The most efficient way to build your vocabulary: 1+2+3+4

Based on your question, you are asking about how you can in the most productive way learn vocabulary without wasting a lot of effort or time. Put another way, your question implies that you are seeking a well-organized and competent way to acquire vocabulary, right? You are probably expecting me to recommend some vocabulary app that you can use on your phone, but I have another tired-and-true method that, even though it requires a lot of work on your part, will help you to both expand and master basic and academic vocabulary so that you use put these words into your long-term memory and use them in personal, professional, and academic vocabulary for the rest of your live. Following this efficient vocabulary building process will take you about 2-3 months and will advance your academic English.

Get a List

Obviously, you need to get some type of A-Z vocabulary list, and after pouring through 1000’s of pages of academic texts in many disciplines, I created a list of 1,700 college-level words that all ESL students should learn. Download your list now.

Make a study guide out of the list you downloaded.

Do not be tempted to learn the words simply by reading them one page at a time. Your brain will work better if you take each word from the list and put it on a 4 inch x 4 inch note-card. On one side of the note-card, write the word in large, bold, and black letters, and, on the other side, write a definition, a sample sentence, synonyms, antonyms, and various parts of speech. Make sure that you only use English words to explain the word. Once you’ve done this with the first vocabulary word, repeat this process 1,699 times until you have 17 stacks of vocabulary words, with each stack containing 100 words.

As you begin studying the note-cards, separate each stack into two categories: words that you can easily remember and those which you are having more difficulty learning. Although you will focus more on the unfamiliar words, make sure you are are reviewing all of the words on a weekly basis.

Make audio files of all 1,700 words.

Now that you have created note-cards for your vocabulary words and now that you have had ample experience studying the words, you should also practice hearing the words so that, in addition to the tactile way of learning, you are activating your auditory sense of learning. Create 34 audio files of the vocabulary words, recording yourself while you read out loud each word three times. Therefore, in each audio file, you will be recording yourself while you read out loud 50 of the vocabulary words from the list. Then, put the audio files of the words onto your electronic devices so you can listen to them often. By hearing the words, you are trying to associate each word with the note-cards that you are also practicing. Hearing and reading these words will help them get deeper into your memory.

Combine vocabulary study with regular reading and language use practice

No efficient vocabulary study would be complete without a daily extensive reading routine and language use practice. As a result, find topics in magazines, books, and newspapers in which you have an interest. Spend about 45 mins daily reading these materials, and, as you read, you will begin to see the words from the 1,700 college-level word list. That you begin to see the words from your note-cards in authentic reading passages further helps put these words into your long-term memory. More importantly, you are seeing the words used in varying contexts in multiple reading passages over a few weeks of regular reading practice. And, trust me, that is a good thing indeed!

If you like, you can also spend time listening to history, documentary, science, and news programs, which will likely also get you into contact with the vocabulary from your 1,700 college-level word list. Similar to your reading practice, you are hearing the words in authentic listening passages to further show you how these words can be used, thus helping you to get a better sense of the words you are studying.

Whether you are reading or listening to academic passages, you will need to practice using the words and grammar that you are encountering. First of all, after reading a 400-800 word passage or after listening to a 2-5 minute lecture, write a 250 summary of the main idea and most important support points. Second of all, you can practice delivering 60 second oral responses summarizing the main points from the reading and listening passages. In both cases, writing and speaking about the reading and listening passages will begin to help you use new vocabulary which will eventually become your own.

In conclusion

As difficult as it may seem, making note-cards of 1,700 college level words, creating audio files of those same words, spending time reading and listening to authentic passages, and practicing writing and speaking about passages are all efficient ways for you to build your vocabulary over a period of 2-3 months.

Good luck!

Michael Buckhoff,