How to learn a word in English
On the blog we have already touched on the subject of learning English vocabulary several times, namely how to remember words naturally and what are the most used words in the English language. Even with this information, you still cannot recognize words that you have already studied: why? Today we would like to tell you how to learn English words for good.
Knowing a word means knowing it in all its forms, knowing how to pronounce it well, being able to recognize it orally and being able to use it in the right context. It’s not as easy a task as you might think and if you don’t have the right method, you won’t get results, which is disheartening. We then offer you a checklist of all the essential aspects of learning vocabulary, a guide to learning words in English!
Accent and pronunciation
The two main aspects that we must respect when we want to learn how to pronounce a word well in English are its pronunciation and its accentuation.
One mistake to avoid when learning English vocabulary is to learn everything from text, just imagining the true pronunciation of the word. As you may have already noticed, English spelling is chaotic, to say the least. It is therefore absolutely impossible, even for native speakers, to guess the correct pronunciation of a word just by seeing how it is spelled.
To avoid falling into this trap, you need two things:
a phonetic transcription and
a voice recording .
Phonetic transcription, preferably written in IPA ( International Phonetic Alphabet ), will give you important information about the sounds that make up the word , where one syllable ends and the next begins, which syllable is stressed, etc.
You can then review the voice recording to consolidate your knowledge of the word. Hearing the word spoken by a native speaker is extremely helpful in checking whether our analysis was correct .
It’s a bit like playing a musical instrument: the best approach would be to first analyze the notes of a piece, then hear it. The combination of these two points will allow you to become a real Mozart. Or, in English context, a real Arnold Schwarzenegger !
Having a correct pronunciation in English is essential to understand and to be understood. That’s why we use Phonographs everywhere on the blog and in Click & Speak training . These are audio recordings made by native US speakers, to ensure you are exposed to natural and authentic pronunciation. Thanks to this, the users of the training finally manage to understand spoken English . So, don’t underestimate the importance of speaking in your learning!
Now that you understand the importance of these two resources (phonetic transcriptions and audio recordings), I would like to give you the best site to learn the pronunciation of words in English : Wiktionary ! It’s no surprise, in our humble opinion, that this is the best resource for checking your English pronunciation . The dictionary is very complete, regularly updated, free and of good quality: what more could you ask for?!
Let’s take an example to show you how to apply all this in practice. Let’s say you want to learn this word humor . You certainly recognize the word, thanks to the similarities between English and Indian English, but there are several additional things worth your attention, not to mention the meaning.
The pronunciation is very different, here is the phonetic transcription: /ˈhju mɝ/ .
In terms of sounds, we can notice several differences:
- the /h/ is pronounced, unlike English.
- the letter u is pronounced /ju/
- the sound does not exist in Hindi in the second syllable, namely /ɝ/ .
Next, let’s analyze the accent a bit. If you don’t already know, every word in English has at least one syllable that is stressed . We therefore pronounce it by increasing our intonation and insisting on it. Even if there are certain rules, you have to basically learn it by heart, because it’s too irregular. In this specific case, the stress falls on the first syllable, indicated by the small apostrophe which shows that the following syllable is stressed. We therefore pronounce / ˈhju mɝ/ .
After our detailed analysis, we can now consult the audio recording , to check if we have analyzed everything correctly: /ˈhju mɝ/ .
Find out how to find the phonetics of an English word !
By following these steps, you can be sure that you have learned the correct pronunciation of the words and that you no longer speak Franglais !
If the process may seem long, keep in mind that it quickly becomes a habit , we quickly assimilate all these elements and we end up being able to obtain all this information at a glance. Finally, checking the pronunciation of a word only takes 5 seconds and allows us to correct our bad habits .
By the way, after learning the individual pronunciation of words, you will gradually start to think about the connections we make between words . Informal contractions , like I gotta go instead of I have got to go . Or, the additional sounds that are added between words. For example, when we say I am , we add a small /j/ between the two. It’s not exactly pronounced /aɪ æm/ , but rather /aɪ j æm/ . These details are interesting and will help you acquire a natural accent. We just wanted to tell you about it, but it may still be a bit too early. Don’t worry too much about it just yet.
We’re not teaching you anything by telling you that English spelling is hard to master , so it’s well worth your attention.
