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Imagine you are talking with your friend in English about a hot topic. You have a lot to say, but you do not know how to express yourself and convey the message. You are looking for the proper word but you cannot find it! Have you ever been stuck in this situation? You might have felt embarrassed or even frustrated. Have you ever talked to an English native speaker, watched a Hollywood movie, or a TV series in English, and wondered why YOU cannot speak like them while you understood almost everything they said? Have you ever asked yourself, “Why?”

We all have our own vocabulary bank. Some words are passive and some are active. 

Passive vocabulary refers to the words learners understand but are not able to use, while active vocabulary refers to the words they both understand and use in their speech. 

One of the ways to add to your vocabulary bank is to use alternative words. For instance, if you are already comfortable with using the word “bother” in your sentences and it is in your active word box, try to change it with another word next time. You can use “irritate”, “irk”, “annoy” or some other synonyms which fit the context. Keep using the new words until you find yourself using them automatically without racking your brain. Start this by banning yourself from using the word “very” in front of words and incorporate more advanced adjectives. For example, instead of saying, “Ellen is a very good person.”, you can say: “Ellen is a wonderful/amazing person.” There are loads of non-gradable adjectives you can use instead of “very + a gradable adjective”. For instance, use “filthy” instead of “very dirty”, “thrilled” instead of “very excited”, “freezing” instead of “very cold”, “furious” instead of “very angry”, and many more. Keep practicing. Practice makes perfect. 

Another way to expand your vocabulary and at the same time enjoy learning is to watch videos or read articles within the area of your interest. Let’s say if you are interested in cooking, why not treat yourself with some new info about cooking and learn the related words? If you are interested in fashion, grab a fashion magazine from the shelf, or thanks to YouTube, you can watch numerous videos on your favorite topics without spending a penny. 

Do you have English native-speaker friends? If yes, spend more time with them; talk about something you have in common or about different daily topics. While they are talking, try to absorb the words they use, pay attention to the structure of the sentences they utter, the combination of words, the prepositions which follow the verbs, and later, try to implement the words, phrases, or expressions they use into your own speech. If you do not have a native speaker friend around, you can find a video or podcast presented by your favorite character and do the same. Highlight some words, use them in your speech, and make them your own. 

Another helpful way is to be observant. Are you sitting in your room now? Look around and try to say in English all the items you see. Open a drawer, go to your wardrobe; take a look at your clothes. Can you name all of them in English? How about different parts of them? How many “collared shirts” do you have? Any “V-neck shirts” among them? How many of your shirts have a “back pleat”? What color are the “cuffs”? Take one of your clothes, for example, a shirt, and try to describe it. Do you know all the words? If not, check online or a dictionary and learn them. 

One of the most effective methods to learn and remember words is to keep them in front of your eyes. How to do it? Choose a room and label everything in there. After mastering all the words in that room, move to another room, to the kitchen, then to the living room, and so on. There are lots of sticky notes out there which come in beautiful shapes and colors. Make your surroundings colorful and expand your vocabulary.

Last but not least,  one of the tips you have most probably heard frequently as a crucial way to expand your vocabulary is “read, read and read”. Reading is definitely a fundamental factor in helping you widen your vocabulary, but what to choose to read is significant too. My advice is not to overwhelm yourself by choosing long novels or academic essays, especially at the beginning stages. You do not need to take a dictionary to bed. Choose a short story, a piece of news cut out of a newspaper, or if your inner kid is still active, give them the joy of reading a bedtime story every night. Try to enjoy the content, new words would be saved by themselves where they should be.  Happy reading!

By Dr. Mehrnaz Gheitanchian