Few situations are more frustrating than ones in which you have ideas and opinions that you want to express in another language but cannot because you lack the necessary words to do so. I myself have had this kind of experience with Korean, and I am sure that many of you have had similar experiences with English.
Thus, improving your English vocabulary has not only the potential to improve your English test scores but also the potential to reduce the frustration you might have when trying to communicate in English. So what I would like to do is provide some tips on how to build your English vocabulary.
The most important step you can take is to move beyond the stage of learning English words by simply memorizing Korean translations. This sort of approach is perhaps unavoidable at the earliest stages of learning a foreign language, but by continuing to rely on it you will eventually hit a plateau in your improvement. One reason for this is because there are seldom, if ever, exact translations from two different languages. All words in a language are part of a very complex lexical system; words derive much of their meaning from their relationship to other words in the language. All words have their own unique cultural associations, connotations, and contexts. The notion that you can come to a deep understanding of an English word by matching it with a Korean word is pretty much a fiction.
One way to get beyond this stage is to start using a monolingual English dictionary. There are many excellent learners’ dictionaries available to make this easier. Using an English dictionary may be hard at first, but eventually your efforts will pay off. Not only will you be exposed to a greater number of new English words, but also your understanding of those words will most likely be deeper, more thorough, and more accurate.
Another thing that is important to bear in mind when learning new words in English, is that often words are best learned in groups or chunks. Words that often occur together are called collocations. For example, if you learn the word catch, there are many collocations it is found in, such as catch one’s breath, catch fish, catch a glimpse, catch one’s eye, catch fire, and catch a bus/train/plane. By paying particular attention to the collocations that words are found in, you will be much better prepared to communicate your ideas effectively in English. There are a number of good dictionaries that list collocations, but, if you want to investigate an English word on your own, the Corpus of Contemporary American English (http://corpus.byu.edu/coca/) is an excellent online resource.
Needless to say, the more passionate you are about learning new words, the more likely you are to be successful in improving your vocabulary. Always try to be creative and playful in how you study new words in order to make studying more engaging. For example, you can play word games, do word puzzles, and create interesting mnemonics for new words. Also, try to make it a habit to make a note of any new words you encounter and look them up later.
If you can use a monolingual dictionary, learn words in groups or chunks, and of course be passionate about learning, you are bound to improve your grasp of English vocabulary. By following these tips, I am sure you will be able achieve a breakthrough in your learning.
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