7 rules for expanding your English vocabulary

Ekaterina, the founder of Element, a language and communication training company for tech specialists, shares her recommendations on how to easily learn new English words.

Ekaterina, the founder of Element

— Imagine a world where every new word you learn is like a key unlocking a treasure trove of language riches. It allows you to express your thoughts precisely, vividly, and with a fluency that's unmatched. But here's a question for you: How many words do you really need to feel comfortable in any conversation? Well, it all depends on your own goals and what you want to achieve. Let's dive into this topic together and explore the fascinating journey of expanding your vocabulary!

  • For basic comprehension and simple communication, around 1000 frequently used words are sufficient. These words provide a foundational communicative ability.
  • If you aim to freely express your thoughts, understand a significant portion of speech, and watch movies, it is recommended that you know between 3000 and 4000 words.
  • If your goal is full immersion in the language and the achievement of native-level proficiency, you will need approximately 20,000 words.
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7 rules for expanding your vocabulary

The process of expanding one's vocabulary may seem endless, particularly if one does not clearly define the goal and set criteria to help determine when the goal is achieved. Element experts, in their work with students, employ a coaching approach and emphasize goal-setting with clear deadlines. Vocabulary expansion is no exception. Keep reading to see 7 rules for expanding your vocabulary.

1. Be specific

    — Identify specific areas of your life where you can apply the foreign language in a practical way and, based on that, create lists of words to learn.

    A typical situation is a work call with American colleagues. Everyone greets each other with smiles, engaging in small talk. You understand some of the words but can't respond. Intuitively, you realize that your colleagues are using different English idiomatic phrases, and you're unsure of how to navigate the conversation.

    So, what's the plan? Should you just try to absorb every single word out there, hoping it will magically improve your language skills? Focusing on business negotiations or general topics like "weather,” for example. Well, let's get real here. The answer is obvious.

    To step up your game when it comes to small talk during work calls, you gotta pinpoint those specific words and phrases you want to add to your vocabulary. You can choose a particular theme that is typically discussed during these conversations, such as weekend plans, book recommendations, restaurants, jokes, or funny stories. It's important to remember that the primary goal of small talk is to establish good relationship between conversational partners, create a friendly atmosphere, and set a positive tone. Therefore, all of the functional language you learn should be directed towards achieving this goal.

    2. Determine the number of words

      Establish a specific number of words that you want to learn within a certain period of time. Start with realistic and achievable figures.

      You can use the SMART method to formulate goals. The acronym SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. For example, a goal could be "learn 50 new words on the topic of 'weekend plans' within 2 months.”

      3. Consider your availability

        Evaluate your schedule and determine how much time you are willing to dedicate to learning new words each week. Be realistic and choose a quantity of words that you can comfortably learn within the available time. Remember not to overestimate yourself. Failure to achieve your language goals can lead to disappointment and demotivation.

        4. Break down the overall goal into smaller ones

          Divide your overall goal into smaller goals to make the learning process more manageable. If your overall goal is to learn 50 new words, for example, you can break it down into 5 stages: 10 words per week.

          5. Track your progress

            It is important to track your progress and review the goals that you have achieved. At Element, we recommend using vocabulary expansion apps such as:

            • Memrise offers a wide selection of courses in various languages and topics that match your interests and language level. You can choose a course such as "Beginner English" or "English for Business." One of the main learning methods on Memrise is flashcards. They employ different repetition and reminder techniques to help you reinforce the learned material.
            • Quizlet allows users to create flashcards with sets of words based on topics that interest you or that you are studying. It features different learning modes to help you achieve your goals. The "Flashcards" mode allows you to learn new words in a question-and-answer format, while the "Test" mode assesses comprehension and memorization. The "Review" feature allows you to review words and concepts at specific intervals to reinforce the learned material.
            • In Anki, you work with decks of flashcards. Within each deck, you create cards that contain a word or phrase in English on one side and its translation or definition in your native language on the other side. You can add images, audio, and other additional information to the cards. Anki employs a spaced repetition method that helps you efficiently memorize words.

            6. Consistency is the key to success

            Establish a regular schedule for using language learning apps and stick to it. 10 minutes a day, every day, is much more effective than two one-hour sessions per week.

            7. Practice, practice, and practice some more

              Don't be afraid to use new words when you are speaking. Use them in everyday situations, even if it may seem challenging at first. The more you use new words, the more confidently they will become part of your speech.

              For other ways to learn English, read here:

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