Hey, it’s Hadar, and thank you for joining me.
And in this episode, I’m going to talk about why if you want to improve your vocabulary and stop getting stuck in English, you have to stop memorizing and learning new words.
Here’s the thing, as a speaker of English as a second language, you may have found yourself in the past or in the present speaking English, and then you got stuck, right?
You were looking for a specific word, and that word was nowhere to be found.
Word, where are you, word? Word?
And then you ended up using a different word that didn’t quite convey the message as you wanted it to convey the message, or you just got stuck and you started getting all anxious and nervous, and then you got stuck even more and started making stupid mistakes.
And then afterwards, you felt like crap. You thought, “Oh, my English is so terrible. I don’t know words in English.” And then you say to yourself, “Hey, I just need to improve my vocabulary. That is the problem, I get stuck because I don’t know enough words.”
You compared yourself to your abilities in your native tongue, and in your native tongue, your words are just like laying there waiting for you to grab them, right? And in English, it’s just like you have to search for them with a flashlight.
Now, first of all, stop comparing yourself to who you are in your native tongue, ’cause it’s not productive. It’s only going to make you feel bad about yourself.
And it’s just not fair, these are two different circumstances. It’s kind of like you’re comparing apples and oranges. You don’t wanna do that.
Second, you have to understand that the problem here is not your poor vocabulary. It is what you are doing with the words that you already know. And to explain that even more, I’m gonna have to take you to my whiteboard.
But before, I wanna share with you a quick story. When I first started out teaching, it was after a long period where I wouldn’t speak English at all. So just a quick reminder, I moved to New York in 2000, and moved back to Israel in 2004 or 2005. So I was there for almost five years.
And then for two years here, I haven’t talked in English, I haven’t read anything in English, I had no connection. Maybe I listened to TV shows, but that’s about it.
So when I first started teaching, I wasn’t very confident about my English abilities, especially my fluency. So I was pretty good with pronunciation still, but my ability to communicate and the words and my knowledge of English was fairly limited, especially in comparison to where I am right now.
And I remember a situation where I was teaching this executive, he was in my house. Back then I didn’t have an office, I was teaching in my apartment.
And he wanted to practice reading articles. And I was just like, “Okay, sure, so let’s open The New York Times.” I wanted to sound sophisticated and read an article.
So we started reading an article, and I was, my eyes went black, ’cause we started reading it, and I was just like, you know, trying to show him how to pronounce every word, and it was really great. And then we came across a word that I have no idea what it meant.
Like, I could figure out how to say it, but then he asked me, “What does that mean?” I’m like, “Um…” I would try to understand from the context what this word is, and then I would make up something.
And then, mind you, it was like almost, like it was 10 years ago. I was young and naïve, and kind of my ego was a lot bigger than what it is today.
And then I, and then we came across another word, and I had no idea what it meant. And then another word, and another word. And at some point, I was just like, “Okay, let’s go back to the beginning and read it again,” so I don’t come across as completely stupid not knowing all of these words, right?
And then I really felt horrible. I was just like, how is that even possible? You know, the imposter syndrome started rising up.
“How is it possible that you’re a teacher and you don’t know all of these words? And this is ridiculous, you shouldn’t be even teaching. He thinks that you are stupid and not intelligent.” And blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
Of course, he loved the lesson, and then he texted me, “Oh, it was such a great lesson, thank you so much. I learned so much.”
But that doesn’t matter, right, everything that I thought to myself. And then I got obsessed with learning all these fancy words from “The New York Times.”
So I invested a lot of time learning a lot of words that I came across in all of these academic articles and business articles.
And as I started teaching, I noticed that I’m not using these words. I’m not using these words. And all of a sudden I started forgetting about all these words, right?
So I spent all this time learning these fancy words. But I never had a chance to use these words. And then I started exploring it and I started talking to my students, seeing what they are focusing on when they’re learning new words.
And they were pretty much doing what I was doing, learning all these fancy words. But they never had a real opportunity to use them.