In our example, we can see that we replaced the French ending -eur by -or when the word entered the English language, so we write humor in American English. Yes, it is important to specify that it is the American spelling . In British English we write humour . This is one of the main differences between American English and British English and if one is not aware of it, it could be confusing to see the same word spelled in different ways.
Again on Wiktionary , you can find all the official spellings.
Moreover, it is difficult even for advanced students to distinguish the spellings of words in English and in Hindi… Vowels, double consonants, etc. Small words like “address” but address can drive us crazy so I recommend downloading a spell checker to self-correct your English !
It’s easy to forget that English has a lot of dialects and you have to pick one that you’re going to stick with. The main dialect taught on the blog and on Click & Speak is General American , or the Standard American accent.
However, it is useful to know some common words of other dialects to be able to understand English speakers of all countries well, but one must also be aware that it is a dialect word.
You have to choose a dialect to learn , the one you like the most and/or which will be the most useful to you. You have to try to learn only the pronunciation and vocabulary of that dialect.
If you haven’t done so yet, I invite you to choose the variant of English you are going to learn !
Learn to understand the different English dialects
and discover the world!
If you want to learn English words well, you have to know them in all their forms . The key is to check their grammatical category , because you will also know what the other forms of the word are. Thus, you will be able to recognize the word in several contexts and use it at will.
To illustrate the importance of this aspect, imagine that you are learning Hindi and that you just learn the infinitive form of the verb to be . Naturally, when someone uses it, but in another form, like I am , he is or even we have been , you are not going to be able to understand .
It’s the same in English: we tend to learn only one form of the word: the one in which we first saw it and we stop there.
I therefore propose in this part of the article to discover all the grammatical categories and which forms you should learn in each:
- Function words: invariable. Articles , prepositions, conjunctions do not change according to their function in the sentence.
Verbs: variable. For them, it is necessary to know the infinitive form, its conjugation in the present, in the preterite and its past participle .
It’s quite simple for regular verbs, just add the ending -ed to get the past tense form and the past participle.
- One thing to remember is that this ending has three distinct pronunciations . Make sure you pronounce the verb correctly.
Let’s move on to irregular verbs . They follow no rules or logic. Since irregular verbs in English are an avalanche of information, we have devoted several articles to it:
How to learn irregular verbs in English
The main irregular verbs in English
Complete list of irregular verbs in English
Names: variables. This grammatical category consists of two forms, namely singular and plural. Our example humor is a noun, so we also need to know its plural form: humors .
It’s pretty simple since most names are regular and just add an -s at the end. Please note: the -s is pronounced in English.
- Keep in mind that there are a large number of irregular nouns, so you have to learn their forms by heart. For example, foot which becomes feet or mouse which becomes mice .
Adverbs: variable. Parts of speech that show how something is done, e.g. well , badly , poorly , etc.
- These also only change in comparative and superlative forms.
- In colloquial language, we tend to use adjectives instead of adverbs.
Adjectives: variable. These are the words that describe nouns, like good , blue and big . These do not change in gender or number, unlike English. Forget forms such as bigs to describe several big things! However, there are comparative and superlative forms:
big -> bigger -> the biggest
There are also some adjectives with irregular comparative and superlative forms:
- good -> better – > best
- Interjections: invariable.
- Figures and numbers : invariable.
- Proper names: invariable.
- Abbreviation: invariable.
Here is a diagram to illustrate what you should do when checking the grammatical category of English words, step by step:
Diagram to learn the words in English
How are you sir ? How’s it going
Two phrases that mean the same thing, which we absolutely cannot use interchangeably. It’s obvious, we feel it by intuition. But have you asked yourself why ? We don’t talk the same way with our friends, our grandma and during a job interview!
A word not only carries its meaning, but also a certain connotation . There are words which are more formal, which one would only use in writing, and others which are familiar and which should only be used with those close to them, and then there are also neutral words. , which can be used in all contexts.
Another example in Hindi are the words car and car : the same meaning, but you know that the colloquial word car cannot be used in a formal context, whereas the word car is rather neutral.
It is quite easy to distinguish these nuances in one’s native language, but when one is in the midst of learning a language, it becomes quite complicated and can result in awkward situations. To avoid this, I advise you to always check the language register to which the word belongs , in what context it can be used.
