What is the best way to learn new words?

Students often think that the best way to learn vocabulary is to look words they do not know up in a dictionary (often a bilingual dictionary), then to write down a list of the words they have looked up with the translation next to them. This is one way to study vocabulary, but it is certainly not the only way, and probably not the best. There are many different ways of studying vocabulary and it is worth experimenting with different techniques. This will bring variety into your studying and you may find that you really enjoy a method you have not tried before.

Remember there are three aspects of a word: its meaning; what it sounds like (its pronunciation); and what it looks like (its spelling). You should pay attention to all three aspects.

It is also important to learn vocabulary quite actively. This is one reason why just making lists of words you have looked up in the dictionary is not enough. It is too passive. One method I would like to strongly discourage is reading the dictionary and trying to memorise information from it. (Yes, some people do try this!)

Try this quiz to get ideas about how to learn vocabulary, 20 ways to learn new words (Lowes et al, 2004:82).