From Our Teachers: Tips on How to Quickly Build Your Vocabulary

Here at Teacher Finder, we’re lucky to work with talented and passionate teachers. In an effort to keep helping our students improve, some of them have pooled their efforts and are today providing tips on how it might be easiest to quickly build your vocabulary.

Javier F who specialises in teaching Spanish, offers some of his quick-learn tips for beginners:

– Quickly start learning words for things that you see or come into contact with every day.

– Make flashcards with important vocabulary on them and test your memory.

– If you are learning vocabulary about things around you – in the house,for example – paste the flashcards on the object. Example: if you are learning how to say “desk” in Spanish, paste on your desk “Escritorio”. This technique will help you a lot because your brain would associate words with real world images.

– Focus especially on vocabulary that has a connection to you – you profession, hobbies, favourite foods and activities. When first starting to speak a foreign language, these are most likely to be needed right away.

– Try to learn around 20 words each week.

Roy W, teaching English in Budapest, has a few more ideas to add:

First of all, identify a topic area that you find interesting, and try to look for vocabulary associated with it. For every one new word you learn, try to look for five synonyms associated with it, to build up a bank of words. If it is a subject where all the words are known then try looking for these words in different contexts, as this likely leads to the discovery of new vocabulary.

Sometimes students can struggle with “everyday vocabulary”. When this happens, I often advise them to think of or look for objects, music, or films that they really dislike. Using both of these processes together allows students to generate a range of vocabulary that is useful for positive and negative descriptions. Sometimes it’s easier talking about things you don’t like rather than things you do like.

Susan G who teaches English in Prague, advises on how to reach the next level of proficiency in a new language:

All of my students tell me that they want to be able to express themselves as articulately in English as they do in their native language. Having a grasp of verbal phrases and idioms takes newly learned English from robotic to lyrical.

I like to do short readings with my students from cultural magazines, like Smithsonian, or from humorists, like David Sedaris. The writing is rich and colorful without being esoteric or too academic. In language that is challenging but within grasp, these sample writings can add not just words, but concepts and nuances to a student’s vocabulary.

When we read, the students mark unfamiliar vocabulary, while I mark not just pronunciation and stress, but double-entendres, puns, and wordplay that the students may miss. We isolate verbals and idioms for discussion. These are the fun lessons that segue into discussions about the historic or cultural use of certain words and phrases. The new vocabulary is reinforced with a good story, and not just learned from a boring list of words. Without fail, these words show up in the student’s conversation or writings by the next week.

Conclusion – Depending on Your Level, Use a Different Approach to Expand Your Vocabulary

If you’re just starting with learning a language, begin with looking around you and learning the names for everyday objects you see. Use flashcards and personalised vocabulary to start getting ready for your first conversations.

For more advanced students, one of the tricks to enrich your vocabulary is to focus on areas that you both love and dislike – this gives you the opportunity to learn positive and negative descriptive words. Also, you are more likely to retain words if they have to do with something you feel strongly about.

Lastly, in order to really take your language skills to the next level, start looking into the deeper meaning behind words. Since language also serves as a mirror for culture, it’s a good idea to take a look into some of the contemporary literature or media of your target language to really understand the inner workings of it.