Guessing Vocabulary

As you progress and learn new words and grammar in English, you will need to study vocabulary. There are some good tips for learning new words, but students also often make mistakes when they see or hear new words.

For example, some students and teachers think it is best to guess the meaning of new words based on context. This is false help. It doesn't really help you in building vocabulary. It can leave you with many words you don't really understand, or that you only think you understand. This can, and does, mess students up.

For example, when students guess the meaning of a new word, logically, sometimes they do not guess correctly. This means that sometimes they can start to use the word incorrectly. This is confusing, and it means you will have to "unlearn" the incorrect meaning you have learned. This false vocabulary can actually make you less smart and capable than you really are.

It is true that when you are speaking with someone, you will not have time to look in a dictionary. But remember that you can always ask. Do not feel embarrassed if you do not understand. You are making a very big effort to learn English, and it is best for you to understand the new words you hear.

If you are reading, keep these things in mind:
  1. Use a suitable dictionary, appropriate for your level.
  2. Sometimes the written definition is not enough. Use free services, such as Google image search, to see pictures of the new vocabulary. A picture can be worth 1,000 words! (And a video clip can be worth 10,000 words!)
  3. Make your own examples. When you use the new word, it will become more real for you, and writing examples of your own is excellent practice.

You can also use specialized materials like our Figurative Language booklet to learn difficult or specific vocabulary and expressions.

This way, you will learn lots of new words correctly the first time and really build your vocabulary!