English speaking tips: How to build your vocabulary

9 Jun 2015
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Two tried and tested tips to build your English vocabulary.

Introduction

Vocabulary buidling is a critical part of any English speaking course. That is why we bring you these English Speaking Tips. Let me start by asking you a question “what does vocabulary mean to you?” Most of you will say vocabulary refers to the stock of words a person has of which he knows the meaning. But actually there is much more to vocabulary building.

English vocabulary is more than just knowing a word and its meaning. Many words have multiple meanings!

Words in English have multiple meanings and unless you know the context in which the word is generally used you may not be able to use it correctly. Let me give you an example.
I am sure you have come across the word “Turn”. But have you noticed how it differs in its meaning depending upon the context. Take a look at two scenarios:
Please turn right at the next junction.
Please wait in line for your turn.
Then we have phrasal vocabulary where instead of a word a set of words is used in a predefined way to convey a standard meaning in specific contexts. If you try to guess the meaning of the phrase by using the meanings of the individual words that make up the phrase then you may get a completely wrong meaning. Let me give you an example again: Due to this complexity vocabulary building is long term and continuous process involving close observation of how others who are better than you in English are using words and phrases. This process never ends. So cramming up lot of new words in a single day is not a very effective method of increasing vocabulary.

Vocabulary enhancement tips

Having said that let me share with you a few tricks today that helped me 20 years ago when I was learning English and ever since innumerable students have benefited from these simple tricks to build English vocabulary.

English Speaking “VOCABULARY TIP 1”: Install dictionary app on your phone

Have easy access to a good dictionary “all the time”. Please note the stress here is on having it all the time. I know it is very difficult to carry a thick book like a dictionary with you and take it out in the middle of every conversation. But these days most of us have a smart-phone which is always within an arm’s reach. And technology has made it very easy for us to have access to a good digital dictionary app on the smart-phone. For those of you who are native Hindi speakers and are trying to improve your English I recommend installing the Hinkhoj android app on your phone.

English Speaking “VOCABULARY TIP 2”: Forget words, focus on collocations

The most frequent gripe that I hear from English students goes something like this: “Sir, I keep forgetting the words. What should I do?” Do you also face a similar problem? Is not being able to recollect the right word when talking creating havoc with your ability to speak fluently in English?

Let me help you with a magic mantra! Yes this tip is nothing short of a magic mantra for those who are sincerely committed to improving their English language skills.

“Forget the words but remember the collocations”

So what exactly is a collocation? And why should we focus on it rather than focusing on remembering the word and its meaning. Let me explain this by using a simple example. I am sure you know the meaning of the word knife. When I say the word knife which other word comes up immediately in your  mind? That word is “sharp”. Isn’t it? We often say the words sharp and knife together. For example, “Rajat be careful, that is a sharp knife.”

This is what makes “sharp knife” a collocation because they are usually located together. And this is what makes remembering the words easier and also ensures that you use the word in the right context in the right way. Not sure what that means? No problem, let me take another simple example, what do you think of this sentence?

“Rajat be careful, that is a piercing knife

It sounds awkward and confusing. Right? But why so even though it is grammatically correct? The reason is because it uses a wrong collocation.

There is another added bonus to focusing on collocations. And that is something I call called extended collocation groups. For example once you know that knife goes with sharp you should automatically think that what if there is a knife which is not really sharp. Is there a collocation for that? Voila yes ofcourse! And not just one but two, “blunt knife” and “dull knife”.

 

So that’s it for now. Happy English learning!

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