The acquisition of vocabulary is one of the most important tasks in language learning. If you have enough words, you can make sense of what you are reading or listening to and you can somehow express yourself.

In short, vocabulary acquisition is much more important than grammar. The grammar we have is acquired gradually as we become familiar with the language, with the words, but first of all we need words.

How Do We Learn Vocabulary?

Vocabulary knowledge is not something that can ever be fully mastered; it is something that expands and deepens over the course of a lifetime. Instruction in vocabulary involves far more than looking up words in a dictionary and using the words in a sentence.

Research argues that knowing a vocabulary word in the target language is the ability to:

  1. recognize it in its spoken form.
  2. recall it at will.
  3. relate it to an appropriate object or concept.
  4. use it in the appropriate grammatical form.
  5. in speech, pronounce it in a recognizable way.
  6. in writing, spell it correctly
  7. use it with the words it correctly goes with, i.e. in the correct collocation.
  8. use it at the appropriate level of formality.
  9. be aware of its connotations and associations.

Now, the strategy that you adopt will depend on your personal preference and also, in my view, how much time you have.

One thing that has helped many of my students is learning more about synonyms, antonyms, and homonyms. Understanding these three phenomena leads to better comprehension, better spelling, and more expressive writing.

In each of the following groups, circle the item that means the same as the boldface word in the introductory phrase:

  1. A saturnine temperament A. gloomy   B. surly      C. ugly
  2. A fatuous comment:  A. perceptive   B. foolish   C. brief
  3. A paucity of resources:  A. abundance   B. scarcity   C. use
  4. Accused them of pedantry:  A. hairsplitting   B. treason   C. exactness
  5. A record of their peregrinations:  A. dreams    B. expenses    C. travels
  6. A paltry amount:  A. small         B. piddling        C. incorrect
  7. vituperative remarks: A. complimentary   B. brief     C. abusive
  8. a travesty of justice: A. misinterpretation  B. calculated   C. trial
  9. saturate the field: A. dry  B. soak   C. open
  10. cognizant of the problems: A. unaware   B. aware   C. proud
  11. a benign influence:  A. tireless   B. kind  C. cruel
  12. incarcerate the prisoner:  A. imprison  B. release   C. flatter
  13. an imperturbable manager:   A. excitable   B. skillful   C. composed
  14. unremitting efforts:   A. continual   B successful    C. recent
  15. performed like a tyro:   A. veteran    B. coward    C. beginner

ANSWERS: 1A  2B  3B  4C  5C  6A  7C  8A  9B  10B 11B 12A  13C  14A  15C

How did fair? Once again Dear Reader, with practice you will see your vocabulary improving so much: both written and spoken.

Another top tip: LEARN THE CULTURE. There are a number of different kinds of English around the world. British and American English might seem the same, but there are many little differences.

Also note that sometimes even native speakers don’t understand other dialects of English 100%, and that’s definitely true.

When you are learning new words, keep in mind which country you plan to visit, live in or work in. You should learn British English if you plan to go to England, American English if you plan to go to America, and so on.

The word color, for example, is spelled as “colour” in British English. British people used the words “brilliant” and “cheers” often, but Americans prefer to say “cool” instead of “brilliant” and “see you” instead of “cheers.”

Good luck in all your endeavours.

As of old: BE EMPOWERED and EXCEL!

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