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Sure-fire Ways to Expand Your Vocabulary

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Joined: 01 Oct 2009
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 19, 2010 5:24 am    Post subject: Sure-fire Ways to Expand Your Vocabulary Reply with quote

Expanding your vocabulary should be one of your most important goals, and ESL programs provide great opportunities to acquire and practice it. Vocabulary is the substance of language, what will let you express yourself fluently without having to stop and look for the words in your head every time you want to say or write something.

An interesting approach to expanding your vocabulary is to understand the links and the semantic relations that exist between words, instead of considering them a chaotic soup of lost words. Itís amazing how our brains speed up their work and retain information when that information has a structure, and how they tend to reject unorganized data.

Examples of semantic relations are, for example, opposite words (antonyms): the opposite of good is bad; the opposite of hot is cold, and so on. Whenever you come across an adjective you donít know, donít limit yourself to learning its meaning: if you think that word has a possible opposite, look it up (youíll need a synonyms and antonyms dictionary).

Some words donít have an obvious antonym. For example, the word round. What would its antonym be? However, antonyms and synonyms are just an example of semantic relations. Although we canít find an antonym for the adjective round, we can link it to all the adjectives that describe a shape: squared, triangular, and so on.

Another example of semantic relation is the inclusion relation (also called ďpart-wholeĒ relation): the words tree, branch and leaf are related in this sense. A tree contains a branch, which contains a leaf. An arm contains a hand, which contains fingers. Becoming aware of these relations is using your intelligence instead of your memory.

These are just some examples of how to organize your expanding vocabulary. Building a list that connects words through different aspects (such as meaning, opposition/similarity relations, etc.) will definitely give you more control over the words you use.

Once youíve added a word to your list, open your eyes and ears and pay attention to the different contexts where it happens to appear, since the context is what truly gives shape to a word. For example, hot can refer to temperature, sexual excitement or something popular today.

To sum up:
1. Organize words by linking them through different relations (such as opposition, inclusion, etc)
2. Sort words by similarity
3. Learn the different contexts where the same word can appear

We hope this article helps you with your ESL lessons, and we wish you the best in the process of learning English. Have fun!

Rachel Clarkson
Rachel Clarkson is an English teacher at LCI English and blogger at the ESL Blog.
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