Building Your English Vocabulary: ONE MAGICAL TIP

Building your English vocabulary is essential to improving your fluency. That is a fact. If you do not know words, you cannot say much. The more words you know, the less time you need to think of what to say in a conversation. When you have a small or limited vocabulary, you will have to pause to think. These pauses make you look bad and show that you are not a good communicator in English.

Now ask any person or an English teacher about how you can build your English vocabulary and you will hear the same tips, for example, you should read books and use a dictionary, listen to songs, watch movies etc. These are all true, but none will build your vocabulary fast enough especially when you are preparing for an English exam like the IELTS, PEARSON or TOEFL.

Before I give you my tip, let me tell you why building your vocabulary is challenging and difficult, particularly for adults. It’s memory. Adults are no longer able to remember new sounds or information easily as children are. Sounds obviously matter. If you teach me how to say the word “table” in two languages, Spanish and Vietnamese, which word “table” do you think I’m more likely to remember? Obviously Spanish. Why? Because, as an English speaker, I’m more familiar with the sounds of the Spanish language than those of the Vietnamese language. So being familiar with the sounds of the language boosts your memory and helps you retain the information encapsulated in sounds.

The point then is that English learners need to find a way to build their English vocabulary by reducing the memory overload as much as possible. Now, let us see how we can do that.

Let us assume you just learned a new word. The word is [information]. It is easy to remember the word [information] because wherever you go, you find [information]. You receive [information]. You ask for [information]. After all, [information] is important. So [information] has now become part of your vocabulary and memory. Therefore, it would only make sense that your memory would more easily recall the word [information-al] or
[inform-ative] than [illuminating] or [instructive]. Your memory would also then find it much easier to recall the word [inform-ed] than say [aware] or [knowledgeable].  Naturally, your memory would love to welcome the word [inform] rather than [notify]. How about [informatively] and [informer]?

What happened in the scenario above was that due to your familiarity with both the sounds and concept of the word [information], you were also easily able to learn and remember the verb [inform], the adjectives [informed], [informative] and [informational], and the noun [informer]. That is an example of how 1 word can help you add 4 or 5 new words onto your repertoire. There are obviously hundreds of other examples. Here are a few:


Verb Noun Adjective Adverb
question, questions, questioned question, questioning questioned, questionable questionably
help, helps, helped help, helping helpful, helpless helpfully, helplessly
hurt, hurts, hurt hurt, hurting hurtful hurtfully
excite, excites, excited excitement, exciting excited, exciting excitingly
anger, angers, angered anger angry, angered angrily
plan, plays, played play, playing, playfulness played, playful playfully
comment, comments, commented comment, commenting, commentary, commenter commentable
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