Practical Ways to Increase Your Vocabulary
Updated: May 14
Advanced language learning can be difficult if you lack a well-rounded vocabulary knowledge. I have found in my usage of Spanish that I can understand quite a bit of what other people say, but when I go to talk, I just lack the necessary vocabulary to have a successful conversation. Well at least one with an adult. I seem to do okay with the kids!
Growing your vocabulary takes time and years of study. Most of us just don't have time to sit down and study a vocabulary list in a new language. Furthermore, this just isn't the way we learn. So what are things you can do to improve your vocabulary that require less time commitment but are just as effective?
Make a Vocabulary Goal
You can't really learn new vocabulary unless you know what kind of vocabulary you want to know. Write down what you want to learn and what you need advanced vocabulary for. Do you need to be able to communicate with your boss? Do you want to discuss advanced science? Do you want to discuss literature? Do you want the academic vocabulary to succeed in school? Do you need to know health terms?
Determining what type of vocabulary you need will help you pick sources and find materials for learning. It isn't just language learners that want and need to learn vocabulary!
Read 15 Minutes Per Day
This one may take more time and effort than the rest, but what kind of language teacher would I be if I didn't mention it? Reading 15 minutes or more per day is proven to increase a person's vocabulary. The more you read, the more vocabulary you are exposed to. When it is something that isn't a priority, it is easy to say that you don't have time to do it. So, make it a priority. Wake up 15 minutes early, go to bed 15 minutes late, read during your lunch break, read while you are waiting on dinner. Make sure to read something that is on your level if you want to learn vocabulary. For example, a high school student reading a picture book may not learn new vocabulary, unless they are a beginning English language learner, then maybe all of the words in the book are new and thus excellent vocabulary exposure.
Listen to Educational Audiobooks, Podcasts, or Other Media That Has the Types of Vocabulary Words You Want to Learn
Think about what vocabulary you want to learn. Are the words particular to a career field or other discipline? Listen to podcasts or audiobooks in that discipline. Are you just looking for general vocabulary development? Listen to any book that you are interested in. Listening to material fits our busy lifestyles well. You can do it while you are in the car, on the bus, cooking dinner, doing chores, or even taking a shower. Just 10-20 minutes a day could expose you to numerous new vocabulary terms.
Subscribe to a Vocabulary of the Day List
There are many online sites that offer vocabulary words of the day, such as this one from Merriam-Webster. You can even subscribe to their list and get the new word sent to your email every day! After receiving the word of the day, you can practice using it all day long.
If this is too much for you, you can do a "modified" vocabulary word of the day by maybe picking the word for Monday and making it your word for the week. Then you can make a point to use the word every day or practice using it multiple times during the week.
Label Your Home
I find this one to be particularly fun! This works great for kids and people learning basic vocabulary, but also for advanced vocabulary. Of course you can label a chair "chair," but you could also label your plain white wall as "austere." Seeing the words visually is a great way to remind yourself what each word means and practice saying them or using them in your head.
Get a Vocab Buddy
Have you ever thought that doing something new was easier to do with someone else? Why should learning new vocabulary be any different? Find someone who also wants to learn new vocabulary and make it a goal to use one word a day (or week) in conversation via text, phone, email, or even in-person. Finding someone to practice new vocabulary with will help keep you accountable for your learning.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Practice using the word or words you are learning as much as possible. Keep a list of words at your work desk and make a point to try to use them in an email. Keep one word written on your hand and try to think of ways you can use it with your family at dinner. Look for the word used in what you see or what you read. Think of as many things at work, school, or your home that you can describe using the word or use the word to talk about. Practice is the key to retaining your new vocabulary.