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The best way to learn new language is to put it into context. Rather than learning prescriptive vocabulary lists, you should try to find where the word has meaning for you. Think about situations where the word would help you explain an idea.
Learning by Example
Reading a variety of literature is a fun and useful method of building your vocabulary and knowledge. When reading, you will have an understanding of the context of words, allowing your brain to infer meaning. You could read newspapers, novels and textbooks to develop language useful for many situations. However, one should avoid reading too many “trashy” publications — if the reading material is aimed toward people with limited intellect, it is unlikely that it will stimulate your use of language.
If you are studying a textbook, make sure to read the glossary chapter. This will provide you with specialist terms relevant to your field. It is vital that you understand these if you wish to remain credible. You should also memorise the abbreviated forms (e.g. DVD (digital versatile disc)).
The spoken form of language must not be neglected. Indeed, spoken English is often presented differently to written literature. If you are planning for that important presentation at work, try imitating other established speakers. You could attend conferences or even watch videos on YouTube.
One thing to be aware of is the fact that language is constantly evolving. Be careful of using “archaic” language that is not in common usage anymore. Check the date of publication on books and always look for the most recent edition.
It is critical to understand your audience when communicating. For example, literature aimed at the general public — a warning sign, for example — should be written in plain and concise English. In contrast, a music journalist may decide to use more emotive words in order to engage and entertain the reader. Look at the people who are renowned in their field; how do they communicate?
Another consideration is the differences between the international forms of English (e.g. UK/US/Canadian). For example, you may find ‘whilst’ in British English instead of ‘while’ in US English. Make sure to also learn the differences in spellings.
Use A Dictionary
Get a reputable and up-to-date dictionary and thesaurus. If you do not want to lug around heavy books, you may be able to find digital versions. When reading or writing documents in Microsoft Word, you can right click to find synonyms and definitions.
Practice and Enjoy
Building your vocabulary is a lifelong process that will bring you many benefits. The process doesn’t have to be laborious exercise. Get creative in how you apply your newly learned language — it can be very rewarding.
*ELS recommends only products that we have tried and tested. These include Ultimate Vocabulary. We have agreed to receive a commission from some sales of the Ultimate Vocabulary software because we are happy to endorse this award-winning vocabulary builder.