👉 ALL Espresso English vocabulary tips

Top tips for learning English vocabulary

Vocabulary is essential for speaking any language – including English!

If you don’t know enough vocabulary words, you’ll often pause while speaking English, trying to think of the right word. Or if you’re at a higher language level, then you might have enough communication skills for some conversations and topics… but you can’t express yourself more fluently, due to lack of more advanced vocabulary.

Here are my top tips for learning English vocabulary successfully.

1. Focus on the most common and practical words in English

The English language has over 170,000 words!

But how many words do you need to know in order to be fluent? The good news is that it’s only around 10,000-15,000 of them in order to be fluent – so it’s important to focus your study on the most common words (remembering that many of these have multiple meanings and uses).

Also, you should learn practical vocabulary, the English words used in everyday life… NOT extremely hard words that are so rare, not even native speakers know them!

Learn English Vocabulary: Words, Lessons, Lists, Courses Espresso English

2. Learn English vocabulary in context

Vocabulary lists can be useful… but one problem is that they teach you words in isolation. It’s better to study English words in context so you can see how they are really used in the language. You can do this by studying with real articles or audios in English.

When you learn vocabulary in context, not only will you remember it longer, but you’ll have a better understanding of how to use the words yourself. That brings us to vocabulary tip #3…

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3. Use new vocabulary words yourself

Reading and listening to vocabulary represent only half of the vocabulary skills you need – you must also put the new vocabulary into practice by speaking and writing the words in your own English!

Whenever you learn a new vocabulary word, try to create your own example sentence using it. It’s best if your example sentence is true or relevant to your life, because this creates a personal connection with the new vocabulary word.

This establishes the vocabulary in your memory very well, so the words will come to mind more easily when you want to use them in the future.

Learn English Vocabulary: Words, Lessons, Lists, Courses Espresso English

4. Keep a vocabulary notebook

Every time you learn a new word – for example, from an article, from a book, or from an English lesson – first, write it down by hand in your vocabulary notebook.

Don’t just save the word in an app, or make a note on your phone/computer! The act of writing it by hand is more “active” and is proven to help you remember it better than taking notes electronically.

I recommend writing the following in your vocabulary notebook:

  • The word and part of speech
  • The definition in English (or translation)
  • 1 example sentence from the article or dictionary
  • 1 example sentence that YOU create

Imagine you just learned the word “generous.” Write in your vocabulary notebook:

  • WORD: generous (adjective)
  • DEFINITION: when a person gives time / money freely
  • EXAMPLE 1 (from the article):
    “Thanks for paying for my dinner. You’re very generous.”
  • EXAMPLE 2 (my example):
    “My brother is generous because he volunteers at the animal shelter on weekends.”

The next day, read your vocabulary notebook again – because it’s important to review after some time has passed – and then try to add one more example sentence using the new word.

Learn English Vocabulary: Words, Lessons, Lists, Courses Espresso English

5. Review vocabulary words regularly

A common mistake among English learners is studying something once and then always moving on to something new, without ever reviewing what you learned before.

But science shows that we remember more information when we review it over time.

Here’s a simple schedule I recommend to my students:

  • At the beginning of each new study session, before studying a new lesson, spend a few minutes reviewing what you learned in the previous lesson.
  • And once a week, don’t study anything new – instead, review everything you learned in the past week.
  • Whenever you have a day when you’re rather tired, or you don’t feel like you have enough time or energy to focus on something new, use that day to review things you learned in the past. If you’ve been taking notes in a vocabulary notebook, it’s easy – just grab your notebook and read through it, maybe try to come up with some new example sentences.

This rhythm of learning and reviewing is amazing for remembering vocabulary words and improving your English fluency.

Vocabulary Problems for English Learners (and solutions!)

English learners often encounter several difficulties when it comes to learning vocabulary. Here are some of the most common problems I’ve observed among my students who are learning English:

⚠️ Problem: If you don’t live in an English-speaking country, then you can’t learn vocabulary naturally from the environment.

✅ Solution: Thankfully, you have the internet, with tons of English learning resources! You’ll need to actively read and listen to English as much as possible.

⚠️ Problem: Pronouncing new words incorrectly. Many English words are pronounced differently than they appear from their spellings. There are many silent letters, like the “k” in “knife” and the “b” in “debt.” Also, the same letter combinations can have different pronunciations, like the “ea” in “head” vs. “bead,” or the “oo” in “roof” vs. “door.”

✅ Solution: Always check the pronunciation of words in an online dictionary with audio (LINK) and repeat the word aloud to make sure you’re pronouncing it correctly.

⚠️ Problem: Homophones and homonyms: English has many words that sound the same but have different meanings (homophones, like “waist” and “waste”) or words that are spelled the same but have different meanings (homonyms, like “light” the opposite of dark and “light” the opposite of heavy).

✅ Solution: Studying the most common homophones and homonyms can be helpful, as well as learning vocabulary in context (not just trying to memorize individual words in isolation).

⚠️ Problem: Understanding the differences between confusing words, like “specially” and “especially” or “accept” and “except.”

