A Technique in Vocabulary Building: How to Remember More Words

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Every English learner needs a wealth of vocabulary to be able to speak and write better. It is quite difficult to communicate or express something when you don’t have the right words to use. Your communication is also limited when you don’t have enough English words.

One important tip to enriching your vocabulary is to REMEMBER words—and not just recognize them. Now, there are two ways to follow when it comes to remembering words or concepts. These are receptive and productive skills.

When you are doing vocabulary exercises, the easier way is the multiple-choice questions. For example,

“Malady means:   a) harmony,   b) illness,   c) remedy.”

This exercise is easy because you are given choices. All you have to do is recognize or identify the correct meaning of “malady”. This is when your receptive skills are used. Receptive skills are useful when you are reading or listening because all you need to do is to recognize the words that you read and hear. You recognize what they mean without thinking of them by yourself. So, the vocabulary that’s needed here is passive vocabulary where you need only to recognize the meaning of the word.

Here is an example of another vocabulary exercise,

“Malady means __________”. You are supposed to fill in the blank here. The exercise encourages you to think of the word that means “malady”, which in this case is illness, sickness, ailment, or disease.

The second vocabulary exercise is a bit harder than the first one because there are no choices provided. So, you really have to think hard and you need to remember the correct word. This is when your productive skills are used. Productive skills are useful when you are speaking or writing. Therefore, the vocabulary that’s needed here is active vocabulary, where you need to actively think of the words that you can use to express your thoughts.

This principle is true for every language, and not just English. You have receptive skills for remembering, as well as productive skills. And, you also have a set of passive vocabulary and active vocabulary. In all languages, the people’s passive vocabulary is always much larger than their active vocabulary. This is why you can read many books and understand thousands of words, even when you don’t necessarily use them every day in your own language, and certainly in English. You simply have to know or recognize those words without having to use them.

So, let’s have a look at how you can improve your ACTIVE vocabulary. There are many ways to improve your vocabulary, but let’s use the “vocabulary theme” technique this time. This technique will make use of your productive skills in remembering, so put your thinking hat on.

A vocabulary theme is simply taking a specific area and thinking of all the words that you know would relate to that area or theme. For instance:


Just start simple. You can have three words for each theme. And in every theme, you can have three categories: people, places, and actions. If you like, you can even add to the categories later on. You can do this alone when you’re waiting for your train, bus, or flight. You can also do this with a partner as a game—to see who can come up with many words in a short time. When you do this vocabulary game, you will also be able to identify the areas where you’re weak. For example, you can think of many words for the “business” theme, but you cannot think of many words for the “education” theme. This will help you invest time in the areas where you need to remember more words.

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I have a passion for the English language because it is such a powerful tool for creativity and personal development. I've been writing articles since I was in High School. I represented my school in English writing competitions in the city, regional, and national levels. When I was in college, I wrote a short story which was published in the University Literary Portfolio. In 2006, I worked as a call center agent in Cebu City. In 2007 up to 2008, I worked as an English accent trainer in a startup call center company. I have also been offering ESL lessons as a freelance tutor since February 2016.