There are so many!
In fact, many English dictionaries list over 300,000 words. This is not including the words that are being created daily and the many, many informal words—like slang.
It may seem overwhelming, maybe even a bit scary. But luckily, to be a great English speaker, you do not need anywhere that deep of a vocabulary.
You can get by well with some essential words and then slowly build from there.
Like all things, building a strong English vocabulary takes time and effort. You need to be smart about how you approach this task.
Vocabulary words are like building blocks. After you have learned the most basic ones, it gets easier to learn more advanced ones.
So the question really is which words should I learn?
Not, how many words should I learn?
Well, we are going to take a look at that plus everything else you need to know about English vocabulary!
Basic English Vocabulary You Need to Learn
Here, we are going to learn the very basics of English vocabulary.
You are encouraged to use these headings as a starting point and keep growing your vocabulary and knowledge of the English language.
Basic English Words
These are some basic types or categories of English words that you will need to learn.
Please note that these are quite simple definitions and should be considered a starting point. These categories will then break down into further or additional forms of the main word.
For example, a proper noun is a noun that is specific and always capitalized in English, such as a name.
For example, the name of actor Leonardo DiCaprio is a proper noun.
There are even different types of adjectives such as descriptive or quantitative adjectives.
Do not worry about these too much! We are going to focus on the basic and most common definitions here.
Nouns: A noun is a person, place, thing or idea. Therefore, Australia is a noun, just like the words book and Democracy.
Verbs: Verbs are what we often call “action words.” They tell us what the noun of the sentence is doing. For example, to sing or to run are common examples of verbs in English.
Adjectives: Adjectives are known as describing words. They help us “paint a picture” with words, as they modify or help describe a noun. For example, a crunchy red apple uses two adjectives to describe the apple—crunchy and red.
Contractions: Contractions are shortened forms of words. They often include an apostrophe. For example, the contracted form of “I cannot” is “I can’t.”
Conjunctions: Conjunctions are known as helping or linking words, as they connect parts of a sentence to make it flow better. These parts can be words, phrases or clauses. Perhaps the most common conjunctions are the words and, so, but and because.
Connectors: Connectors are another group of English words that help with the flow of your English, especially in writing. The only difference between these and conjunctions is that they help link full sentences.
Connectors are great words for formal writing and speaking as they help you organize your ideas. Some examples of connectors include firstly, similarly, however.
A phrase is a number of words put together to create a specific meaning. A phrase does not have to be a complete sentence. Really, these can be anything as long as they mean something.
There are many different types of phrases in English, such as noun-phrases or prepositional phrases. Again, these are more advanced forms and here we are looking at the basic concept of a phrase.
Take these phrases as examples:
At the beach
A hungry hippo
To increase wealth
How are you?
They all have a different meaning, but they are not full sentences on their own.
Sometimes phrases are confused with what we call proverbs, sayings or idioms—but they are different, and we will talk about those next!
Idioms are a unique type of expression. They are not phrases, but they are similar. Because of this, idioms need their own category.
An idiom is a group of words that have a specific meaning because of the whole expression. Because of this, they cannot be translated literally (word-for-word).
The meaning comes from the history of the phrase and how it has been used over time. Often, English speakers use idioms without even realizing it!
A common idiom that you might have heard is “it’s raining cats and dogs.”
This means that it is raining very heavily, or raining a lot.
As you can see, this idiom must be memorized entirely on its own, since cats and dogs are not actually falling from the sky like rain.
Slang is informal vocabulary that is used by people of a certain country.
It is important to note that slang is more commonly used in speaking and can be created at any time.
To become slang, however, the word needs to be used and understood by a lot of people across the country or region.
For example, cuppa is a slang word that means “a cup of tea” in the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.
Similarly, y’all is a slang word that means “you all” in the United States, especially in the South.
Learning slang words is a very important step if you are trying to achieve a native level of English. It is also a great way to explore another country and its culture!
English Conversational Vocabulary
English conversational vocabulary is your starting place for English speaking.
With some basic knowledge, you will be able to ask and respond to questions. All you have to do is learn some popular English topics.
Some of the most common conversational topics in English include:
Jobs and profession
Holiday and travel
Pop culture, film, television and music
You can use these topics to build a vocabulary base.
Where to Practice English Vocabulary
Online quizzes are a great way to practice English vocabulary. This is because they can be leveled, meaning you can find quizzes suiting your English skills.
As you improve you can increase the difficulty and take on more difficult quizzes.
