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English Language Support: Vocabulary development

An overview of English Language Support available from Library and Learning Services

Oxford English Language Dictionaries (Online)

Tips and techniques for learning new vocabulary

  • Do you need the word?
  • Are there any clues to help you guess its meaning?
    • Context
    • Visual
    • Word form
    • Cognate? (is the word similar to any words in your language?)
  • Activate the word
    • Write it down
    • Say it out loud
    • Put it in a sentence
    • Try it out


Websites to help you widen your vocabulary

How to learn new vocabulary

  • While studying at BU you are almost certain to discover words or expressions you do not know. The best thing to do is to use your reading to help you widen your own vocabulary.
  • When you discover a new word the simplest thing to do is to ask yourself if you can guess what the word might mean from the context of what you are reading.
  • If you can guess the meaning you are more likely to remember the word. You can always check in a dictionary to see if you were right.
  • If you really cannot guess the word then you will need to look it up in a dictionary. Ideally you should try to use an English-English dictionary rather than a translation dictionary. This will probably provide you with examples of how the word is used and will also tell you how it is pronounced.
  • You then need to decide if the word is one that is important for you to remember and if so you then need to "activate" the word. This means you should do something with the word. For example write it down or say it aloud. You should then try to use the word in a sentence in your writing or speaking. This will help you to retain the word as part of your active vocabulary.
  • If you can learn between 5 and 10 new words a day you'll be surprised at how quickly your vocabulary improves which in turn will help both your reading and listening comprehension.

Subject Guide

Paul Barnes's picture
Paul Barnes
Room DL126
The Sir Michael Cobham Library
Talbot Campus
Bournemouth University
BH12 5BB
01202 965300