how you can incorporate the time to read English articles and listen to lectures into your day: either at a set time daily, in the early morning before your work schedule, during your commute, or after work in the evening, for instance.  When you are reading, you do not need to identify new words. Only after you have finished the article and understand the main idea and key points can you scan the article once more and look for new words to make note of. The same goes for lectures. If you are listening for note-taking, just focus on the task of taking down effective notes such as the topic, main purpose and key points and details; do not get distracted by writing new vocabulary. Once you have completed the listening once, you can notice if there were many new words that you did not understand. If so, you can review the lecture transcript (or listen again) to take down the new words in your vocabulary notebook. If you see too many new words, focus on just a few for each article or lecture to avoid becoming overwhelmed.

Once you become more exposed to challenging vocabulary, you can start identifying new words and create a vocabulary journal to use daily. A vocabulary journal can be either a traditional paper notebook for English words or an e-vocabulary list in your smartphone. Use whatever is most convenient to study from every day. A vocabulary notebook divided into specific sections will help to have a better outcome in learning more English words. When you start your word notebook, divide the notes into different sections such as by where you discover the new words like from an online newspaper, an English prep book, or Tedxtalks. Then, separate the notebook into categories by unique theme like medical, science, food, idioms, law, finance, business, meetings, etc. Be sure to write the date of when you jot down your new words since you will want to track your vocabulary progress. Going back to a specific date, you can notice what words you remember. If you keep your notebook organized, it will be easier and faster to review and recall words to build your language.

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You might be thinking, “What else do I write down in my vocabulary lists?” If you divide your two open notebook pages into columns, you can have a list of the new words on the left, the definitions in the second column, the examples (in sentences) in the third column, and a few synonyms in the fourth column. So, when you open your notebook, each page would have two columns, but an open-faced book of two pages would have four columns related to just one list of words on the left side. It would be the same structure if you have a digital vocabulary notebook on your smartphone. The advantage to taking notes on 1) the new word, 2) the definition, 3) an example of the word in a sentence, and 4) synonyms is that you can remember the language more easily when you review daily, every other day, or biweekly, depending on when your study sessions are scheduled.

To see language results, reviewing the new vocabulary is essential. Carry your vocabulary notebook with you everywhere you go, and if you have five minutes of downtime, pull it out of your bag to review your word lists.

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