5 EFFECTIVE ways to learn English vocabulary

Updated: 08/02/2023

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Games help students learn English words
We still use flashcards and activities like “memory pairs” despite having some more interesting and innovating methods these days. Expanding knowledge of vocabulary is one of the most common goals language learners have when they begin their language quest with their personal British Community teacher. In general, many tutors simply say, “Read a book..” or , “Watch films..” and while these suggestions aren’t irrelevant, they require more action on behalf of the student. 

Like all of our classes, both online and offline, we make teaching engaging and dynamic, with the aim of making each lesson memorable, which helps learners to retain more information. 
Here are 5 techniques we use in our lessons to support lexical retention:

1. Games

Whether you’re a young learner studying after school or an adult preparing for a Cambridge English test, games are an incredibly effective way of acquiring and practicing new vernacular. The fact that board games like Scattegories, Scrabble or even quizzes promote competition, teamwork and excitement, all help stimulate language learning.
Players are in the right psychological state to learn; relaxed, motivated and an informal environment encourages flexible experimentation all without the pressure or constriction, of “learning”. 
Even making mistakes is memorable, perhaps even more so which is incredibly beneficial as long as you learn from them!

2. Opposites attract

As the saying goes, “Opposites attract” and you can use this principal to broaden your lexical knowledge. Make a list of recently acquired vocabulary from your English course or immersive activity, (reviewing and remembering each definition. Once you’ve done that, begin writing antonyms (opposite words and definitions) next to each one. Obviously, you may have difficulty coming up with these antonyms, so use of a goodCambridge dictionarywill certainly be necessary and let’s not underestimate the power of a good old dictionary.. Yes, a dictionary. Much more than offering just a definition, you’ll be exposed to synonyms (similar words in meaning), antonyms and even pronunciation in the form of phonetic script so you can learn how to pronounce them as well. 


Word       | Synonym  | Antonym 
Amazing | Incredible | Ordinary 

Become a human dictionary!

3. Word Formation

A very powerful exercise that students begin doing regularly when they prepare for Cambridge B2 exam, First Certificate and up. Word Formation is the act of taking one word and changing its form into a verb, noun, adjective and adverb. From one single word, you can actually learn 4 different forms (not all words can be transformed into different forms). 

Let’s give you an example:


Verb: To Create  Noun: Creation/Creator  Adjective: Creative  Adverb: Creatively 

Make a nice table in a notebook and constantly add to your list. This activity should be done at least once a week and will rapidly improve your communication.  

4. Write definitions, not translations

Many students make a grave mistake when learning new words; translating them into their own language. While this can help understand the definition, it certainly doesn’t help remembering and applying the term when speaking or writing in English.
A better solution is to write a definition in English alongside a personalised example. This last part is extremely important. By personalising the example, you make it more relevant and real to you which should help you retain and reproduce it when necessary. 
By writing an English definition, you will also need to think in English and use other words to describe and explain the meaning, training you even more. Try it! 


“Teacher” - a person who shares and explains their knowledge and understanding with students, typically in a school.  

5. Use visuals

Most language learners have a visual memory. By incorporating images into your word list, associating to  word or phrase, can help you recall newly acquired vocabulary, this is called anchoring. This isn’t a new revelation but it’s incredible to think that most students don’t do it. By simply typing a new word into Google Images, you can choose from hundreds of pictures that suit the definition. Copy and pasting a picture into PowerPoint can be a fun and effective way to build a visual dictionary which can be easily found and reviewed before every online class or conversation with your tutor. 

Have you found these suggestions useful?  Please share them with someone learning English.
Do you have any questions or other techniques that you find effective? Comment on the article.

Thank you for reading!

British Community Team 

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