Tips for Building Vocabulary

In this English lesson, we’re going to offer three tips to help you increase your vocabulary. Building vocabulary can be a difficult experience for learners of any language, but English’s large number of irregular words and words borrowed from other languages can make the process particularly challenging.

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Start a word journal

One of the most effective ways to boost your vocabulary is to keep a word journal. Keep a small notebook with you and write down any words that you do not know. Look up the meanings of new words, and focus on creating associations between new words and concepts that you already understand. In other words, don’t just write out the full dictionary definition. A synonym or two (in English), plus a key phrase that helps jog your memory will be far more effective.

Create flashcards of your word journal words

Flashcards should be used alongside your word journal, not as a replacement for it. The main advantage of flashcards is that you can quiz yourself. Keep your flashcards with you, and pull them out whenever you have a few spare minutes. While writing flashcards can be time-consuming, there are online resources that can make the process much faster and less painful. lets you create digital flashcards by typing in a word and selecting from a list of definitions. Quizlet also has an app, allowing you take your electronic flashcards wherever you go.

Use Morphemes

A morpheme is the smallest grammatical component of a word. The idea here is to break a word down into three parts: prefix, root, and suffix. For example, let’s say you didn’t know the definition of “indisputable.” The root “dispute” indicates disagreement. The prefix “in” means not. Finally, the suffix “able” means capable of. Put the meanings of the individual morphemes back together, and you can see that indisputable is “not capable of being disagreed with.”

Using morphemes while you’re reading lets you use words that you already know to help understand words that you do not. Not all English words are as straightforward in their construction as the above example, but you can get surprisingly close to the full meanings of many words by understanding what their separate parts mean.

Like flashcards, morphemes are something you should use with, not in place of, a word journal. Obviously, if you don’t know the meaning of the root of a particular word, the morphemes process won’t be of much help in understanding that word. Furthermore, some modern English words have irregular constructions that cannot be broken down into “prefix-root-suffix.” Other words are based around less common definitions of the root word. Still other words have drifted so far from their original meanings that they bear no connection to the words that they were derived from.