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.


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.

10 Ways to Remember English Vocabulary Words for TOEFL

When you come across a new word, keep a vocabulary journal to write the word in. The journal could be a notebook or a memo pad on your smartphone, or a vocabulary list on your phone. It will be a resource for you to refer to so that you can build your base of new words and remember vocabulary words more easily through quick review.

  1. In a vocabulary notebook, write your new words under the date, topic, and source (where you listened to or read the word) and category heading such as science, technology, business. Carry the vocabulary list of notes with you (easier if you have them on your phone) and refresh yourself going through the words on the list during your lunch hour or during your commute when you have down time.
  2. Look up the meaning in and write the meaning as well as at least two synonyms. For instance, if the new word is intuitive then synonyms on the list may be innate, inborn, and
  3. Write other word forms of the word. For example, if the new word is intuitive then other word forms would be the following: non intuitive, intuitively, intuitiveness, non-intuitively, non-intuitiveness.
  4. Write down the word in an “example” sentence so you can understand the context and refer back to it. To exemplify with the word intuitive: the team members did the maximum they could have done to accomplish some intuitive thinking.
  5. Write the new word in a sentence about yourself so it becomes personally memorable.
    Writing new vocabulary in such a personalized manner is a self-reflective exercise to stimulate good memory. Not only will you be writing the word down on paper (or typing,) but you will also be putting them into your own context to assist you in learning the meaning.
  6. When possible, draw pictures of the words
    Simple pictures are fine. Consider a way to illustrate a new word to help you to recall it later. As well, for many students, pictures are much easier to remember because it is a visual marker in the brain.
  7. If possible, act out a word as you come across it
    Make a movement or perform the action that most closely describes the word
  8. Pronounce the word aloud, speaking it as you learn it. You can even record yourself on your smartphone saying the new word aloud. Then, afterwards, listen to your voice on your recording to imprint the word in your memory as you say it and listen to it again.
  9. Draw connections between new vocabulary on your list
    If you have used category headings to order your word choice into groups, then it is simply a matter of linking one word to another in the same category to make a sentence on that particular topic. Another idea would be to look for new vocabulary with the same meanings for you to be aware of synonyms. Or, you can review the vocabulary for words with opposing meanings to contrast them. As well, you could review vocabulary on the list by looking for specific parts of speech. If you look at your list and go through the words that are adjectives or nouns, for instance.
  10. Search for and listen for your new word choice
    When you are reading new articles in magazines or books or speaking to others or listening to lectures or movies or TV, be on the lookout for new words that you recall from the list.