Quizzes are also a short activity that can introduce you to lots of new vocabulary quickly. This means that you can implement them into your study schedule pretty easily.
An advantage of online quizzes is that you will be given a result at the end. This gives you both an indication of your level and areas for improvement. You can record difficult pieces of information and vocabulary for later study.
Perhaps one of the most traditional and effective ways of learning vocabulary is with flashcards. This is because they are perfect for every level of learner.
Also, they can be used for a number of games and different activities.
You can have a go at creating your own English flashcards on notepaper or download an app for a more modern approach. These are just one of many English vocabulary exercises that are available to the dedicated English learner.
Multi-purpose Language Programs
FluentU is a fantastic way to learn English vocabulary and how it is used by English speakers.
FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
You can learn vocabulary from thousands of authentic videos in English.
First, select your level on FluentU. Then, choose a video that looks interesting or fun to you.
Each video comes with key vocabulary, but if you come across a word you still do not know while watching, just click or tap on it in the subtitles. You will then see the word’s translation, some example sentences and related images.
Best of all, each video comes with a quiz at the end, and you will never forget new words by using FluentU’s spaced-repetition flashcards.
If learning English with videos sounds fun to you, start using FluentU today!
Speak with Natives
Speaking with natives is one of the best ways to improve your English vocabulary. Through discussions, debates and conversations, you will be naturally exposed to new words.
Not only this, but you will also be provided with context and the opportunity to ask questions, like when you do not know what a word means.
When learning with this method, you must let your speaking partner know that you want to learn new vocabulary.
You can encourage them to use different words and change the level of formality throughout the conversations. You can also play word games, hold small debates and do activities, such as mock job interviews.
These steps allow you to practice a range of vocabulary and keep learning English interesting!
Apps and Games
Downloading an app on your phone is one of the best ways to learn English vocabulary. It is fun, easy and takes very little time.
As we all live busy lives, it is important to find the time to squeeze in our language study.
With mobile apps and games, you can pull out your phone on the bus and practice English vocabulary almost immediately!
These days, many apps and games save your progress, meaning you can start where you finished the last time.
Plus, you can usually choose the level of learning and challenge yourself daily. You can set little goals and end each day with a win after learning new words.
Best of all, many phone apps are interactive, meaning you can even play and challenge people from across the world to vocabulary games.
How to Learn English Vocabulary as a Beginner
Learning English vocabulary as a beginner can feel like a difficult task.
But by breaking it down into smaller tasks and understanding your goals, you will have a much easier time.
First, you must understand that building a workable English vocabulary is a very achievable goal. This leads us to our first point.
How Many Words Should Beginners Learn?
To be a “functional beginner” you will need between 250-300 words only.
With this level of vocabulary, you can talk about basic everyday conversations.
Plus, if you learn 10 new words a day, then in a month you will have already achieved this language level. It is not too scary after all!
Keep in mind that you should be learning the right vocabulary, which will include lots of language from our basic vocabulary section. These are generally the most commonly used words in English.
Which Kinds of Resources Should a Beginner Use?
For a beginner looking to build their vocabulary, basic resources should be used.
These include children’s books, worksheets and images with attached vocabulary. Of course, one of the best resources for a beginner to use is a notebook where new vocabulary can be added each day.
One of the most practical resources for a beginner learner is a big stack of sticky notes to spread throughout your home. Write new English words on them so that you see them every day!
Use Your New Words
There is an expression in English that goes like this: “if you don’t use it, you lose it.”
It applies to many different situations and circumstances. In this case, it fits nicely with our vocabulary learning.
If you are not using new vocabulary then you will lose it (forget it) and have to relearn it again.
Some great ways to learn new vocabulary are to simply use the words in sentences or to use them in conversations with an English partner.
You can also create flashcards as we discussed or big mind maps with lots of images and word associations.
Build a Language Bridge with Your Native Language
One of the best and fastest ways to build familiarity with new vocabulary is to look for similarities with your native language. This has a secondary benefit, which is a boost in confidence and comfort with the language.
For example, there are many cognates (words that sound similar or are almost the same) that exist between English and Spanish, as well as other Romance languages.
As a side note, sometimes cognates do not always match and because of this, it is important to do research. If you search online you will be able to find vocabulary lists dedicated to cognates shared vocabulary between languages. These are a fantastic starting point.
Be Consistent with Your Study
One of the most important steps in learning new vocabulary is consistency.
This means maintaining a study schedule and doing a little bit of work every day towards your goal.
This will help you with putting your new words into use as the more you use new vocabulary the more likely you are to retain (remember) it.
