ELSIS | Sydney English language Center

How to improve your vocabulary for speaking

Vocabulary Speaking Skills

Many adult learners of another language are frustrated because they don’t have a vocabulary big enough to express their mature thoughts and ideas. So how can you increase your vocabulary to better communicate what you want to say? Well, the answer to this is not so simple, but there are some things that can help you better understand what is needed.

1. Understand word frequency.

Have you ever thought about how many words English speakers actually use compared to the number of words in the English dictionary? If you haven’t you might be surprised to know that by learning only 3,000 words you are likely to understand 98% of spoken English. So you don’t need to know all 172,000 words in the Oxford dictionary! You should focus on learning only the most frequent words to improve your chances of communicating efficiently.

2. Enrich the words you already know

You already know so many words, so make sure you use this knowledge to improve your vocabulary by understanding how words can change. For example, perhaps you already know the word happy, but have you ever used the words unhappy, happiness, or happily? By knowing how to change this one word you can suddenly use three more very easily. So make sure you experiment with changing words and take risks when you are speaking. Don’t worry too much about making mistakes and try to identify new opportunities to use words.

3. Start to listen to how English sounds

The pronunciation of English is very different to many other languages and it is important to use stress and intonation well. But how can you do this? A fantastic way to improve your pronunciation is my imitation. First, you need to find a short clip on youtube that demonstrates natural use of communicative English. (The clip should be no more than one minute long and you can turn on English subtitles too if it helps.) Then listen to the clip as many times as necessary, paying careful attention to the way the language sounds. After you have developed a good ‘ear’ for the dialogue try to play the clip and speak at the same time as the speaker in the video. Try to speak at the same speed as the speaker using similar intonation and stress. You will probably have to stop and restart the video many times before you can imitate it accurately. If you practice this for just 10 minutes per day (using different clips) you will be surprised at how your pronunciation will improve.