|Improve Your Knowledge of English
Words by Testing Yourself
Anyone studying a foreign language knows the importance of memorizing
words and expressions in that language.
The more you can remember, the bigger your vocabulary.
Experts say English learners need to develop a large vocabulary to be
successful on language tests and at English-speaking universities.
This information comes from Alicia Biler and Ray Knight. They teach at
the English Programs for Internationals at the University of South
In this Education report, we investigate why English learners need to
develop a large vocabulary set. We will also tell you about ideas that
teachers and scientists have for learners interested in expanding their
understanding of words and expressions.
I Can't Remember That Word!
If you are like many people, you have probably faced a situation like
this one in the VOA Learning English series Let's Learn English.
In the video, Anna Matteo has a hard time remembering a word. Perhaps
Anna has not heard the word enough times. Perhaps she has not thought
about it in a very long time.
Whatever the case, the point is this: it can be difficult to remember
and use vocabulary words!
Ray Knight and Alicia Biler report that one of the most common problems
English learners face is remembering and using vocabulary words.
Biler says a student's success on proficiency tests and at an
English-language university is related to the student’s vocabulary.
"English has a wide vocabulary language. Unlike other languages that use
more grammar or more word endings to express different meanings, English
uses vocabulary to do that job… I think the suggested range for reading
a newspaper is around 5,000 words but for students who want to be
successful academically, let's say at a university level, they need to
know somewhere around 10,000 words."
Biler adds that English learners need to see or hear a word about 10
times before they feel at ease with the word and start using it.
What can you do?
If you need to learn a lot of unfamiliar words, and you have to remember
those words, what can you do?
How can you get vocabulary into your long-term memory?
Mary Pyc is a cognitive scientist. She studies human learning.
Pyc says one helpful method for long-term learning is to test yourself.
The easiest way to do this, she explains, is to create your own
Each card is no bigger than your hand. The word in English can appear on
one side of the card. The meaning in your native language can appear on
By repeatedly using flashcards -- and slowly building up the number of
cards – you can remember more words. Regular testing will also help you
learn which words are difficult for you.
The important point, Pyc says, is that you should not try cramming
unfamiliar words if you want to have long-term learning. Cramming is a
common method for studying. People try to memorize a lot of information
in a hurry before a big test. This strategy can help students on some
exams. "But," Pyc notes, "the caveat is that the day later you're not
going to remember any of that information."
She had other suggestions about how to improve the learning process,
which we will discuss in future education stories.
Try using free online tests
Ray Knight says there are several websites that can help with testing.
He suggests that sites such as Quizlet, Memrise, and English Central can
be useful for English learners.
Alicia Biler adds that English learners can be helped by taking free
language tests, such as Nation's vocabulary test. While Nation’s test
does not give you definitive answers about your English abilities, it
can help show you where you need to improve, she says.
Building a large vocabulary and getting all that information into
long-term memory are not easy tasks.
However, with effort, a little sacrifice, and training you can increase
the number of vocabulary words that you know.
In future Education Tips stories, we will explore other effective ways