How to Learn English Vocabulary as an Intermediate Learner
Being an intermediate learner has its own unique challenges.
This is where you are likely to have a feeling of a plateau. This means you find it difficult to improve or notice very little improvement in your vocabulary learning.
To combat (fight against) it, follow these tips.
How Many Words Should Intermediate Students Learn?
To have an intermediate English level, you should know around 2,000 to 4,000 words.
According to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), knowing this many words will place you in a B1 or B2 level, which is considered intermediate.
B1 is lower-intermediate and B2 is upper-intermediate.
Which Resources Should Intermediate Learners Use?
A great starting point for intermediate resources is finding online lesson plans and pre-prepared materials for B1-B2 level speakers.
These resources have been specially made by people who know which resources will perfectly suit your level. You can then follow these study guides by yourself or with your teacher/instructor.
In addition to this, listening resources—such as podcasts and documentaries—are great places to practice vocabulary.
This is because they are often slow, descriptive and easier to understand than other forms of audio and visual content like movies. You will also be able to learn new vocabulary with context and input.
Finally, as an intermediate learner, online vocabulary lists, intermediate level books and short stories are great ways to gain exposure to new vocabulary.
Be sure to keep a notebook with you to write down any new vocabulary along with a definition.
Read as Much as Possible
Reading is one of the most fundamental ways you can improve your vocabulary level.
It is very important to ensure that you are actively reading. This means you should be reading with a pencil in hand to define any words you do not know.
The great thing about reading is that you can often learn new vocabulary from the context alone. You can also start to see how the vocabulary is used in English.
Tests and Quizzes
There are tons of activities online for you to test your vocabulary knowledge. This is an excellent method to ensure you are continuing to improve, especially since you are able to compare your score with previous tests and set short term goals.
Speak with Native Speakers
Speaking with native English speakers is a great way to push yourself and your limits. There are so many different options for finding a native speaking partner, such as apps, blogs, websites and exchange programs.
Because of this, you will be able to practice different topics of discussion, learn cultural insights and become more comfortable with your vocabulary usage.
How to Learn English Vocabulary as an Advanced Learner
Similar to being an intermediate speaker, being an advanced learner can also involve a set of challenges. It can also feel difficult to learn new vocabulary in this situation. That is why it is important to take yourself out of your comfort zone and seek out opportunities to learn new words and phrases.
Let’s look at some top tips for learning English vocabulary as an advanced speaker.
How Many Words Should Advanced Students Learn?
To be considered an advanced speaker, you need to know about 8,000 words. This is the number associated with a C1 level speaker.
Which Resources Should Advanced Learners Use?
It might sound obvious, but advanced speakers should be using advanced resources and materials to improve and deepen their vocabulary.
An advanced speaker should already be able to understand native content such as film and cinema as well as TV.
This is why there should be a heavy focus on reading and writing.
An advanced English learner should be focusing on reading deeply in English. You can use resources like texts, novels, short stories and academic sources.
This leads us nicely to our next point.
Look Outside Your Comfort Zone
As people, we are drawn to areas and topics that we are interested in. This is only natural and of course, when it comes to language learning, we are going to focus on these areas of comfort and familiarity.
But, to increase your vocabulary as an advanced English learner, you must be looking and learning from many different sources.
Advanced papers, history, science, the arts as well as unique areas like science fiction are all great ways to expose yourself to different and new vocabulary.
You can also use apps and programs to chat with English speakers from across the world. Soon, you will start to notice the difference in the way that they talk and use the language.
Slang, Expressions and Idioms
As an advanced learner, you will have a great basis in conversation and common English. This means that you should be looking for more specialized forms of vocabulary.
As we discussed previously, slang and idioms are very specific types of English.
They require not only an understanding of the language but to some degree an understanding of English culture and the way it is used across the globe.
Because of this, you should be focusing on a natural and native way of using vocabulary.
This includes everyday use of slang words, common expressions and English idioms. These will give an excellent “native-speaker” feel to your vocabulary usage.
Learn English for Professionals
As you get more advanced in English, you need to start learning specialized vocabulary.
For example, many advanced learners decide to improve their skills in business English. Not only is this a great way to practice a different style of language, but it also has real-world applications.
If you are considering a future career that requires English skills, then choosing a specialty is a great approach.
English is an incredible language with colorful vocabulary.
While it might seem overwhelming at first, reaching a high level of English is an achievable goal!
It is all there ready for you to discover and learn. You are in charge of your own English vocabulary development, and it is up to you just how far you are willing to discover. So keep learning!
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