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Learn English: How to sort and store English vocabulary

Developing your vocabulary skills
Developing your vocabulary skills.

Flickr CC: Jonathan Kim

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Australian teacher Margot Palmer from Hawthorn Learning explains how language learners can sort and store words, building their vocabulary in the process.

Use word clouds to sort vocabulary

When you’re reading a text as a second language learner, you may have to stop and look up words you do not know. This can be frustrating because it can slow your reading down. It also does not help you understand the meaning of the word in context.

"My advice to you is the first thing you need to do is sort out what vocabulary you need to learn," Margot says.

Sample word cloud
An example of a word cloud.

Supplied: Margot Palmer

She recommends using websites that sort words out from texts. You can paste the text into the word cloud sorter and a cloud of words will be generated.

"Words that are used more frequently are larger and the smaller words you don’t need to know. So this is sorting which words are essential for you to know to understand this text," Margot says.

Create word lists online

Once you have sorted your words, Margot recommends looking them up to understand what they mean.

"[Certain online dictionaries] allow you to make word lists and you can group your word lists and tag them like photos," she says.

Use fun ways to remember the words

Once you’ve got vocabulary lists made, the next step is try out different ways to store the words you are trying to learn.

Margot recommends the following:

  • Create physical or electronic flashcards
  • Listen to the word
  • Type the word

"The more you interact with your vocabulary, the more you are going to know what it means," Margot says.

Or just start a vocabulary book

The good old vocabulary book also works and for each word you write down, Margot says you should do the following:

  • Record the word and the stress
  • Which part of speech it is (i.e. verb, noun, adverb?)
  • Have a definition
  • Translation (into your first language)
  • Personalised example sentence

Margot says the personalised example sentence is the most important part.

"Put [the word] in a sentence that actually means something to you. Don’t just copy an example sentence," she says.

Exercise the rule of one

Margot says language learners should find every opportunity to use the new vocabulary they are learning. She highlights the rule of one that can help with remembering words.

"The most important thing with learning vocabulary is the rule of one which is once you’ve learnt it, you need to repeat it one minute after you’ve learnt. Then one hour after you’ve learnt it and then repeat it one day after you’ve learnt it... and so on and so forth.

"So the more that you use it, the more it will become established in your mind."

Learn English Hacks is a Facebook Live series featuring Australian teachers where they discuss challenges learners face and how to overcome them. For more information, visit our Learn English Facebook page.