If you’ve been around native English speakers for a while, you have more than likely come across words that have seemed foreign or confusing to you. Listening to native English speakers refer to a commotion as a ‘hullaballoo’ or call a bad idea ‘preposterous’ can confuse most foreign speakers. After all, these are fairly uncommon words used to communicate very specific ideas. But why do native English speakers use words like these?
Because they help them communicate the ideas in their head clearly, confidently, and often more efficiently than any other word. Forinstance, while calling an idea ‘bad’ would get the point across, the word ‘preposterous’ suggests that you find the idea utterly repelling. Knowing words like these can help you communicate complex ideas without saying much, which is an important part of being a fluent English speaker. This article will guide you through effective tips and tricks that you can use to expand your English vocabulary.
What is Vocabulary?
Vocabulary is simply the collection of all words used in a particular language. English has the largest vocabulary of any language, which makes it all the more confusing for English as a second language speakers to understand English words. Out of the total 200,000 words listed in the Oxford Dictionary, over 47,000 are now considered obsolete or not in common use. A few thousand others like ‘lollygagging’ are used only by people from a specific part of the world. One of the many reasons behind English’s huge vocabulary is that almost every word in the language has at least tens of synonyms. Here’s an example:
The word ‘big’ is synonymous with,
And this is just the tip of the iceberg! Some expert speakers might also use words like Brobdingnagian instead of big. Brobdingnagian refers to the island of Brobdingnag, which is a land occupied by giants in the classic English novel Gulliver’s Travels. Many other English words like Kafkaesque come from iconic stories and novels written in English.
How to improve your English vocabulary
Here are a few tips that can help you learn and practise English words.
- Always keep a dictionary handy: Pocket dictionaries are a handy tool for intermediate English speakers trying to expand their English vocabulary. Having a dictionary with you allows you to look up a new word right when you hear or read it. Making an instant connection between the meaning of the word and the context you just heard it in helps you remember it much better. You can even make small annotations against the word in your dictionary to remind yourself where you heard it.
- Read popular literature: Brobdingnagian and Kafkaesque are only two of the several hundred English words that can be traced back to popular literature. Giving classics like Moby Dick or Oliver Twist a try can help you get familiar with the context behind these words, which makes it easier to understand and remember them. Even relatively modern words that you’d usually connect to the internet find their origins in famous works of fictional/non-fictional literature. The word meme, for example, was first used by Richard Dawkins in his book The Selfish Gene to refer to ideas, behaviors, or styles that spread from person to person.
Five books one should read in order to boost their vocabulary growth
- Always look up synonyms: Synonyms can help you expand your English vocabulary in two main ways. They help you connect bigger, more complex words to smaller ones that can help you get some context. For example, you might not know what ‘petrified’ means but knowing that it is synonymous with ‘scared’ helps you understand how it is used. Synonyms are also an excellent way to learn more than one English word at a time. It will be easier for you to learn a bunch of these words together since they share the same meaning!
- Categorize words by usage: A cardinal mistake that English learners make is not classifying the words they encounter into well-described groups. As a result, they are often confused about how and when a word is used even if they know its general meaning. For instance, the word ‘altitude’ is used to refer to height but you can’t just use it to describe objects. Altitude is used in geographical contexts while describing the height of a mountain or any other landscape above sea level. Words like altitude, tributary, delta, and drainage belong under the ‘Geography’ pile. You can arrange every new word you read or hear into similar subject-based piles to understand their usage better.
Practising what you learn
Once you’ve learned a good amount of new English words, it is time to practise using them in everyday conversation. It is important to surround yourself with people who won’t mind correcting you if you’re using a word wrong and are supportive of your efforts to speak fluent English. Practising new words in the right, supportive environments can help you build up much-needed confidence.
At Immigo, we understand the value of peer-based learning. Our live speaking courses help you practise in real time and expand your vocabulary by practising with real people. Browse through our course catalog today.