How to Learn New English Words Today | Vocabulary Tips

Lesson Overview

Lesson Summary 

Learn new English words today! I’m sharing tips to help you activate your passive vocabulary and remember how to use words correctly in English sentences.
How do you retain your knowledge of English words? Do you have any tips to share?

Create an ‘English Bubble’ with these great online communities:
Hey Lady! – My online community for women learning English. Meet Women around the world, find speaking partners, study English and learn about different cultures! ‍♀️
⭐️Learn More here:
⭐️InFluency Community (with Hadar from Accents Way)

Online Dictionaries I recommend:

Video Transcript
Section 1
Well hey there I’m Emma from mmmEnglish. Today I’ve got four tips to help you learn new words and to expand your active vocabulary.

Now we all know that learning new words isn’t actually the hardest part, it’s remembering them and then being able to use them correctly in a sentence when the time comes.

This lesson is going to help you to unlock the words that you’ve learnt but you don’t use and give you the tools to maintain and retain that knowledge.

More importantly, I’ll show you how to do all of that in a way that makes sense to you. I’m really excited about this lesson. Let’s get started!

Have you ever been mid-sentence and found yourself completely stuck? Trying to remember a word?

I know you have, we all have. But then five minutes later when the moment’s completely passed, you’re like:

Cabbage, that was the word. Cabbage. I know that word.

So why can’t you recall that word when you actually need it? I’ll tell you why, it’s because it’s part of your passive vocabulary. It’s a word that you know but you never actually use yourself. It’s not part of your active vocabulary.

So your active vocabulary are the words that you use regularly. They pop into your head with ease, you never have to worry about it.

1. Activate your Passive Vocabulary

So today the first thing I’m going to show you is how to make your passive vocabulary active, how to take advantage of the words that you do actually already know but you just don’t use them enough to remember them. Your active vocabulary is made up of the words that you use most.

And it’s also much smaller in size than your passive vocabulary and that’s totally normal. Even though English is my first language my passive vocabulary is also so much greater than my active vocabulary, it’s very normal.

This is what helps us to understand the meaning of the wordson the page or when you’re listening to someone talking without actually really understanding and being able to use those words ourselves.

But learning how to harness those words that make up our passive vocabulary is a really good way to increase our active vocabulary without actually having to learn completely new words, right? These words are already in there somewhere.

How cool is that?

So I know you’re asking the question:

How do we do this? How do we get at those words?

Well, we’ll have to start by doing a bit of research, spending some time analysing the words that you use and the ones that you don’t.

So you need to get started with a notebook and start taking some notes. Now this is going to take a little bit of time, okay? We can’t just sit down and write a big list of all of the words of our passive vocabulary. We’ve got to go looking for them, we’ve got to be paying attention when we’re reading or when we’re listening when someone else is talking or we’re watching telly.

So you want to look out for the words that you kind of know but you know that you don’t use very much. You want to take those words from your passive vocabulary and move them across to your active vocabulary.

So you write these words down. The next part is really simple. Once you’ve got this list pick just one word each day and focus on that word. Focus on using that word and that means speaking and writing.

Some of the tips that I’m sharing today are going to inspire you how to do this, all right?

So let’s say you’ve identified the word decline. It’s in your passive vocabulary, you already know that it’s a verb and that it means refuse, it means to say no in a polite way. But you don’t use it regularly yourself.

So the first thing you’ve got to do is practise using this verb in context by writing a few sentences down yourself. Get creative.

  • I invited him to the party but he declined.
  • She declined my offer of help.

You can keep going until you start feeling like you’ve got a few different examples and you know how to use this word.

Next thing is to start exploring. Google this word and then switch over to the news tab. So you’ll find heaps of real-world examples of this word used in context. Write them down as well. And this is also a really good chance to check for context.

Does this word actually have more than one meaning?

Yeah. The verb decline also means to gradually become less or worse or lower.

  • After all of those scandals, the prime minister’s popularity has declined.

