1) Be attentive to new language: write down that interesting phrasal verb from the conversation you ‘overhear’ in the bus, or that nice expression someone said on telly. For instance, what phrasal verb is used in the paragraph above, meaning ‘meet or find by chance’?
2) Before you dive into the dictionary or ask your teacher what that word means, try to get an idea of its meaning by the context, the way it is used. For example, what do you think ‘dive’ means in the context it's used above?
3) Students tend to write down long lists of words, and then automatically assume they ‘know’ them because they’re in their notebook. Revisit past pages of your notebook regularly, imagining situations in which you can use that language in real life and having ‘mental conversations’.
4) Your vocabulary notebook should be divided into topics. Think of your brain as a filing cabinet, like the one in the picture above. If you just chuck, say, a report on sales just anywhere in a filing cabinet, the next time you need it, it’ll be very hard to find. If, however, you file it inside the drawer labelled “Reports” and in a folder labelled “Sales reports”, you’ll be able to find it instantly. It’s the same with your brain, so the more organised your notebook, the better you will store vocabulary in your mind, and the easier it will be to retrieve that piece of language when you need it.
5) Your can divide the topics into subtopics. For instance, under the topic 'Environment', you can create groups like Energy sources, problems, etc.
6) Don't write down only individual words. Collocations, expressions, sentences headings and phrasal verbs are examples of 'chunks' of language that are better learnt as one item.
7) Learning a word isn’t restricted to knowing its meaning. It’s important to make notes on the pronunciation of the word (perhaps underlining its strongest syllable), as well as on usage (collocations and word type - verb, noun, adjective, adverb).
8) You can use translation, but you will possibly remember a word or expression better if you use an example, a definition or even a drawing. Don't worry if you're not a talented artist – you're the only one who will have to understand it!
9) Most people have visual memories, so making word maps can help you retain language better, as can underlining, highlighting and using different colours.
We’ve only scratched the surface here (what do you think that phrase means?!): we use many more techniques for teaching vocabulary on our courses at OISE Oxford. Why not drop us a line to find out more?