The 3 best ways to learn new vocabulary


Flashcards can be very effective as long as you are aware of their limitations and don’t overdo it so that it becomes a chore. Of course they work best with pairs of words that have a close correspondence between languages, typically basic nouns.  Single word flashcards will get you quickly up and running with some basic vocabulary, although in the longer term you will want to use whole sentences so that you understand how the words are used in context. Of course as you read, and listen, eventually you will just naturally absorb words after you have encountered them enough times. This is probably the best way, but is a bit more of a long term method. Also over time you learn to recognise parts of words with common meanings and patterns that make it easier to remember.


1- Get a notebook and draw columns in it.
2- Write new words in the first column so every row starts with a new word.
3- Title the remaining columns as “day 1, day 2, day 3, week 1, week 2, month 1” etc, that indicates when you saw the word last time, for example “day 3” on 15/04/14, “week 1” will be on 22/04/14.
4- On the next page, write the meaning of each word.
5- In front of every word there will be 6 blank rows, if you remember the meaning of that word, fill in the blank with a ‘+’ sign, if not fill in the blank with a ‘-‘ sign.
6- You can refer to the next page if you don’t remember a word’s meaning and see its meaning again
7- You can also use a part of notebook for the grammar.

If you can remember the meaning of the word in “month 1” then you have memorised the word forever!

Post-it Notes

Use a wall to cover with word stickers! You may want to buy stickers of different colours (one colour for one part of speech, for example, of even one colour for one word, if you need to memorise the forms of one word, or phrases). You can then also play with it, creating sentences! You may even put stickers on objects, such as pieces of furniture to memorise the words for them. Although remember that in the long run you need to memorise not words but phrases, to find out how words ‘behave’ in different contexts. It’s particularly true for English because of the quirkiness of spelling verses pronunciation.


Having a ‘whoop’ of a time thinking about ‘whoops a daisy’!

Have you seen the movie ‘Notting Hill’? Have you seen the scene where Hugh Grant keeps saying ‘whoops a daisy!’?


‘Whoops a daisy!’ is an expression of surprise or dismay, as shown by Hugh Grant when he fails to climb over the garden wall. The modern-day equivalent is thought to probably be ‘Doh!’ The term has been shortened to “whoops” and some people think it may be related to the expression “to whoop,” as in giving “whoops of joy.”
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With regards to the historical background of “whoop” as a verb, it relates to a falconer who whoops his hawks and dates back to the early 1400s.  If you cried ‘whoop’ during a hunt this would indicate to your fellow hunters that your quarry, your target animal, or game, was dead.
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Whoop also appears in slang, for example ‘to whoop it up’  which means to have a jolly good time, or to ‘live it up’. “Making whoopee” arose in the US around 1927. Plus, something not so pleasant, for us Brits the term “whoopsie” is apparently a child’s word for excrement. So for anyone who mixes American and British English you must be careful to be clear between making whoopie, and making whoopsie! Things could go really wrong!
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Finally, yes people really do say this! Well… I do, and so does Hugh Grant!
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Oxford Comma

It’s just a comma! Or is it?
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I’ve had a lot of questions recently about punctuation and the role it plays in English. So is punctuation important when you speak English? I think so. Let’s look at the simple comma.
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Some people say that commas can help you put pauses in a sentence, to help you speak with clarity and definition. I agree. I think that they help you to deliver a message clearly. Yet others insist there are rules for when you use a comma or not, although they do help you to translate written words into effective verbal communication, with the correct significance.
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In truth, there is a lot of discussion about it. There is a comma, known as the Oxford comma, which the rules of American English do not see as important but the rules of British English insist you use correctly. This is the comma used before the coordinating conjunction (e.g. and, or, etc.) at the end of a list.
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For example,
‘I booked the comedians, Laurel and Hardy.’ This could signify that you booked some comedians for your celebration and they were called Laurel and Hardy. Yet if you write, ‘I booked the comedians, Laurel, and Hardy.’ This signifies that both Laurel and Hardy were booked for the event, as well as some comedians.
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I like the idea of using the Oxford comma, but what do you think?

, ,

But… synonyms and antonyms…

When I was young my father banned me from saying ‘yeah but…’ when he was trying to reason with me and say no. Although this was a very frustrating situation it did teach me to find other ways to say ‘but’…
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However / although / on the other hand / yet / alternatively / except / nevertheless.…
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So, I would suggest that if you want a fun way to amplify your vocabulary, ban yourself from using a word for a while and see if you can find other ways to say what you want to say. It is best perhaps an exercise used to try to replace those words that you use often.
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You can also use it to look at opposites, plus all those new alternative words will themselves have their own synonyms and antonyms.
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Give it go! It might be fun!
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Extra tip: Never start a sentence with ‘but’! It’s bad grammar.

What would you do…. (Lost)


You are on a ship. A fire on board has destroyed the radio. From the rate the water is rising inside the ship you estimate that it will sink within two hours. You did not tell the authorities of your destination. It will take about 45 minutes to launch the only lifeboat which can only hold 4 people. You can’t jump as the water is shark infested. The nearest land is an uninhabited tropical island 30 km away.

Your task is to decide which people will enter the boat. Everyone has agreed to abide by your decision. Items held by individuals must stay with the owner; they cannot be transferred to other people.

Captain: age 57. Married three times; five children aged between 5 and 27. His youngest child has Down’s syndrome. Drinks and smokes heavily. Plays the accordion and carries a bottle of rum.

Cook: a former Special Forces officer reduced to working as a cook after being court-martialled following an unfortunate incident involving a torpedo and a presidential yacht. Carries a knife.

Anglican priest: a Philosophy graduate who taught English as a foreign language in South America for several years before returning to her home town to look after her disabled mother (now aged 85) with whom she still lives. Trained as a counsellor and was ordained in 1990. Carries a first aid kit.

Ship’s engineer’s wife: Aged 35 and about to begin maternity leave from her work as a medical sales representative. Due to give birth to their first child in 4 months time. For some reason known only to herself she happens to be carrying a fishing line and hook.

Travel agency owner: Has worked in the travel industry for 40 years and has been to every corner of the globe.  She talks a lot and has a family of 4 waiting for her back in Russia.   She is wearing very expensive jewelry and boasts about all of her vacation homes and luxurious items that she owns.

French Botany student: Lived in the Brazilian rainforest for eighteen months while carrying out Ph.D. research into plants that can be used in anti-cancer drugs: these are now undergoing testing by a major multinational pharmaceutical company. Voted for Le Pen in the last election. Has a rifle.

Photographer: Has traveled all over the world shooting for magazine advertisements.  In his bag he has a camera, a telescope and a tool kit.


Which 4 are going on the boat?  Why did you choose these people?  Comment below…



This article was originally published by the British Council on 20 January 2014. You can view the original post on their website or visit me at The Teacher Abroad.