Now I know you can manage this. Spending just a few minutes each day focusing on one word from your passive vocabulary.

By the end of the week, you’re gonna have seven brand new words that you’ve shifted into your active vocabulary, right?

Create an English bubble

So this next tip is something that I’m really passionate about. It’s something that’s going to help you in every aspect of your language journey while you’re listening, you’re speaking, your writing, your general understanding.

Your pronunciation, your grammar, your vocabulary, you name it, it’s all there and I’m talking about creating an English bubble.

You might have heard people say that the best way to learn a language is to actually go to a country where they speak it and you’re surrounded by it, you’re living in that country.

Well, that’s not always an option, especially right now. But when you live in an English-speaking country, you are immersed in the English language, right?

It’s all around you, you hear it all the time. You see English all the time and you’re forced to speak English often.

So when you can’t travel to an English-speaking country then creating your own English language bubble is the next best thing. You want to surround yourself, immerse yourself in English. Now there are lots of easy ways that you can do this okay? We’re very lucky in this day and age.

You can immerse yourself in an online English community, show up there every day, be surrounded by activities, ideas and people all communicating in English.

Now I’ve added links to a few different online communities, English communities down below including mine which is an online community for women learning English and we meet and speak and practise and learn every day. It’s about creating that bubble.

Now you can also be listening to the radio or podcast so easily now. Listening to English in the background while you’re tidying up, your cooking, you’re driving, you’re walking, all of this is boosting your passive vocabulary and training your ears to recognise the sounds of English.

You can watch movies and TV shows to do this as well, turn the subtitles off. But just so you know, you don’t have to watch the whole movie in English without subtitles, just watch the first ten minutes, write down any new words that you hear or words that you want to look into a little bit more.

After that, put the subtitles back on if you need them and just relax and enjoy the movie!

Another thing that you can do and you should be doing this if you’re not already, change the language on your computer or on your phone to English. It’s a really easy and effective way to activate passive vocabulary because every time you’re on your computer, you’re navigating and you’re practising lots of really functional verbs in English to help you get familiar with them, get comfortable with them.

You know, this is really functional language, the kind of thing that you’re not going to get out of a textbook but you’ve got the power to do this right in front of you. You carry it with you all the time.

There are so many different ways that you can bring more English into your life.

In fact, if you can think of some other ways or other things that you can bring into your English bubble, add them down in the comments below. I’d love to hear your thoughts about that.

The most important thing is that each of these things that you’re doing is something that’s interesting and relevant to you.

That’s the most important thing because you’ve got to be loving it, enjoying it, interested in it, right? Find those things and bring them closer to you, bring them inside your bubble.

2. Use a good dictionary

My next tip is to use a really good English to English dictionary. Don’t use a translator unless you really really have to okay.

Try to understand the meaning of a word or a phrase in English. By doing this, again you’re exposing yourself to many more English words than if you’re using a bilingual dictionary or you’re translating you know using Google Translate.

I’ve shared links down in the description to my favourite online dictionaries but I definitely love Cambridge English learners dictionary. It’s an amazing resource. What I want to do is help you to see some of the cool things that you can find in this dictionary that you might not know about.

I’m going to show you how to make use of it.

So obviously we type in our word at the top, straight away we can see that decline as a verb means to go down, to gradually become less, worse or lower. We can also see the phonemic script which helps us to understand how we need to pronounce this word, how to say it clearly.

We can hear it in both British English and American English. So you can listen to the pronunciation and practise out loud. Move a little further down the page and you can see some examples. So we can see how this verb is being used in context.

Watch out for some extra information like right here we can see that the way that decline is used in this sentence is more formal. And down here we can expand any of these tabs to get more information about this verb. We can see some more example sentences, some synonyms.

Keep going, we can see some more examples how declined has been used in lots of different ways, what other words it’s often used with. We can start to see the patterns here. We’re looking for groups of words and phrases that relate to declined.

If we keep going down and we keep exploring, we can see that decline has a second meaning as a verb. It can mean refuse.

We can see it being used in the context of an idiom and as a noun.

