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Language and study skills

Vocabulary

How to improve your English language vocabulary skills.

Reading and listening to English regularly will help you to improve your vocabulary knowledge, comprehension skill and grammar awareness.

How to improve your vocabulary

Learn 6 to 8 new words per day. Do not try to learn more than that.

Learn the meaning, but also how the word fits into sentences. Is it a noun, verb, adjective, adverb or something else? How do you put it into a sentence? Do you need to add another word? For example, in English we 'listen to' but we 'look at'. A good dictionary will help you with this information.

Learn synonyms (words with a similar meaning). Try Thesaurus.com and Dictionary.com. This will make your writing and speaking more precise and more interesting.

Use an English-to-English dictionary alongside a translating dictionary. This helps you learn more about how the word is really used in English.

Where to practise your vocabulary

Everyday vocabulary

The University Library has Graded Readers which are books for English learners, at all levels. These will help you to learn important words. Graded Readers are on the First Floor, shelf number 428.64. You can see what is available on our suggested books list.

For Academic English, there is the Academic Word List. Remember, aim to learn just a few new words (around 6 to 8) at one time, no more. 

You can also use the following online resources:

Specialist vocabulary

You may need to learn specialist words for your degree. This is special vocabulary and you will need to work at collecting it, not just learning it.

To do this:

  • Keep vocabulary notes with the subject notes for a specific topic.
  • Remember that each module usually has a new topic each week.
  • Find 1 page summaries of topics which show the important basic words. Words used many times in a chapter are probably more important than words you see just once or twice.
  • Print the lecture Powerpoint for a topic and write translations on the Powerpoint.
  • Keep notes of the most common key words and phrases in your topic reading.
  • Help each other by sharing vocabulary notes through a Wiki, Google Group or Facebook page. 
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