Improving your English vocabulary


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Having a great English vocabulary doesn't just mean that you can understand lots of words and phrases: it also means that you can use these words and phrases and that you can remember them when you need them.
This is the difference between an active and a passive vocabulary. Generally, most people's passive vocabulary is far bigger than their active vocabulary, and the secret is to try and "activate" passive knowledge.
There are a number of ways that you can activate your passive vocabulary in English, ranging from simple five-minute activities to longer periods of study. Most activities work best if a) you have a good English dictionary, and b) you keep a vocabulary notebook.

Good English dictionaries
A good English dictionary should be up-to-date (no more than five years old!) and should be easy to understand. Make sure that the definitions are written in clear English. Pictures also help you to understand some words. I strongly recommend the Longman range of dictionaries, as there is good coverage of spoken and written English, British and American English, as well as clear example sentences.
Vocabulary notebooks
When you come across a new English word or phrase, make a note of it! Look up the meaning in the dictionary, making sure you are aware of any grammatical information. (For instance, if you are looking up a verb, check to see if the verb can be used in a passive form, if it is followed by any particular preposition, and so on.) Check also for the pronunciation and use of a word. Is it particularly formal or informal, or used in certain word partnerships? For example, we say "do housework", but "make an effort".
When you find a new word, check to see if you can use it in other ways. English is a flexible language - nouns, verbs and adjectives often share the same stem. For example, a house, to house, housing policy, and so on.
When you write down your new word in your notebook, try to include an example sentence in English.
Some people find it helpful to organise notebooks into themes. So rather than having a list of words without any obvious connection, you divide your notebook into themes, with one page containing words to do with the house, another page with words to do with jobs, and so on.

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