12 Proven Tips to Improve your English Vocabulary

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By Barney Meekin · December 19, 2023 · 9 minute read

It’s like a nightmare, isn’t it? You finally felt comfortable enough to use your English in a professional setting. But you’re at the job interview and you can’t find the right word to express your ideas. You hesitate, trying to think of the word. No good. It isn’t there. The interviewer looks at you waiting. Your heart starts pounding and you can feel sweat on your forehead. You say something (anything), but it doesn't answer the question. And you know the rest of the interview isn’t going to go well.

You might not be ready to use your English to get a job yet. But you can sympathize with this example. You’ve worked hard on your English. And you’ve done amazing to get to the level you’re at now. But you’ve had moments when the right word just won’t come — no matter how hard you try.

The way to avoid this is by building your vocabulary. Developing vocabulary sharpens your communication and opens doors to new professional or academic opportunities. In this article, you’ll learn how to improve your English vocabulary.

Boost your English skills and understand more vocabulary!

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Take your English skills to the next level by learning new vocabulary you can use in your daily conversations. Try Busuu’s free online courses and learning resources!

Unlock the benefits of a wide vocabulary

Let’s take a look at the benefits of knowing a lot of English vocabulary.

Boosts your communication skills

Knowing lots of English words helps you express yourself. But, it's not just about using big words. It's about finding the right words for the right situation. This means you can always choose the clearest — or most effective way — to communicate your ideas.

Leads to academic and professional success

In academic settings, a wide vocabulary helps you understand complicated topics and materials. And it makes it easier for you to write compelling essays and reports. In the professional world, a wide vocabulary helps you create persuasive presentations, engage in high-level discussions, and understand industry-specific terminology. It gives you access to the lexicons you need, whether they’re academic or professional.

Gives you deeper social interactions

A wide vocabulary gives you more meaningful social interactions because you can engage more deeply in conversations — about many different topics — and you can connect with people from diverse backgrounds. When you only understand the most basic words and phrases, there’s a limit to how much you can connect and interact with people.

How to increase your vocabulary: 12 top tips

Let’s break down the best ways for you to increase your English vocabulary.

1. Read regularly

Reading is a fantastic way to learn a language — and improving vocabulary in particular is no different. Read different genres and styles like fiction, non-fiction, news articles, and scientific journals. This way you see a variety of styles. And you come across different words.

Finding suitable reading materials for language learners is a challenge. But, luckily for you English learners, there’s so much out there. For example, graded readers are one of the best resources for language learners. They’re adapted from novels or non-fiction books to be easy to read for language learners. And you can find them for every level — whether you’re a beginner or an advanced learner, there are graded readers that will be a big help to you.

Online is another place to find great reading materials. Blogs, news sites, and social media are the places where you can find (usually) free materials to read. Just make sure you choose materials that are a suitable level: At your current level or slightly above.

2.Think about, and then look up new words

Whenever you encounter a new word, don’t look it up in your dictionary right away. Spend a bit of time trying to guess its meaning from the context. Look at the words that come before and after. Think about the previous sentences and paragraphs. What were they talking about? Use this information to make an educated guess at what the word means.

Then use a dictionary to check your guess. Sure, it’s much easier to look it up straight away. But guessing from context engages your brain. When you look it up, understand its meaning, and pronunciation, and check the example sentences. You can also look in a thesaurus. This gives you the synonyms and antonyms, so you get a deeper understanding.

3. Learn in context

Context is key. It changes what words mean and how they’re used. Learning words in context helps you understand how to use them correctly. Pay attention to words in sentences and different situations. Think about the similarities and differences. Of course, reading is a great way for you to see words in context. But so is audio content like podcasts.

4. Do spaced-repetition reviews

Spaced repetition is a learning technique where you review words after a (increasing) period of time. The more often and consistently we see something, the more likely it is to stick. Contrast this to how people cram for tests for a week, only to forget everything after the test.

Spaced repetition is effective for memorizing vocabulary long-term. Here’s an example of how it can work: You learn a new word on Day 1. On Day 2, you review that word for the first time. On Day 7 you review the word for the second time. On Day 16 you do the third review. And on Day 32 you do the fourth. There are tons of different spaced-repetition schedules so experiment and find the schedule that works for you.

Check out Busuu’s Vocabulary Review tool. It keeps track of all the words you come across on your course, and uses a spaced-repetition algorithm to help you remember them.

5. Learn a word a day

This is a simple — and easy-to-stick-to — way to learn new vocabulary. Learn one new word each day. That’s it. It doesn't sound like much, but if you do it every day it’s easy to see how it can help to build your vocabulary. Bonus points if you combine it with spaced repetition.

Could your English vocabulary get even better?

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Yes, of course! By reading books and taking free online courses in English from Busuu, you will learn not just one, but a lot of new words you can use and practise!

6. Keep a vocabulary journal

When you learn new words, write them down. It’s a simple and effective way of keeping track of the words you learn. So record new words, their definitions, their pronunciation, and example sentences. Also, add their antonyms and synonyms. Make sure you review this journal regularly to reinforce your learning.

7. Use your new words

Add your new words to your daily conversations, emails, or social media. Whenever and wherever you can use them. This not only helps in remembering the word but also improves your confidence in using it.

8. Write and Apply

Struggling to think of how to add your new words to your language practice? Well, writing is an excellent way to develop vocabulary. Write essays, keep a journal, or even do creative writing. Just make sure to include the new words you learn. Research shows that written vocabulary activities are effective for vocabulary learning.

9. Talk and interact with people

Speaking with others is a good way of both practicing the new words you’ve learned, and hearing new words, phrases, expressions, or idioms. So get out there and interact in English.

10. Use flashcards

People have used flashcards to learn vocabulary for decades — and with good reason. Flashcards are a proven method for vocabulary learning. You can keep them in your pocket to review anytime. And if you use digital flashcards they often use spaced repetition algorithms to help you memorize the words.

11. Make the most of technology

Busuu’s Vocabulary Trainer keeps track of — and automatically saves — all the words you learn during your course. You can review them at any time and take quizzes to test your knowledge. The Strengthen Vocabulary feature focuses on words you got wrong in the past so you can address your weaknesses.

12. Teach your new words to other language learners

Sharing your knowledge reinforces your learning. Because to teach words, you need to think about them more deeply. So teach new words to friends or family members. Or you can find people to teach in Busuu’s community of millions of language learners.

Build your English vocabulary

Developing your English vocabulary can give you deeper social interactions, better academic and professional opportunities, and improved communication skills. English vocabulary is huge — so this won’t happen overnight. But if you follow the 12 tips in this article, you’ll be well on your way to having a wide range of English vocabulary.

Develop your English vocabulary with Busuu

With Busuu’s Vocabulary Review and Vocabulary Trainer, you get personalized vocabulary practice. AI-powered algorithms help you remember the words you need when you need them.