How to Increase Your English Vocabulary

One of the most common questions I get from students is, “How can I improve my vocabulary?”

Part of learning English is being able to understand a lot of words – word power. To speak fluently at a high level, you must also know how to use these words.

There are two basic theories when it comes to learning new words.

1. You can study and learn specific words, using word lists, memory techniques, flashcards, and such to learn as many words as possible.

2. You acquire new vocabulary more effectively and efficiently through self-selected reading and listening to stories read aloud.

Based on my own experience learning foreign languages, the results I have seen over the years teaching both children and adult English learners, and in reviewing the research, I believe that the latter method works the best. (This is why I also recommend you learn phrases and not individual vocabulary words in my “7 Strategies for English Fluency” course.

I believe that you will acquire more vocabulary words more easily and efficiently if you focus your time and energy on reading for pleasure and/or listening to stories being read aloud to you (as in the form of audiobooks or podcasts).

I would never discourage you from using a technique that works for you, so if you like going through stacks of vocabulary words or memorizing word lists, continue to do so. But, I would also recommend that you spend a good portion of your day simply reading something interesting (to you) in English. In fact, I would recommend that you listen to something in English every day, instead of merely reading.

I create podcasts to help you improve your vocabulary in this way.

The best way to use the podcast is to download it to an iPod, cell phone or mp3 player, so you can listen to it while you walk or while you are sitting on the subway, etc. You can listen to the podcast for free, as many times as you’d like.

Each time you listen, you will understand more and more and thereby acquire new vocabulary words.

The Lesson Guide has the entire transcript, so you can read along while you listen, and it gives you additional resources so that you can delve deeply into that particular topic. This is an excellent way to increase your word power related to a specific subject area.

The most important thing is to learn words that are relevant to you.

Focus your time, energy and efforts reading articles and books and listening to audiobooks, TED talks and podcasts that are interesting to you and that help you learn the vocabulary you need to be able to understand and converse about these topics.

To listen to the English Fluency Now podcast episodes, just go to the Podcast page and click on the topic that interests you. You can also go to iTunes and download them all, and then listen to them at your convenience.

Remember, repetition is key! Read an article two or three times and listen to the same story or podcast several times – if it is interesting. If it isn’t that interesting, just move on to something else that is interesting. You don’t have to keep rereading the same thing over and over again. Just keep reading (or listening) to something – because you enjoy it!

This will be time well spent and doing this will help you acquire a powerful vocabulary so you can express yourself confidently and with ease.

Here I am reading for pleasure. Even though this book is in English, I still came across words that I didn’t know and thereby improved my own vocabulary. This works in your own language as well – that’s why reading (or listening to stories read aloud or TED talks) is such a powerful way to build your knowledge of words and their meanings. Have fun!

Lisa Reading