✅ Solution: Study commonly confused words so that you can understand them clearly and use them correctly. Use an online grammar checker like Grammarly or ask a native speaker to find out if you are using the right word.

⚠️ Problem: Incorrect collocations like “make research” instead of “do research.” Collocations are the combinations of words that native speakers use together naturally.

✅ Solution: Learn common collocations – you can do it easily in our e-book, 1000 English Collocations in 10 Minutes a Day!

⚠️ Problem: False friends. Some words in English may be similar to words in your native language, but have different meanings – like the English word “embarrassed” and the Spanish word “embarazada” (which means “pregnant” in English).

✅ Solution: Search online for “false friends” or “false cognates” in English + your native language and learn the most common ones so that you are aware of them and don’t make these mistakes!

⚠️ Problem: Using words that are too formal or too informal for the situation. Certain words and phrases are more formal (like “request” instead of “ask,” or “purchase” instead of “buy”) and others are much more informal (such as slang words, which can be used in casual conversation but not in professional or academic contexts).

✅ Solution: Learn about formal and informal English so you can know about the differences and adjust your English speaking or writing appropriately for the context.

Learn Daily Vocabulary Words

Learning an English “word of the day” is a great way to improve your vocabulary if you only have a couple minutes of time! Here are some websites and apps that teach an English vocabulary word of the day:

Some online dictionaries also publish an English word of the day. However, sometimes these are rare words that aren’t used very often.

Learn English Vocabulary: Words, Lessons, Lists, Courses Espresso English

Learn an English “word of the day” when you only have a few minutes to study

English Vocabulary Lists

Studying lists of related vocabulary words can be a good way to expand your vocabulary on specific topics. Here are some websites that are good sources of vocabulary lists:

English Vocabulary Tests & Quizzes

Want to discover your English vocabulary level? These vocabulary tests will help!

Taking vocabulary quizzes is a good way to practice words and see if you really understand them well. Here are some websites with plenty of vocabulary quizzes:

Learn English Vocabulary: Words, Lessons, Lists, Courses Espresso English

Our Vocabulary Builder Course and Advanced Vocabulary and Collocations Course include quizzes in each lesson to help you review and practice! And what’s even better – these online English courses have short-answer questions that help you use the new English words yourself. You can send in your sentences for feedback and correction from an Espresso English teacher.

Dictionaries for looking up English vocabulary words

When you don’t know the meaning of an English word, you can easily find out by checking one of these online dictionaries!

  • Oxford Learners Dictionary – Provides definitions, audio of British and American pronunciation, approximate English level of each word (A1-C2), example phrases, and collocations.
  • YourDictionary.com – Each word has meanings, synonyms and antonyms, and example sentences.
  • 7esl picture dictionary – TONS of vocabulary words with pictures!

Learn English Vocabulary: Words, Lessons, Lists, Courses Espresso English

Vocabulary Builder Courses

Our Vocabulary Builder Courses will help you learn 1,000+ English vocabulary words in just a few minutes a day – so you can express yourself more fluently!

Level 1 of the Vocabulary Builder Course will give you a strong foundation of 1000+ essential English words on topics like daily life, work & study, travel & entertainment, people & ideas, and society & the world.

Level 2 of the Vocabulary Builder Course will teach you 1000+ more words that are deeper, more complex, and more colorful vocabulary – taking you far beyond the basics and improving your English fluency.

Lessons contain lots of pictures and images, which help you understand the words faster, remember them longer, and think directly in English (without translating).

Review & practice your new vocabulary with quizzes and short answer questions – helping you use the new words in your own English immediately. You can even send in your short answers for teacher evaluation, to make sure you’re using them correctly!

Learn English Vocabulary: Words, Lessons, Lists, Courses Espresso English

What students say about the Vocabulary Builder Course:

Excellent material and the vocabulary helps me improve my conversation. You have covered almost all subjects and day to day activities. I love it :-)”
– George

“I liked every lesson I learned in the course because there are a lot of new words that I did not know.”
– Abdulsalam

“I love how the course is structured! Everything is clearly explained! I could almost sit the whole day in front of the computer and study with this course!!! All the things are easy to understand.”
– Susanne

Vocabulary Builder Course

Advanced Vocabulary and Collocations Course

Our Advanced Vocabulary & Collocations Course will teach you 1,000+ high-level words to help you sound more sophisticated and fluent in English!

In just a few minutes a day, you’ll build your vocabulary with advanced words, learn to put them together naturally (like a native speaker), and practice your new vocabulary so you’ll remember it.

Learn English Vocabulary: Words, Lessons, Lists, Courses Espresso English

What students say about the Advanced Vocabulary & Collocations Course:

“You gave us such a profound look at the language, its structure, and peculiarities. This educational journey was truly enjoyable and engrossing!”
– Kseniia

“This is like a gold mine for my vocabulary.” – Alice

“The Advanced Vocabulary & Collocations course is in one simple word: brilliant.” – Giovanni

“You organized the course in a very practical way and I was able to learn a lot of new words!” – Maria

Advanced Vocabulary & Collocations Course