The Importance of Reading and Vocabulary

I’ll be honest, whilst I appreciate that grammar is one important component of learning a language, I don’t believe it is the most important. In the early stages, if you want to communicate, then it’s vocabulary you need.

You may not be elegant or precise in what you say, but you’ll survive with handfuls of useful words and phrases. The grammar can come later – or at least it should be learnt alongside as much vocabulary as possible. And where do you get this vocabulary from? Well, topic lists of words are useful. Work out what topics you need – restaurant English, numbers, shopping, polite conversation phrases – and then work hard memorizing them. Preferably in chunks of language rather than individual words.

The bigger the chunk, the more likely you will be using real, natural English. Good lists of useful words and phrases will get you a long way. And then start reading – reading as much as you can, at a level that is comfortable for you. Any topic, as long as you are interested. And while you read, try to notice the language – the vocabulary, the grammar structures – and make a note of useful phrases that you can copy and use later. Build up these phrases.

I recommend the old-fashioned approach of a vocabulary notebook [this can, of course, be a digital book] but arrange it by topic rather than alphabetically. This way you can locate the language you need when you come to speak or write about a topic. And copy as many of these phrases as you can onto small cards, which you can take out and test yourself with. Recent research suggests that you need to experience a word a minimum of 20 times for it to stick in your head. And, by experience, we mean reading, writing, saying, listening to it – variety and frequency are the key to success here.

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