5 Tips for Learning Vocabulary

vocab tips

1. Words and Phrases

It is important to remember that vocabulary is not just single words, e.g. sofa, library, discover, beautiful. Many items of vocabulary consist of more than one word, and these phrases are a key part of your vocabulary knowledge. Here is an example of a glossary from Oxford Word Skills containing items that are mostly made up of more than one word.

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2. Keeping records of new Vocabulary

If you keep a record of vocabulary you are learning – in a notebook and/or on your phone – it can help in several ways. The act of writing down a word or phrase with a definition or translation is one stage of helping you to fix the meaning in your mind and remember it. And if you have well-organised records, you can:

* find vocabulary items easily to check the meaning

* add more information, e.g. that a particular adjective is often used with a noun you have written down (e.g. a close friend)

* revise vocabulary you have learnt.

We recommend that vocabulary is divided into sections, and each section is given a name, perhaps similar to the contents pages in Oxford Word Skills, e.g. cooking, feelings and emotions, air travel, phrasal verbs. Sometimes you may want to write new vocabulary in more than one section.           

 3. Don’t forget Pronunciation

A common feature of English pronunciation, which is different in many other languages, is that many letters, especially vowels (a,e,i,o,u), are pronounced in a number of different ways. For example, think about the pronunciation of the letter ‘a’ in these words: cat, car, fall, what, cinema. Exercises that focus on this feature of pronunciation can help you to develop a better understanding of how particular letters and combinations of letters are pronounced. Here is one example:

advanced

English word stress is also different from many other languages. There are common patterns and regularities in English word stress, but they require practice.

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Remember that the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary App that accompanies the books gives you the opportunity to listen to the pronunciation of words and phrases in the books.

4. Practice

Some words may be easy to remember, while others seem very difficult. In general, practice exercises will help you to learn and remember new vocabulary. Here is a short activity that tests your understanding of animals and insects:

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You also need to be able to produce new vocabulary. A memorable way of doing this is to use new vocabulary to talk about your own life. Here is an exercise that tests your ability to produce the correct items of vocabulary before using them to talk about your own relationships:

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5. Revision

If you don’t use a word or phrase for a period of time, you can easily forget it. To help you remember the vocabulary you learn, you need to return to it and revise it. We recommend that you complete exercises in pencil so that you can rub out your answers and repeat exercises in the books at a later date. Another simple way to revise vocabulary is by testing yourself. If you keep vocabulary records in two clear columns (new words and phrases on the left, with definitions/translations on the right), you can cover the left-hand side and try to remember the correct item from the definition/translation; or cover the definition/translation and then try to give the correct meaning by looking at the item on the left.

Throughout the three levels of Oxford Word Skills there is a space between new items and definitions in the glossaries so that you can use this simple technique to test yourself on new vocabulary, days or weeks after you have studied a page or unit.


Ruth Gairns and Stuart Redman have been involved in English language teaching for over twenty-five years, and have a particular interest in vocabulary learning and materials development. They have both taught in the United Kingdom and overseas, and have considerable experience of teacher training and in-service teacher development. They have written coursebooks, books for teachers, reference, and resource books.

Author: Oxford University Press ELT

The official global blog for Oxford University Press English Language Teaching. Bringing teachers and learners top quality resources, tools, hints and tips, news, ideas, insights and discussions to help people around the world to learn English.

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