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Complete guide on how to learn English vocabulary

The automate goal of each learner is to be able to read, listen, speak, and write English. What do you need for that? You need: motivation, a good starting point, be familiar with the sound of English, and learn vocabulary as it is described in this article. This guide shows you everything you need to learn vocabulary.


You need motivation. Everybody needs a good reason to do something. Learning English (or any other foreign language) is a difficult task and people usually give up soon after they start. Now, please tell me, why do you want to study English? Is it worth? What are the benefits? Don’t start learning before answering these questions.

A good starting point

Yes, you need a good starting point and a good plan. Probably, you have just answered to the above questions and now you want to start learning English. Your next questions will be “How to start? What to learn first?” Make a plan for studying English and stick with it.

Be familiar with the sound of English

First you should be familiar with the sound of the language itself. You have to be able to identify the English language among others. I don’t think somebody has any problem doing that.

I remember, in 2008, I was in the Munich airport in Germany when I saw a group of young people who looked Vietnamese to me. They were speaking but I couldn’t identify the language. Although my wife is Vietnamese and I have contact with the language on daily basis, I couldn’t identify the language. Minutes later, listening very carefully, I could identify some words and I realized that they were from the north of Vietnam (a different pronunciation … they use /z/ sound instead of /i/ used in the south).

It is very interesting to understand how English sounds like for different people from different countries. You might think that English sounds the same for everybody but it is not true. Your ear has to be trained and your mouth needs a lot of practice to reproduce the English sounds. That’s why I think that getting familiar with the language you have chosen to study (in our case, English) is a very important thing.

Learning Vocabulary

Once you are familiar with the sound of English you can start the next step: learning vocabulary. You can’t do anything without vocabulary. You need vocabulary for all of the four skills. Now you might ask yourself “What vocabulary should I learn first?” This is a fair enough question. I have learned a lot of Vietnamese vocabulary then I forgot because it was vocabulary that I didn’t normally use. You have to try to be very effective in your learning process.

I have read online that there is a set of 1000 words that will help you understand about 70% of the language. That’s amazing! A thousand words and I can understand 70% of English language. How long it takes you to learn 1000 words? It will take you, probably a long time, or probably not. Wait a moment, don’t be so disappointed, a thousand words are not so much; let me tell you why. I did some research for the most commonly used words in English language and the first 100 words are probably words that you already know, such as: personal pronouns (I, you, he, she, etc), numbers (one, two, etc), articles (a, an, the), prepositions, etc.

Probably you already have a vocabulary base of a hundred words or so; if yes, everything will be easier. At this point you might ask “OK, where is the list of those words?” Well, after more research, I made up a 700 word list based on my needs. I considered myself a learner of Vietnamese language. Where I will use the language, in which circumstances, what I will say to certain people, what I want to ask my Vietnamese friends, what answers should I expect (or what I will answer them if they ask me the same questions), etc. I made up a very long dialogue that took me a day to complete, but now I have the vocabulary I should learn and use in the next 3 months.

Note: The list I have just made doesn’t contain the articles (a, an, the), the numbers (one, two, three, second, third etc.), countries (China, Vietnam, Germany, etc.), nationalities (Vietnamese, Chinese, German, etc.), languages (Vietnamese, Chinese, German, etc.), personal pronouns (I, you, he, etc.), possessive pronouns (mine, their, ours, etc.), plural forms of nouns (such as: books, people, cars, etc.), verbs in other tenses than base form, comparatives/superlatives (faster, fastest, etc.), derivations/transformations of words (quick/quickly, etc.), different forms of the verb “to be” (such as: am, are, is, was, were, been), months of the year (January, February, March, etc.), and days of the week (Monday, Tuesday, etc.)

The words from such a list can have different meanings and they can be nouns or verbs (depending on the context they are used). I highly recommend an explicative dictionary if you follow the same learning path.

You will remember the words from the list better if you manipulate them in different ways. I highly recommend creating sentences with each word from the list or use the words you are studying in any other way.

You are likely to forget the vocabulary within 24 hours after you studied them. I recommend you to review the vocabulary twice in the first day.

You can create your own set of words according to your needs but choose the words carefully. Don’t learn academic words if you just want to chat with your foreign friend while drinking a beer.

Below are my suggestions and tools for you to use that will help you to learn vocabulary faster and easier.

Translate the words from the list in your mother language

Some people can learn better if they see the translation in written form (I am like that).

Create few sentences for every word of the list

This will help you to understand the usage of the words and for sure will help you to remember the words better.

Write phonemic transcription for each word of the list

Phonemic transcription helps you understand how a word is pronounced. Many times a word can be pronounced in different ways (all of them considered standard English). For phonemic transcription I use but there are so many online dictionaries that offer phonemic transcription. These dictionaries also offer the option to hear the word in spoken form.

Create flash cards for the words that are difficult for you to remember

Definitely, creating flash cards helps you a lot. Many of the learners can learn vocabulary better in this way. It might take a lot of time to do that but there is no rush, you are studying a foreign language. This can’t be done over night.

Google the word you are studying

Type the word in the search box of any search engine and see the results. Certainly, you will be much “smarter” after this operation.

Use a learning program

One of the best tools that will make your learning English process more enjoyable is Anki. Anki is a program which helps you remember everything easier. It supports images, audio, video and is much more effective than the traditional learning methods. You can install it in your computer and use it without an internet connection. It can be use for learning grammar and for many other things as well. It is far beyond my purpose to review this program or explain how to use it but you can find detail information on Anki website at Download the program and play with it a little bit. Soon you will find it very easy to use and learning English will be relaxation.

Use a graphical dictionary

If you want something more complex then you can choose one of the graphical dictionaries from the internet. The one I like is called VisuWords. Everything you have to do is to type a word in the search query and press “Enter”. A network of words (words related to the word you typed) will spring out from the word you have typed. When you place the mouse over a word a small box gives you the definition of the word. The dictionary can be found at

Test your vocabulary

You might want so check how many words you know. In time, your vocabulary should get better and there is at least one tool you can use to check your total vocabulary size. If you are honest with the test then the result will reflect your real vocabulary size. You can check it out at

All of the above tools and activities help you study vocabulary easier, faster and better. There might be other methods but this is what I think are the most effective. Personally, I learned vocabulary by writing. If you have any other suggestions related to learning vocabulary or know other tools then feel free to leave a comment. I highly appreciate it.

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