Studying Vocabulary

by Dahlia Miller
October 2004

“For me, words are a form of action, capable of influencing change.
Ingrid Bengis (Russian American author, 1915-1982)

Words are language. We communicate with words. We share knowledge with words. We learn new topics, and new languages by studying words.

Are you learning new vocabulary words now? There are many techniques to help you learn and memorize new vocabulary. Here are some:

Use the Words – Using your new vocabulary is the most important way to practise new vocabulary. If you use your new word, it will help you to remember it. If you don’t use your new word, you will probably forget it. So, use your new word as often as possible! Say the word and write the word, talk about it, listen for it.

Tell Someone About the Words – Talking about newly learned vocabulary helps to keep it in your mind. Saying the words and using them in sentences helps you to create more memories of the word.

Ask Yourself Questions About the Words – What does the word mean? What does it remind you of? Where did you learn it? What does the word sound like? When will you use this word? What letters are in this word? What is the origin of the word?

Brainstorm – Write your new vocabulary word on a page. Then write everything that reminds you of this word. Include other words, memories, phrases, drawings, synonyms, antonyms, definitions, stories - anything that reminds you of your word. Brainstorming helps your brain to make connections between the new and old information. If you are studying the word “gullible,” for example, think about where you learned it; a synonym; someone you know who was gullible; another word it sounds like; a time when you were gullible; etc. Brains are networks. When you see or hear a word, your brain searches your memory for any information connected with that word. If your brain has many connections with this word, you will remember the word quickly and easily. If there are few connections, you might not remember the word at all.

Write Definitions – Keep a vocabulary journal. Record you new word, the definition, a picture or drawing, the date, who taught you the word, synonyms, antonyms, the part of speech, etc.

Highlight Your Dictionary – As you learn new words, you can highlight your dictionary to remind yourself of the words. If you look up the same word three or four times, this will remind you to study this word again.

Prefixes/Suffixes/Roots - Studying root words, prefixes and suffixes can really help you build and expand your vocabulary. It will allow you to guess at the meanings of new words when you’re reading. For example, “supervision” is “super-” “-vis-” “-ion” or, the act of seeing/watching over.

Build Word Families – This is a great way to learn four words at once. Make a chart for yourself with five columns. Label the columns “Vocabulary,” “Noun,” “Verb,” “Adjective,” and “Adverb”. Write your new word in the first column. Include the definition of the word, a sample sentence and a sample question using the word. Then in the “Noun” column, write the noun form of the word, a sample sentence and a sample question. If the noun form has a different meaning from your original word, also write the definition. In the next columns, write the verb, adjective and adverb forms of your new word with sample sentences, questions and definitions (if necessary).

Synonyms/Antonyms – Like building word families, memorizing synonyms and antonyms for new vocabulary can help you to learn many new words at one time. Synonyms are words with similar meanings; antonyms are words with opposite meanings. Record these on a chart with definitions, sample sentences, and sample questions. You could also record these on flashcards.

Mnemonics – Mnemonics are memory tricks that help you to remember many words easily. They are easy to use and work very well. There are many interesting memory techniques. The April 2004 issue of “The Smart Connection” describes several mnemonic techniques and lists several websites with tips on using mnemonics. View it online on our website.

Flashcards – Flashcards can be a very helpful way to study new words. You can write your words on one side and the definition on the other. To make your cards more interesting, you can: use different card colours (to show different types of words, different topics, etc.); use different pen colours; draw pictures; write sample sentences; glue pictures from magazines, etc.

Record Yourself Reading the Words, Definitions and Examples – The more you say new words and hear them, the more you’ll remember them. Some people like to record themselves and listen while they sleep. Memory works most efficiently if you are paying attention, so sleep-learning may not be the most efficient method for learning new vocabulary.

Get Creative with Your New Vocabulary – Draw pictures, make collages, write songs, write poems, write stories, doodle, write the words in the sand, make up crosswords (you can build word puzzles for yourself at: Playing with your word will help you to remember it. You do not have to sing your song for anyone else, so, don’t be shy.

Use Many Senses When You Study Your Words – Use many senses and you will remember the new word more easily. For example: read the word, say the word, write the word, touch your fingers for each letter as you spell the word, walk around the room and recite the word, repeat the word as you walk.

Practise Pronunciation of the Words – You can improve your pronunciation and vocabulary at the same time. Focus on using correct pronunciation, word stress, and intonation. Watch yourself say the words in the mirror – Tape record yourself reading the words, or saying them in sentences. When you are recording or listening to the tape, pay attention to your pronunciation.

Test Yourself – You can create questions to test your skill with newly learned vocabulary. Matching style tests (matching words to definitions) are fairly easy to create.

“There is a time for many words, and there is also a time for sleep.”
Homer (800 BC – 700 BC), The Odyssey