How to Improve Vocabulary: 10 Strategies That Work

Here, we cover everything you need to know about how to improve vocabulary. 

Whether English isn’t your first language or you simply feel as if your vocabulary game needs some polishing, there are plenty of strategies designed to introduce you to new words. Perhaps your reason for wanting to know how to improve vocabulary is that you often find yourself struggling for the right words, or maybe you just love language and want to increase your vocabulary as much as possible.

Whatever the reason, the following suggestions can put you on the right track for developing a well-rounded vocabulary composed of a rich variety of English words. 

1. Make Reading a Part of Your Daily Routine

How to improve vocabulary?

One of the most effective ways to build your vocabulary is to incorporate reading into your daily routine. Even if your reading time is limited to 15 minutes per day, you’ll develop a greater familiarity with language than if you hadn’t spent that time reading.

Try and make sure you’re reading something you enjoy, and if it’s fiction, classics, and contemporary novels that have won critical accolades and awards tend to cover a wider linguistic range than their counterparts on the average summer beach reading list.

Nonfiction is an excellent choice as well for those seeking to learn new vocabulary words, but as with fiction, choosing material that you have a genuine interest in helps ensure that you’ll retain what you’ve learned, including any unfamiliar words. However, there’s no reason why you have to stick to either genre — reading a variety of sources is a better strategy for cultivating a good English vocabulary. 

Here’s our guide about how to read more often.

2. Play Word Games 

How To Improve Vocabulary? Play word games
Board games in particular can be a fun way to get out from behind a screen

Word games offer another enjoyable way to up your language game. For those who enjoy solitary pursuits, Sudoku and crossword puzzles are readily available from a variety of sources.

If you’re the type who likes to do your learning as part of a group, you’ll undoubtedly enjoy playing Boggle or Scrabble with family and friends, especially if they are also in the process of improving their vocabulary skills. Board games in particular can be a fun way to get out from behind a screen, learn something new, and gain a large vocabulary at the same time. 

3. Listen to Others

They say that the art of listening is dead, and this may very well be true for most people. It doesn’t have to be that way for you, though — listening provides a wide variety of benefits, not the least of which is that you’ll learn new things, and many of those things will be words. As an added bonus, you’ll develop closer relationships with the important people in your life.

4. Take a Class

Taking a class in just about anything you’re interested in will add new words to your language. Botany and gardening classes are excellent choices because they frequently contain binomial nomenclature, which is the naming of plants using their original Latin names.

Because over half of the words in the English language are derived from Latin, you’ll learn a lot about frequently used word roots, suffixes, and prefixes, which will often allow you to make an accurate guess about the meaning of words you haven’t run across before. If plants aren’t of interest to you, consider taking a Latin class.

No matter what kind of class you take, expanding your knowledge base will undoubtedly have a positive impact on your vocabulary. And If you’re coming from an ESL perspective, consider taking a class designed for non-native speakers. You’ll have plenty of built-in study partners for support. 

Check out our guide to the best online writing courses

5. Use Flashcards

Old-school flashcards are another excellent tool for those seeking to add new words to their vocabulary. Thanks to digital technology, though, you don’t have to use the standard 3×5 inch cards — you can access dozens of apps on your smartphone that serve the same purpose. 

6. Sign Up For a Word-a-Day App

There are numerous word of the day apps available that anyone can easily access from their device. Word of the day apps often work best for native English speakers who already have a good grasp of the English language and simply enjoy spending their time learning different words, but they can also be valuable for those just beginning to embark on their adventure with learning vocabulary.

For a randomly generated list of words to be most effective, they should be accompanied by helpful games, exercises, and opportunities for group engagement to provide context and chances to practice. 

7. Keep a Vocabulary Journal 

Substantial evidence exists that keeping a vocabulary journal helps in vocabulary acquisition and retention. Your vocabulary journal should include all of the new words you’ve learned throughout the course of the day, whether you encountered them while reading, playing word games, or simply in the course of conversation.

It’s important to add entries to the journal on a daily basis, if possible. If you don’t learn any new words on a given day, use the time to revisit past entries in your journal.

8. Get a Thesaurus and a Good Dictionary

Keep a dictionary and a thesaurus close by while working in your vocabulary journal, and be sure to provide each entry with plenty of room for noting alternative spellings and meanings, synonyms, antonyms, and examples of how each word is used in sentences — online dictionaries provide an excellent source of these types of examples. 

As you can see, there are numerous ways to increase your vocabulary. Most people take a multi-tiered approach to learning vocabulary words comprised of several of the above strategies and then pulling it all together by keeping a vocabulary journal. Keeping a journal also helps develop writing skills. 

9. Use Mnemonics

Otherwise referred to as memory devices, mnemonics is a learning technique that draws on memories to enable the human brain to connect unfamiliar words with familiar ideas. Because mnemonics uses word association, it helps make things easier to remember than simply trying to memorize random lists of words. 

10. Best Practices for How to Improve Vocabulary

Best practices for vocabulary building include making a commitment to the long game by being consistent in your daily vocabulary routine, keeping it fun and engaging with board games, creative flashcards, and group study to avoid becoming burned out with the process.

It’s also a good idea to take vocabulary tests every week or so as a way to gauge where you’re at in your quest to build a large vocabulary. How you use words is just as important as the number of words that you know, so be sure to practice using them in context every chance you get. 

Above all, keep in mind that learning a new language is rarely a linear process, and it can be difficult to learn vocabulary outside of your own language, so be prepared for occasional setbacks. If you find yourself losing motivation, try spending a few days on review instead of adding new vocabulary words to your roster.