What are 7 strategies for learning new vocabulary?
This is the first of two lessons about Reading New Vocabulary. To complete this course, read each lesson carefully and then unlock and complete our materials to check your understanding.
– Discuss the importance of vocabulary when reading
– Provide seven strategies for learning vocabulary more effectively
– Include examples of each strategy to help guide the reader
While there are many reading strategies that can improve reading speed, accuracy and comprehension, one area that’s often overlooked is how to deal with new or unfamiliar vocabulary. Encounter a word you don’t know, and how you deal with that word will have an impact on the success of your reading. In this short course on reading new vocabulary, we first offer seven research-based and practical methods for learning, remembering and using new vocabulary. Then, in Lesson 2, we provide another seven useful strategies, this time to help students deal with new vocabulary on-the-spot, such as during a university exam when access to a dictionary or the internet may not be possible.
Strategy 1: Continue Reading
Comprehension doesn’t have to be 100%, so next time you encounter a word you don’t know in a reading text, it might be a good idea to make a judgement on whether you can keep reading anyway. After all, you can always go back and investigate that vocabulary in more detail if you’re still confused a few sentences later. While this first strategy may not actually help you learn that new vocabulary, continuing to read is an important method nonetheless. Non-native speakers often stop at new vocabulary items but doing so might be hindering their reading. Even native speakers come across new words they don’t know and yet continue to read without much of a problem, and you might wish to do the same.
Strategy 2: Check a Dictionary
If you do decide that a new word requires investigation, then dictionaries can be very useful. Good dictionaries such as those in the following list will provide you with a definition of the word (or multiple definitions if that word is polysemous and has many meanings), pronunciation using the international phonetic alphabet, and probably also some indication of its word type and other related word forms. Our course on using dictionaries may be able to help you further here:
Strategy 3: Use a Thesaurus
The use of a thesaurus to study synonyms (similar words) and antonyms (words with opposite meanings) is another way of expanding your vocabulary and getting a better understanding of a word. If, for example, the meaning of the word ‘obfuscate’ from the Cambridge Dictionary definition above was still confusing to you, then the synonyms and antonyms that relate to it – as shown in the table below – could assist you with better decoding that word:
Strategy 4: Keep a Vocabulary Diary
Because the human brain can only remember so much, once you’ve studied dictionary definitions and thesaurus synonyms and antonyms for the words causing you difficulties, it may then be a good idea to make a note of this information in a vocabulary diary. Having this as a digital diary on your phone or computer will also mean that you can carry it with you to seminars and lectures, adding new words as you encounter them.
Strategy 5: Have Controlled and Freer Practice
Once you feel like you have a good understanding of the form, function, meaning and pronunciation of a word, you’ll then need to move that word from your passive vocabulary (words that you recognise) to your active vocabulary (words that you can use). To do this, it’s important that you provide yourself with opportunities for both controlled and freer practice. Below are some ideas for activating your vocabulary:
Strategy 6: Hear Authentic Use
To learn and use a word successfully, sometimes research and practise just aren’t enough. It can also be useful that students hear the new word being used in authentic settings so that they can understand its more nuanced aspects of grammar and meaning, such as its rules of style, register and collocation. Whether in person or on TV, by observing other speakers using a particular word in multiple contexts, you’ll better learn how frequently that vocabulary is used, in what settings it belongs (whether formal or informal) and which words it typically appears alongside (its collocates)
Strategy 7: Expand Your Vocabulary
Finally, if you’re already making considerable effort to learn vocabulary and are keeping a vocabulary diary, then don’t miss out on the opportunity to learn additional words that relate to that new word in some way. Studying connected word forms, for example, is a sure-fire way of expanding your vocabulary, as the word that you’ve learned can then be used more flexibly. The table below provides examples of some key academic word families
Likewise, by studying the various homonyms of a word, identifying which words share identical spelling or pronunciation to your new vocabulary, you can further expand your lexicon without really having to learn additional words:
Good work on completing this first lesson on reading new vocabulary. While you should now have a number of strategies for researching and practising new vocabulary, how would you deal with encountering unknown vocabulary in an exam without access to a computer? Continue studying with Lesson 2 to find out.
Lesson 1 explores the topic: What are 7 strategies for learning new vocabulary? Our Lesson 1 Worksheet (containing guidance, activities and answer keys) can be accessed here at the click of a button.
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