How to Really Learn New Words: 5 Tips to Boost your English Vocabulary Fast

Words are the building blocks of a language. If you want to build a solid house you need a good foundation. After the structure of the house is sturdy and secure, you can continue adding to it by investing time and hard work. The same is true of expanding your vocabulary.

So, what happens if you do a sloppy renovation job? Maybe something breaks and needs to be repaired. That means maintenance work. Either you can let it go and just live with it or you can reinforce which would definitely be the best long-term policy. Again, this rings true of learning new words in English.

So, what does it mean to really learn a word?

For many students learning new vocabulary is a process of memorizing long lists of words for exams which they soon forget afterwards. Not so helpful in the long-term! But, let’s be honest. This isn’t really learning. For the sake of this blog post, let’s say that really learning vocabulary means not just being able to recognize a word or spell it correctly but actually incorporate it into your written and spoken English, not just once, but on a regular ongoing basis.

And how can you do that? I’m glad you asked!
In this blog post, we’re going to first look at how the brain memorizes and forgets new information and then, I’m going to share with you 5 easy ways to boost your vocabulary.

Keep reading to find out more!

How quickly do we forget new information?

Our brains work a bit like a computer hard drive. That is, they have a limited capacity for memory. The difference is, when our laptop’s hard drive fills up, we decide which files to keep and which ones to delete. Not so with our brain. Without our awareness, our brains discard information it considers unimportant or unnecessary. Sometimes this is vocabulary which we’ve memorized but we haven’t reinforced enough.

So, how easy is it to forget something? Let’s take a look at a graph called the forgetting curve.

The Forgetting Curve is a theory which was developed by the German psychologist Herman Ebbinghaus. In short, this theory states that new information is forgotten quickly over days and weeks if it’s not reinforced enough. To prove this, Ebbinghaus memorized a list of nonsense syllables and then tested his memory at regular intervals, plotting the information on the graph.

What can we take away from Ebbinghaus’ study?

We can learn some pretty cool (but perhaps somewhat obvious things) from Ebbinghaus’s study:

  1. The more meaningful the material is, the more likely you are to recall it later.
  2. The way that it is presented or learned can make material easier to remember.
  3. Physiological factors like stress and sleep influence how well we learn and remember something.

So, what does this have to do with learning vocabulary? A lot actually. Taking this info into account we can make learning new words more relevant, easier, and more successful.

5 Tips To Learn New English Vocabulary In No Time

1. Find Parallels and Linguistic Similarities between your first language and English

Did you know that “more than 6000 languages use similar sounds for common words”? Interesting, right?! When learning a new language, looking for linguistic similarities can be a huge help. This is also true for learning vocabulary. Try looking for a list of cognates (words which have the same original word or root e.g., English is, German ist, Latin est, from Indo-European esti.) to get started.

2. Choose Meaningful Vocabulary

Remember what we learned from the “Forgetting Curve”? Meaningful material is more memorable. In other words, focus on learning practical vocabulary that suits your individual needs.

Obviously, if you have a vocabulary test for school, there’s not much you can do about that. But when it comes to choosing vocabulary to study independently. Opt for words that are relevant to your day to day life and you know will be useful for your work, studies and life in general.

3. Set Realistic Goals For Yourself

Make learning vocabulary an enjoyable process, not a chore by choosing a goal that you feel is realistic and achievable for you and then stick to it. That could be 10 words a day or 10 words a week. Every learner’s needs and goals are different. Perhaps English is your hobby, and it makes sense to learn new vocabulary organically as you go. Maybe you are studying for an academic exam and need to learn “x” amount of technical terms per week. Make a plan that works for you and then see it through. The less stressed out you are about learning new vocabulary you are, the more likely you are to retain it.

4. Associate

Having difficulty with memorizing new vocab? There are loads of tricks to make it easier. This TED talk by Josh Foer, a science writer who won the US Memory Challenge, gives some interesting insights and tips on how to make words stick. According to Josh the key to making words memorable is through association and humor. Some good ways to make associations are through brainstorming, making word clusters or using visuals.

5. Review and Recycle

As we’ve already established, if you really want to remember something long term, we need to review it in order to retain it. One easy technique you can use to remember new vocab is spaced repetition. This article from the Guardian UK explains the concept well and how you can apply it to your studies. But basically, spaced repetition involves reviewing information at regular intervals so that you don’t forget it. This concept works well with flashcards. And, once you can remember your target language don’t forget to use it in your speaking and writing. After all, what’s the point in memorizing it if you’re not going to use it?


That’s it! Did you find these tips helpful? How do you like to go about memorizing new vocabulary? Leave a comment below and let us know.