If you’re reading this, then you’re probably hoping to become a better English learner. That’s great! With this in mind, I’ve written this article which sets out four essential vocabulary learning strategies that will help you become a more fluent and confident English speaker.
Read on to find out what they are!
1. Learn collocations
Collocations are two or more words that usually go together. These combinations of words sound natural and ‘right’ to native English speakers.
That’s why it’s important for you to learn them – they will help you speak more clearly and fluently, and the people you talk to will be able to understand you better.
Here are some examples of English collocations:
‘A quick shower’ – if you’re talking about a shower that only takes 5 minutes, you should use the word ‘quick’ rather than ‘fast’. These two words go together and sound natural to native English speakers.
‘To make a mistake’ – the verb that very often goes with the word ‘mistake’ is ‘to make’.
‘To do your homework’ – the word ‘homework’ goes with the verb ‘to do’, which makes this collocation sound natural to native speakers.
How to learn collocations?
1. Learn them as blocks of language (rather than combinations of individual words). For example, learn the phrase ‘to vaguely remember’ as a block, instead of learning the words ‘vaguely’ and ‘remember’ separately, hoping that you will know how to use them in a sentence. Learning such language blocks will help you remember the collocations.
2. When you learn a new word, try to find examples of collocations that it forms with other words. For example, when you learn the word ‘risk’, it will also be useful for you to learn the collocation ‘to take risk’.
3. Read a lot. It’s the best way to learn collocations in context. Some collocations are very common and they often come up in written English. For example, if you read newspaper articles a lot, you will often spot the same collocations that come up again and again.
2. Learn phrasal verbs
Phrasal verbs are verbs which are made up of a verb and a preposition, and the verb usually changes its meaning as a result. For example ‘to give up’ – the verb ‘to give’ means ‘to transfer something to somebody else’ but when combined with the preposition ‘up’, it means ‘to stop doing something’, as in ‘I want to give up learning French’ (I want to stop learning French).
I’ve put together a list of the 25 most common and extremely useful phrasal verbs that every English learner should know. It’s free and it’s fun so click the image below to download it!
Phrasal verbs will help you sound more fluent and more natural. And English speakers use them a lot so learning them will also help you understand written and spoken English more easily.
How to learn phrasal verbs
Learn them in context – in other words, learn them as part of sentences. This will support the learning process because you will be able to visualise the situation that your sentence describes.
For example, memorising the phrasal verb ‘to take up’ can be quite difficult if you just want to memorise it by itself. You could, however, learn it as part of a sentence, for example: ‘I want to take up French so that I can move to France.’ You can visualise the situation now – you want to start learning French because you’d like to move to France.
So that’s the first part of the task done. But how can you remember that it’s ‘up’ and not ‘in’ for example? You can do it by connecting different ideas and images in your imagination. Here’s what I mean:
‘To take up’ – You want to take up French. Imagine you’re picking a French croissant up from a bakery counter and you take it home with you. Take + up = take up. You’ve just created a little story in your head that will help you memorise this common phrasal verb.
3. Learn link words
Learning link words is the third essential aspect of learning English that I want to discuss here.
By ‘link words’, I mean words that will help you link your thoughts as you’re having a conversation in English. Part of being a confident English speaker is being able to construct logical sentences that flow.
For example, when you want to agree with something somebody else has said, it’s useful to use a link word or phrase, such as ‘I absolutely agree’, ‘you’re right’ or ‘that’s a good point’. It helps you acknowledge what the other person said and move on to what you want to say next.
If you want to talk about the advantages and disadvantages of something in English, you can use link phrases such as ‘on the other hand’ or ‘having said that’ to make your argument logical and coherent.
What link words and phrases should you learn?
It would be impossible for me to give you a complete list of the link words and phrases that you should learn to be fluent in English. However, what I can give you is examples of categories of link words and phrases that I think are extremely useful to learn.
Whenever you come across a new word or phrase that fulfils the function of one of the categories below, you can record it under that category and make sure you learn it.
So, the categories are:
Starting a conversation (for example ‘let me tell you something’)
Adding a point (for example ‘not only… but also…’)
Introducing a list of points (for example ‘firstly…, secondly…’)
Agreeing with somebody (for example ‘I absolutelutely agree’)
4. Put your knowledge into practice
Whatever you learn in English, you need to put it into practice as soon as possible to make sure it really sticks.
How can you do that, though? I often recommend that my students use a simple 3-step process that they follow every time they learn a new collocation, phrasal verb or link word/phrase. Here it is:
Step 1: See it in sentences
Once you’ve memorised a word or phrase, you should look up some sentences that contain it. Most dictionaries include examples of sentences under each entry. Try to find as many examples of sentences that contain your new word/phrase as you can.
By seeing it in context, you will understand how it can be used in practice, which will also further cement it in your memory.
Step 2: Say the sentences out loud
You may be a visual learner, which means that you memorise things just by looking at them. Even if that’s the case, though, you should say all the sentences you read in step 1 out loud to maximise the learning process.
As you say them, engage your imagination as well – imagine the situation that the sentence is about, picture it in detail in your head.
This will consolidate the word/phrase in your memory even further.
Step 3: Construct your own sentences
This is the final step. You’ve now learned the meaning of the new word/phrase and you’ve seen it used in several sentences. Now, it’s time for you to build your own sentences using this word/phrase.
Write them down and say them out loud.
And that’s the end of the process!
What should you do next?
Sign up for my free English Masterclass here. I hope you will enjoy it!
And, if you’re feeling brave enough, book a speaking lesson on italki. If you’re not familiar with italki, it’s a platform where you can connect with native speakers of lots of different languages (including English) and practise your speaking skills.
Take care and good luck!