“My English vocabulary is weak. How can I improve it?”
Do you also have this problem?
If your goal is to be able to speak English more fluently, you need to be able to find the right words quickly.
By the way, you don’t need a HUGE vocabulary to express yourself clearly. You can do a lot with even a limited vocabulary of 300 words.
But you do need to be able to remember the words you want to use – and not translate word for word.
So, how do you learn new vocabulary? Here are two effective things you can do:
1. Learn fixed phrases
When we speak English, we use a lot of “fixed phrases”. We don’t always invent a new phrase when we speak with others, but we use a phrase that’s already standard – a kind of default phrase that’s right for the situation.
Here’s an example. You say “Thank you” and I reply with “You’re welcome!”
You say “Can I take this chair?” and I say, “Sure, go ahead!”
The phrases “You’re welcome” and “Sure go ahead” are fixed phrases. I use them automatically when someone says thank you or asks me if they can use something.
Why are fixed phrases so important?
Using fixed phrases automatically like this means that you don’t have to stop and think for a reply. You can keep the conversation going without hesitating. So if you use them, you’ll also be able to speak more fluently.
The other thing about fixed phrases is that it’s often easier to remember a phrase (like “You’re welcome”) than thinking about each individual word. You just need to remember the phrase.
Fixed phrases are also very common (studies show that they make up from 40% to 80% of conversation). So using them will make you sound more like a native speaker.
Often, fixed phrases can start a sentence:
By the way… (when I want to add something to a conversation)
If I were you… (when I want to give you some advice)
No way! (when you say something that I think is shocking or surprising)
Sorry to bother you… (when you want to ask someone a question, but you know they are busy)
Just looking thanks! (when a sales assistant in a shop asks if you want help – you can say “Just looking thanks” to mean you are happy to look)
2. Learn collocations
A collocation is when two words naturally go together. This could be a verb + noun, an adjective + noun, or an adverb + noun.
So we say
Good Luck! (not “good fortune” or “great luck”)
an only child (not a unique child or a sole child)
a part-time job (not a half-time job)
apply for a job (not “ask for a job”)
Collocations are similar to fixed phrases because they’re “standard”, easier to remember than lots of individual words; and natural. (You’ll sound more like a native speaker when you use them.)
If you use the wrong collocation in a conversation, the other person will probably understand you. But they’ll know that there’s something a bit wrong in what you say.
So if you say, “I’m a unique child”, a native speaker would guess that you’re an only child – that you don’t have brothers and sisters. But it will sound a little strange, because the collocation “only child” is completely natural and automatic.
Always learn how a new word “collocates” – that is, what words go with it. If you learn these collocations together, it will be easier for you to remember new vocabulary.
A good dictionary will also show you which words naturally go together. You can also check online: enter the word you want to check, then type “collocation” next to it.
The next step is to give yourself enough time to review and practise the phrase so that it comes to mind automatically.
3-step process for remembering new vocabulary
1. Look the phrase up in a dictionary or online. Make sure you know how to pronounce it.
2. Write an example sentence with your new word or phrase.
3. Review your example sentence regularly
I suggest reviewing the new word or phrase at least four times:
– the next day
– two days afterwards
– the next week
– the next month
Do you want even more ideas for practising new vocabulary. Don’t miss next week’s blog post!
Do you need to speak English professionally? Let me help you.