Given that I presented a paper at CamTESOL about improving student vocabulary, it seems fitting that I ran across a webpage in which Robert Nagle covers that exact topic.
You can read the article yourself here, but I’ve condensed it down to what I feel are the most important points.
- Notice the words you don’t know. People are generally good at figuring out the overall meaning of a sentence without knowing the meaning of a single word.
- Learn the specialized meaning of a word first; it is then easier to understand the general ways in which it can be used.
- Learn easier words first – words that you encounter every day and come across often.
- Pay extra attention to words already familiar to you; don’t try to constantly add new and unfamiliar words to your vocabulary.
- Try not to “guess” at the meaning of the word. If necessary, look it up. Be sure you understand what the word means.
- Keep a word list or flash cards (or use Anki!) to review words until you recognize them in context.
- Make an effort to read things from different time periods and different geographic regions to expose yourself to different styles of writing and language.
- Most browsers can use plugins to highlight words and automatically look them up in an online dictionary.
- Don’t worry about using a word incorrectly. It’s not that big of a deal – in fact, it’s often quite humorous and helps break the ice.
I don’t agree with him about everything. For example, his last point is that reading is not that important for learning words. I highly disagree. People who read more are exposed to more words more often and see the same words in different contexts. This helps them understand the meaning and use of words. See also the blog posts below this one for more about students who read.