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Context, Context, Context - the key to learning English vocabulary



You will need to learn 1,000 to 3,000 English words to be considered “conversational.” You will need to learn 4,000 to 10,000 English words to be considered “advanced.” That’s right. Learning vocabulary words is a big part of learning a new language. And how do you go about learning all these words? Well, frequently you are given a “word list.” There are word lists for the IELTS, the TOEFL, the FCE, the CAE, the CPE, and other exams.


I don’t care for word lists. They are boring. You can’t remember words from a list for very long and your motivation will be gone long before you get to the end of the list.


In order to retain new vocabulary words, those words are better learned in a context. But, what is a context? Well, it is the words surrounding the target vocabulary word. The context is made up of the other words in the phrase or sentence containing the new word. The context also includes the overall topic being talked about and the time and place or setting of the content.


I recommend my students learn their new vocabulary words in a phrase or a sentence. If you want to remember the word “wet” learn “water is wet.” Or if you want to remember the colors learn “grass is green” or “roses are red.”


A phrase or sentence will give you a context for the new word. Studies indicate that the more information your brain has connected to a new word, the longer you will remember it. In a sentence, you can see how a new word fits grammatically: as a noun, adjective, verb, etc. A sentence shows you how to use the new word.


Practice new vocabulary by repeating the sentence and other similar sentences. Use spaced repetition to permanently burn it into your brain. Practice the word with your teacher so you will get feedback on how you used it.


Research shows that 10% of the words you learn in your native language were taught to you. The other 90% were deduced from context. In other words, you figured out the meaning. Not only can you learn words from their context, you can remember them as well.


Here are some examples to give you the idea:


I appreciate your help/support.

I’ll be with you in a moment.

Are meals included?

Arrive at your destination.

Access the internet.

Order an appetizer.

Build relationships.

Pay a compliment.

Give a presentation.

Make an impact.

Essential ingredient

Travel abroad.

Sunny weather

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