We have organized the language registers on Click & Speak as follows:
- Neutral _
- Casual _
- Slang (Slang)
- Vulgar (Vulgar)
- Taboo (Taboo)
If we return to our example, the word humor , we can say that this is part of the neutral register , it is not strange to use it in the office or with friends. However, slang terms and vulgar words are to be avoided in a formal context, just as strong language is not suitable for the street.
Speaking English like a native means being able to easily choose the right register of language according to the situation .
One thing to keep in mind is that there are no absolute synonyms! If two words have roughly the same meaning, they have different nuances in their usage. If they belong to the same register, they necessarily have a difference in meaning, however small. If two words have the same meaning and are used in the same language register, one of the two will necessarily cease to be used. So the next time you think two words can be used interchangeably, maybe it’s worth going a little deeper and studying them in detail.
Use of the word
It is absolutely useless to learn isolated words . Why spend your time and energy on them if you won’t be able to recognize them orally, or use them when you need to?
To avoid falling into this trap, we suggest that you always study several example sentences containing the word you are learning.
Here are some resources to check the meaning of a word and see how it is used in a natural context:
And now try using that word ! Listen to it pronounced individually, then within the sentences, observe and analyze the contractions, say it individually, within one or more sentences, try to create your own examples, think about when you will use it in your own life… In short, appropriate the word to make sure you master it!
Bonus: Additional Techniques for Memorizing English Words
Now that we’ve seen a comprehensive list of things to pay attention to when learning vocabulary, let’s direct our attention to techniques, tips, and resources to help you remember words more easily :
Reading the history of a word, its origin and studying its development is a great way to remember it. If you’re struggling to learn a word in English, I suggest you look up its etymology for some context.
On the Etymonline site , you can find out how the meaning of a word has developed until today.
In linguistics, morphology is the study of word formation . It’s a whole science, but for the interests of a student of English, it is useful to know some morphemes (word parts) that carry concrete meanings (lexical or grammatical). This will come in handy, as you can approach vocabulary learning in a more analytical way.
Here are some examples :
- un- , im- and ir- are prefixes often used to get the inverse of the word (antonym) ( unprobable , impossible , irregular ),
- -ment , -ness and -icy are common endings for nouns ( enjoyment , fitness , policy )
Learning the basics of morphology will help you both to understand English better , but also to build new words . Even though these aren’t perfect rules that work all the time, we can still use an ending to turn a verb into a noun (whatever that is!) to continue the conversation with a native speaker. The other person will understand us even if it’s the wrong ending and they’ll probably correct you.
Let’s say you mean freedom in English and you already know that free means free . You also know that the ending -ness carries the grammatical meaning of a noun, so adding it to an adjective gives you a noun: freeness ! It’s not the right ending, but you will be understood and your interlocutor will tell you that it is in fact freedom .
A picture is worth a thousand words ! Why not give your memory a boost with a visual aid? A quick search on Google will allow you to awaken another of your senses and thus, you have a better chance of remembering the word.
Here are some resources for finding accompanying images:
- Google Images
Withhold a word for good
After learning the word, you also need to revise it . To be sure not to waste your time and energy, the wisest choice would be to use a system of spaced repetitions . If it works well for you, you can also repeat the word a certain number of times.
To correctly remember a word, it is necessary to use several meanings . If you follow our list correctly, you will have used:
- Your muscles, to pronounce the word correctly. Do not hesitate to articulate the word aloud!
- Your ear, after hearing the spoken word.
- Your eyes, with phonetic transcription and accompanying image.
Repeating a word or phrase, mimicking the native speaker’s pronunciation will help you retain the word. This is the Shadowing technique that many students use to master several languages with an impeccable accent!
The checklist for learning words in English
To sum up, we’ve created an interactive infographic to show you all the steps you need to take to memorize an English word for good. Follow them and you’ll never have to search for your English words again:
Where to learn your words in English?
As soon as you have learned your first word in English in all its forms, i.e. you know how to pronounce it (with the correct accent), know the correct spelling, know all its forms, know in which language register it is used and used in the right context, you can take a step back: what is the next step? How many words do you need to learn?
To reach the bilingual level , you need 5000 words in English: understand them and be able to use them. And not just any words, they have to be the 5000 most used words in the language, which represent 96% of everyday language.