By Viv Quarry (www.vivquarry.com)

 Why is vocabulary important?

 Communication in a language involves four skills:

Active skills: †††††††† Speaking and writing

Passive skills: †††††† Listening and reading

 A language is comprised of the following components:

Grammar (The rules for correct sentence formation)

Functions (The appropriate language in a specific situation)

Pronunciation (The correct formation of sounds at word and sentence level)

Vocabulary (The words used to transmit meaning)

 Having a wide range of vocabulary means that you can operate more efficiently in both active and passive skills. Your speaking and writing will become more fluent and your language more natural. Your listening and reading will improve because you will be able to understand more of what is written or spoken.

A person with a limited vocabulary will never be able to speak, write, read or understand English effectively.

 Your range of vocabulary can be divided into two types:

 Passive vocabulary

 Your passive vocabulary includes all of the words in your notebook, and all of the words that you have understood when reading and listening to English.

 Active vocabulary

 Your active vocabulary is the total of all the words that you can use correctly when speaking and writing.

 A personís active vocabulary is normally much smaller than their passive vocabulary.

 How do I improve my range of vocabulary?

 To learn vocabulary efficiently, you need effective organisation and regular revision.


 It has been proved that it is easier to remember words when they are associated with other words in groups. This is why your notebook is divided into different vocabulary sections. Always identify a new word with it's part of speech (verb, noun, adjective, adverb or preposition) separated by a margin. This will help you locate the word in the future. Always put a definition, either in English or in Portuguese, and if necessary, put the pronunciation of the word using a different colour to differentiate it from the spelling. When appropriate, draw pictures or diagrams to illustrate new words. Make special note of the words which you have problems pronouncing, and keep another list of the words you spell incorrectly. You will need to revise both these lists frequently.


Everyone forgets words which have been learnt. The only way to learn new vocabulary effectively is by regular revision. Imagine that during your English class you learn ten words. During the next three days, you will gradually forget most of the words until on the third day you will only be able to remember two of the words. These two words you will probably never forget, but the other eight words will be lost. However, if on the third day you revise the same words, you will briefly go back to knowing ten words. Over the next three days, you will start forgetting the words again, BUT by day seven you will be able to remember four of the ten words, and these four you will never forget. If you repeat the process three more times, you will know all ten words.

 Some techniques for learning vocabulary

1.†† When you revise your vocabulary, don't just read the words and their definitions. First cover the word and try to remember it using the definition. Then, cover the definition and try to remember what the word means. If you can, ask a friend or member of your family to test you (that way they may learn some English too!).

2.†† Cut out small squares of card. Write the word on one side and its definition on the other. Keep the cards near you, either in your pocket or in a small bag or box. When you have time, take out a card. If you can remember the word or definition, put it somewhere else. If not, look at it and put it back in your pocket again. When there are no more words left in your pocket, you have learnt them all.

3.†† Make the same small cards as in 2. Instead of putting them in your pocket, fix them with sticky tape to things around your apartment or bedroom e.g. on a mirror in the bathroom, beside the tv etc. Every time you see the word you will be reminded what it means. When you can remember, take the word off and put another one in its place.

4.†† The computer can be very useful in learning new words. Put the words into a table. This way you can sort them alphabetically, and temporarily delete a column to test yourself. See Viv's Vocab. Database.

5.†† Record words, definitions & context sentences on tape. Play the tape in your car driving to work.

6.†† Draw pictures to illustrate what words mean and use different colours to write them.

Do you have any other ideas for learning vocabulary? Let Viv know if you do.

 Dealing with unknown vocabulary

1.†† Identify the part of speech.

(Is it: a noun, a verb, an adjective, an adverb, a preposition or a linking word?)

2.†† Are there any prefixes and suffixes to help me understand it?

3.†† Does the context (before or after the word) help to explain it?

4.†† Is there a word in my language which is similar?††††††††† Yes - Is it a false friend?

5.†† Is this word important to understanding the text?

Yes - Look it up in the dictionary.

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† No- Is it the first time the word has occurred?

†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Yes - Ignore it.

†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† No- Look it up in the dictionary.

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