How to build your vocabulary: part 4

So you’ve written hundreds of flashcards, you’ve read for hours and you’ve watched all 15 series of Grey’s Anatomy in English. You even looked up most of the words you didn’t understand in a dictionary. Now it’s time to actually use the words you’ve learned, by speaking and writing.


  • Actually using new words helps them to stick in your memory.
  • You might be worried about whether you will use the word correctly and whether you will be understood, so you have to think really hard about what exactly the word means before using it. This thought process helps you to remember the words later.
  • The setting of a conversation – including the place, the other people, the smells and the sounds – gives a context that helps you to remember words and phrases.


  • It can be hard to learn completely new words this way, particularly in conversations. You don’t have time to look up words, so you have to rely on your existing vocabulary.
  • If you’re nervous, you’ll probably make lots of silly mistakes, which can be frustrating and demotivating.

Top tips

  • Make an effort to use new words that you have learned (e.g. using flashcards or spaced repetition) in your conversations or when writing. This will reinforce them and help you to remember them.
  • Don’t be afraid to use a word even if you’re not quite sure what it means. If you get it wrong, the confusion or embarrassment will help you to remember the situation and what you should actually have said. Next time you’ll get it right!
  • If you don’t understand something, say so! Most people will be happy to explain what they mean, and it will make it much easier for you to follow the rest of the conversation.
  • If you don’t know any native English speakers, go along to a language exchange at a local bar or sign up to an online service that puts you in touch with other language learners. You can even talk to native speakers in other countries by Skype or Whatsapp.

This is the final post in our series about building vocabulary. If you have any other suggestions, feel free to share them in the comments.

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