English Vocabulary Improvement

Learning English vocabulary was the most frustrating thing to me in the whole English learning process. One day I learned some words, the next day I could not remember most of them. Whenever I read an article on the web or a book I came across many unknown words. And to add to that frustration I could not remember the meanings of some words that I had learned earlier. I felt like banging my head against the laptop screen.
I stopped learning new vocabulary for some days. I knew I was doing it the wrong way. I brought in some changes in the technique that I was using to learn new English vocabulary words. I did the following things to improve my English vocabulary.

Building a Strong Foundational English Vocabulary

What I mean by foundational vocabulary? Let me make this idea clear by giving you an example.

Q: What is a language?
A: Language is a means of communication.
Q: What is communication?
A: Exchange of information.
Q: What is information?
A: Facts.
Q: What is a fact?
A: An indisputable case.
Q: What is a case?
A: An occurrence.
Q: What is an instance?
A: A single occurrence of something.
Q: What is an occurrence?

To continue you will now have to use the same words or very similar words to answer this questions. These words are the foundational words. The building blocks. Words like sky, water, home, light and air. These are the basic English vocabulary words. These are important not only because they are basic words, but because they represent concepts which cannot be explained further. Of course you can say that water is a liquid substance made of hydrogen and oxygen. But we do not say that in natural conversation, do you? Ask your mother what water is. She would probably say ‘water is water’ and she might doubt if anything is wrong with you. So, I needed to learn the English words for all these concepts. The words that represent these concepts are the basic words.

I started from scratch again with my basic English vocabulary. I prepared the list of basic English vocabulary words. Started learning them again.

  1. I memorized the definitions of the words.
  2. I understood the concepts wrapped in the words
  3. Downloaded images from the web that matched those concepts
  4. I used Anki. Anki is an english learning app. I made flashcards with those words and pictures. I added example sentences and pronunciations of the words too.
  5. I made an audio file with the basic English vocabulary words. Mixed the same audio file at different length and at different sound level in a audio mixing app. The output was an weird hypnotic like audio file. At the same time I could listen to two to three words. One at normal sound level, the other a little bit lower and so on.
  6. Every night I would listened to that audio file of English vocabulary and when I heard a word I visualized the image that I had earlier downloaded for this word. I didn’t try to remember the meaning. The idea was to get those sounds into my subconscious mind along with the associated visuals.
  7. I watched videos in simple English like Berenstain Bears and other videos for kids. Those videos are generally made with very basic English words.

This way I build up my foundational English vocabulary that consisted of the very basic English words. Why is it so important to have a strong basic vocabulary? This was important to speak about different subjects fluently using limited vocabulary. This was part of the plan that I had made earlier to learn English.

You can’t build a great building on a weak foundation. You must have a solid foundation if you’re going to have a strong superstructure.

– Gordon B. Hinckley

Expanding Vocabulary Beyond Basic English Vocabulary

I then focused on adding more words to my English vocabulary. I collected a list of 5000 most frequently used English words. And I started learning them. Believe me learning new words was much easier and fun now. I found it much easier to remember the meanings of new words. I could explain the meanings of new word in my own words.

Improving Vocabulary Through Word Roots

I started learning word roots to expand my English vocabulary. I used some android apps to this. You can learn many new words in short time by learning the word roots. And the best things is that you will not forget these words and their meanings. Let me give you an example.

‘Tract’ is a latin word which means ‘to drag’ or ‘to pull’. Now by adding some prefixes and suffixes many English words have been derived.

Root WordPrefix/SuffixNew WordMeaning
tractde (from)detractdrag from
tractsub (away from)subtractpull away from
tractdis (away)distractpull away
tractex (out)extractpull out
tractable (adjective)tractablethat can be pulled or dragged
tractre (back)retractpull back
tracttion (noun)tractionthe action of drawing
tractat (toward) + tive (adjective)attractivesomething that can draw you toward it
tractin (not) + able (adj)intractablethat cannot be dragged or pulled
tracttor(noun)tractora vehicle that drags of pulls

You learned 10 words from a single latin root. You can learn many new words by learning latin and greek root words. You can also guess the meaning of some new words even if never learned them before. I once came across the word ‘impervious’ somewhere on the internet. I didn’t know the meaning. But I could guess the meaning from the suffix, prefix and the root word.

im = not

per = through

vi(a) = road

ous = adjective

I guessed that the meaning would be something like ‘not letting through’. And when I looked up the word in the dictionary I found that the meaning was the same as I thought. That was an incentive to learn more root words.

Learning New Vocabulary With Books

I found some books very useful in improving my English vocabulary. I used books to improve my English idioms, English phrasal verbs and English prepositions. You can find some useful books on learning English here.

Learning New Vocabulary Words by Learning English Participles

Earlier I said that an average native speaker uses around 3000 English word to have daily English conversations. How do they do it? It’s their mastery of those common 3000 English words. Their ability to use word combinations to mean different things. ‘Out’ is a particle which have several meanings. By adding these different meanings of the particle we get different meanings of the same verb.

verbparticleMeaningExample
comeout (known)to become knownThe test results have come out.
comeout (visible)to become visibleThe sun has come out.
comeout (completion)to become completeThe flower has come out
comeout (available)to become availableThe new movie of Shahrukh Khan is coming out next friday.
comeout (noticeable)to become noticeableHer shyness came out in the way she spoke.

You see how easy it is to form new words using the word combinations using the words you already know! I am sure now you understand how a native speaker can speak on any subject using only 3000 basic English words. You can do that too.

One of the meanings of ‘out’ is available. So, when Samsung rolls out a new android version for your phone, that means the new version is available for you to download. You can learn the different meaning of the particles using any good dictionary like Oxford Advanced Learner’s  Dictionary and form hundreds of phrasal verbs easily.

Boost Your English Vocabulary Using Metaphors and Idioms

Metaphors simply mean using an idea to mean a different idea. English language is replete with metaphors and idioms. Learn them to increase your grasp of English vocabulary. I am giving you two examples here.

1 I can not wrap my brain why they broke up.
2. I had trouble wrapping my tongue around his name.

Brain is associated with intelligence, ability to understand things. So the first sentence means the speaker can not understand why they broke up.

Tongue is associate with the ability to speak. So the second sentence mean the speaker had trouble pronouncing his name.

These is how I learned and improve English vocabulary. You can build a strong English vocabulary too using the above tips.

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