Articles for Students: Word Power

TESOL Programs  -
ATC - Advanced College of Languages and Training Canada

© Aex Shenassa. Permission is granted to individual teachers to make copies of the article below for classroom teaching.

So you want to build your WORD POWER? Here are 6 tips!

By Alex Shenassa
Perhaps you've reached that stage in your studies where you feel you have a basic understanding of English grammar and it's now time to focus more strongly on building your English vocabulary. How do you get the best results? Here are a few hints:

1. Get the tools you need.

You need a good dictionary. Electronic dictionaries that work with English and your own language are useful, but make sure you also start getting into the habit of using the English to English feature so you can start thinking in English.

“Learner's” dictionaries are the best because they give you simple definitions with examples and grammatical information. Oxford and Longman are a couple of good brands for dictionaries. Most electronic dictionaries these days are learner's dictionaries.

2. Make a personal list of words that you want to make your own.

Should you add every word that you don't know to your list? No, that would be too many and too difficult. Instead, record those words that you see often but don't know the meaning of, words that somehow attract your attention, words that you want to become friends with. Here is an example of a format you can use:

Competent – adjective.

= Having the necessary skills and ability to do something well.

Example: I would only go to a competent doctor.

3. Review often.

Reviewing is one of the keys to memorization. The more time you spend with a word, the stronger your memory of it will be.

Some serious students use flash cards with the word and an example on one side and the definition on the back. They put all their cards in a shoe box and keep reviewing and rotating their cards from the front of the box to the back every week.

4. Use the new words you've learned as often as possible.

Some people say that if you use a word three times in conversation, the word becomes yours. Is it true? Perhaps. But use it twenty-one times, and definitely the word becomes yours. That's a guarantee!

5. Read, read, read.

Words are best learned in “context”. The context is the sentence or situation around the word. Reading is one of the best ways to learn words in context. Here the key is quantity.

ESL story books designed for different levels (also called “Guided Readers” or “Graded Readers”) are a great resource. Try reading without a dictionary and guess the meaning of the words you don't know from the overall context. This is a valuable skill!

6. Get to know "root words".

Did you know that "auto" means "self", and "bio" means "life", and "graph" means "write"? So you can guess the meaning of a complex word such as "autobiography" = a book you write about your own life. "Auto", "bio", and "graph" are root words.

Most root words have Latin or Greek origin and appear in many English words. Learning root words is a powerful way to guess the meanings and help you memorize many English words.

You can find a root word dictionary in most ESL bookstores. Below is a small root words quiz for you. The answers are written below in small letters.

Match the following root words and their meanings:

1. tele          A. people

2. port          B. see

3. vis            C. far

4. demo       D. carry

Answers: 1C, 2D, 3B, 4A

Below are some examples of words with these roots.

1. telescope
2. airport
3. visible
4. demonstration

Can you think of more examples of words including these roots?

Good luck with building your word power!


Alex Shenassa is a writer, teacher trainer, and the director of ATC Advanced College of Languages and Training Canada.