So there are so many amazing bits of information and things that you can use to understand how this word is being used. Spending the time exploring and building on words through a fantastic online dictionary will definitely help you to improve your vocabulary and your ability to use new words in context.

Now that you’ve created all of these amazing opportunities to learn new words and new vocabulary, you need to find a way to use it, right?

So this is hands down the best way to remember new words, phrases and expressions, even grammar structures. By using it yourself and to do it regularly.

3. Develop a writing practice

One of my favourite ways to do this and ways that I recommend to my students often is to write. You only need to spend ten minutes a day doing this. Find a regular time to do it to build that habit. You know maybe while you’re having your morning coffee or before you go to bed in the evening.

You can write a few sentences about what happened that day or describe a dream that you had or write a list of all of the things in your kitchen cupboard, for example.

This task is so versatile, you can really use it in so many ways. You can use it to identify gaps in your knowledge or test yourself. You know, look around your kitchen. Do you know the names of all the items in your kitchen?

Can you describe that man you sat next to on the tram? You know describe his personality or the personality you think that he has.

So taking the time to actually produce sentences in English by writing them down, this is the best way to help you remember what you’re learning or find those gaps.

You know you’re using the language in a really meaningful way. It’s making those connections in your brains and building association. Of course, you can memorise a word right but it won’t actually help you to produce it when you need to.

You need context in order to make that word useful and relevant.

So practise, practise, practise, practise, practise, practise every day, ten minutes a day. Honestly. Write to me about it, share a comment down below, a random story. Tell me what’s in your fridge.

I don’t mind honestly, as long as you’re practising that makes me so happy.

4. Use flashcards and post-it notes

Okay you might be thinking: Emma that’s kind of daggy. Flashcards and post-it notes?

This is one of my favourite ways to learn and remember tricky words or tricky grammar structures and collocations. I think it’s something about physically writing down these ideas and these words, that helps to commit it to memory and it’s not just useful for vocabulary.

You can use this same method to learn collocations, phrases, idioms even grammar points, I’ve found. Physically sticking notes around your house helps you to see them often and be reminded of them often.

And no I’m not talking about sticking a note on the fridge that says fridge, I think we’re a little beyond that now, right?

So what I would suggest is that you write down multiple words, phrases or even whole sentences that you want to learn.

For example, let’s look at decline here.

The first thing that I would say: What words does it collocate with?

Write all of these words on your flashcard. Write them together so you’re learning them together as a pattern. Stick them around the house where you’re going to see them often, you’re going to be reminded of them often.

Maybe you heard the perfect example of a sentence in the past perfect continuous. You heard it while you were listening to a podcast.

  • They had been waiting their whole lives for this moment.

Write that down, write it down. Stick it to the outside of your shower screen so you can memorise it while you’re washing your hair or on your mirror while you’re brushing your teeth.

You stick these cards in places where you often spend some time doing something else, you’re sort of stuck there.

Maybe at the kitchen sink while you’re doing the dishes or next to the TV or next to your computer.

So by doing this, you’re just creating lots of little moments of incidental learning, all right?

You’re not sitting down to study you’re just seeing it and you’re being reminded of it often and it’s that repetition, that frequency that makes things, words, ideas, collocations stick in your mind.

If you’re struggling with interested, you keep saying interested for instead of interested in, make it the screensaver on your computer so that every time you come back to your desk you get reminded that in goes with interested, interested in.

And I promise you it won’t be long before it becomes natural and easy to say interested in.

You won’t even remember how you used to say it!

So there you have it! My tips to learn new words and to expand your active vocabulary. Maybe some of the ideas I shared here today are useful for you. Maybe some of them aren’t. Maybe you use your own strategies already to learn new vocabulary. Tell me about them down in the comments, you know that I love to hear from you there.

Of course, there are lots of language videos on the mmmEnglish channel, lots of vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, speaking videos.

Here are a couple of my favourites that I think you’ll like. I will see you in there. Bye for now!

Links mentioned in the video

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