ways to improve your English

2 great ways to learn English vocabulary

There are LOADS of ways to learn English vocabulary. If you scroll through my blog posts, you’ll find lots of techniques for picking up new words and there are hundreds more ideas in TEFL classrooms and on the internet.

BUT if your main aim is to start communicating immediately and sound natural while doing so then I’d like to suggest a lexical approach. This means focussing much more on vocabulary than grammar. You concentrate on ‘chunks’ of language rather than individual words and try to learn this vocabulary in context.

Chunks of language

Let me give you some examples. The word ‘can’ is very common in English but if you just learn the word with its translation into your language, what will you actually be able to do with that word? Probably nothing! So instead learn this chunk:

Can I have a (thing) please? 
Now you have a useful chunk of language that you could use in a café, in a pub, in a newsagents and with a friend:
“Can I have a cappuccino please?”
“Can I have a glass of wine and a packet of crisps please?”
“Can I have a lottery ticket please?”
“Can I have a bite of your apple please?!”.

Here’s another useful chunk:

When I was a child…..
Now you have a great introduction to telling somebody something about your past:
When I was a child, I lived in France
When I was a child, I didn’t enjoy sport but now I love it!
When I was a child, I wanted to be a doctor!

It is not necessary to break down and dissect the grammar of these chunks. It doesn’t matter what the name of each sentence part is. You just learn the chunk exactly how it is and use it just like that every time, almost as though it is one word!
Can I have a /kænaɪhævə/
When I was a child /wenaɪwəzətʃaɪld/

I’m not saying grammar is not important. Of course it is. But this lexical approach means that you can learn huge amounts of English without studying rules for hours. Great news hey 😉
If you listen closely, these ‘chunks’ are everywhere. Every time somebody asks you ‘How’s it going?’, that’s a chunk. Or comments on the weather ‘It’s absolutely boiling today’ that’s a chunk. Just save it in your head or write it down and you have another great phrase that you can use in the same situation.

Learning vocabulary in context

Which brings me to my second point. The context is SO important when you are learning vocabulary. English is a tricky language because sometimes the vocabulary is useless without the context. (By context, I mean the situation by the way.)

Take this example of a common phrasal verb ‘go off’. It actually has a few meanings and it’s not clear unless you put it into context. Read my examples and see if you can guess the meaning from context:
a) I was late for work this morning because my alarm didn’t go off.
b) Let’s make sure we cook the mushrooms for dinner because I think they are about to go off.

You can see that in example (a), go off means ring and is connected to an alarm clock. In the example (b) go off means expire and is connected to food.

Context is SO important in learning a language and I strongly recommend making contextualised examples whenever you write new vocabulary in your notebook!

So let’s recap our 2 great ways to learn English vocabulary:

  1. Learn chunks of language. These fixed phrases and collocations will speed up the learning process for you and stop you focussing on rules.
  2. Learn and record your vocabulary in context. You will remember the meanings more easily if you make your own contextualised examples.

I would really like to know if you already use these ways to learn English vocabulary or if you are going to give this a try….Scroll down and leave me a comment pretty please 😉


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Nicki is a Cambridge qualified, experienced English teacher for foreign learners. She loves helping English learners to learn real English and communicate with confidence!

12 thoughts on “2 great ways to learn English vocabulary

  1. 2 great ways to help me to improve my English.Thank you very much.

    1. No problem at all! I’m very glad I could help you Krueyok!

  2. I AGREE for the context and chunks too. Actually if we do not pay attention to the context than we may have completely a different meaning and it is hard for non native speakers like me for example.
    thank you for your efforts on explaining these useful tips to learn English, it means a lot to us …..

    1. Ahh, thanks so much for your kind words Linda! And you are absolutely right about the importance of the context and the confusion it can cause.

  3. I agree with you, I’ve just started to use these ways in learning English. So, it is the best way to improve your speaking skills. thank you for sharing this information with us

    1. You’re very welcome Irina! I’m really glad you are using these techniques and they are working for you. It’s lovely to hear your thoughts on this.

    1. Brilliant! Thanks so much for your comment 🙂

  4. By the day Nicky, I’d like you help me, because i’m going to travel to Europe, next week I need to know sentenses, words and expretions relations with airport, flight, something like that. I don’t have any information about it.
    I apreciate your wonderful support.



    1. Ooh, a trip to Europe, that’s exciting! Yes, absolutely – I’ll email you this week with some relevant phrases!

  5. Hi Nicky, i was reading your post about two ways brilliants to improve our english, for me the are wonderful and so useful. Thanks a lot for sharing it. I always waiting and expecting for your news!

    1. Ah thanks for your lovely message Jimy! I’m so pleased that you are finding the weekly emails useful and I really appreciate the feedback! 🙂

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