Maybe I used them in my academic writing, ’cause at the time I was also learning English literature at the university. So yeah, every now and then I used one of those fancy words. But in speaking, in my lessons, when I was talking to friends, I was never using them.
And then I started thinking about how we go about learning words. And is the investment that we’re making in learning all of these new, fancy, nice-to-have words, is really advancing us in where we want to be?
Which is pretty much speaking fluently and being able to convey our message clearly with the right words, with the right flow, and of course with the right pronunciation and intonation.
I want you to imagine your vocabulary as a circle. As a sort of a circle. So, I was never great at drawing. Okay, anyway, you get the point, that’s your vocabulary. I’ll even write it here.
Now, this is your overall vocabulary. That means that these are words that you understand, that you know, that if you were to read them in a book or hear them when someone speaks, you’d be like, “I know exactly what it means”, you wouldn’t need to go to check them in the dictionary, okay?
So here’s the problem. The words that you use in regular conversation are here. It’s a much more limited circle. Okay. So these are that you use easily, right? These are the words that are retrieved easily, words like ‘house’ and ‘on’ and ‘chicken’ and ‘soup’ and ‘ladies and gentlemen’, and maybe other words that you use on a regular basis. Maybe words related to technology because you use them at work all of the time.
However, there’s still a gap here between the words that you know and the words that you actually use. Now, the problem is that a lot of people don’t even think about these words as a challenge. They don’t think they need to do anything with these words ’cause they know these words, so they go ahead and spend a lot of time expanding and extending the circle.
Now since it’s the outer circle, it’ll take a lot more energy and work to expand it, and you’ll do a lot of hard work to expand it just a bit, right?
And here’s the problem. When you extend the outer circle, it doesn’t do much to the inner circle, right? So these words usually stay inaccessible. I mean, you may understand them better when you read, so it definitely helps your comprehension and your listening skills.
But the question is, is that helpful for your fluency, and does it prevent you from getting stuck? I don’t think so.
So, what I’m saying is that instead of investing in the outer circle and expanding the outer circle, focus on this inner circle. I’m gonna use a different color for it.
So you know that these are the words that you use easily. Start putting your focus on the words that you already know but you never use. These are the words that are not available. These are the words that get you frustrated because your subconscious mind knows that you know these words, and you’re like, “I know this word, how come it’s not available? How come I can’t use it?”
And then you remember it, right, an hour later. You’re like, “Oh, that was the word I was looking for.” Or when someone helps you and you’re like, “Yes, yes, that’s it”, right? Whether it’s words or phrases, whatever.
But you know this, and you are just limiting yourself, or you haven’t done something to make these words, to turn them into active words. Right now they’re only passive. And passive doesn’t help us with anything, especially not with our fluency.
So as I’m suggesting, instead of expanding your vocabulary with all these fancy words that are important, don’t get me wrong, I mean, it’s great to know more words. It really is helpful, especially if you need to write academic articles, and if you want to write books, and if you want to understand better what it is that you’re reading, so of course invest more time in it.
I’m just saying, don’t expect it to be available right away without doing something about it. And what I’m also saying is these words are words that you hear around you all of the time.
So maybe in the hierarchy of words, in terms of what words are more important than others, probably these words are more important ’cause you constantly hear them, you know them, right, that means that they’re very, very present in the language. It’s just that you don’t use them, and that’s the problem, okay?
So, I’m gonna take you back to the table, and there I’m going to share with you the steps that will help you start implementing those words into your day-to-day speech.
So, the first thing I want you to have is a memo on your phone, so you can use the Notes app. You can use Evernote, I’m gonna put a link to it below, that’s a really great app to keep track of your notes. And there you’re going to make a list of words.
Now, this list of words, it needs to be super accessible, where every time you come across a word that you know, but you say to yourself, “I never use this word”, so you need to have this inquisitive listening, where you constantly listen to words but you’re also asking yourself, “Is this a word I use?”, okay? Especially words that you need.
And again, remember, these are not words that you need to go to the dictionary to look them up. These are words that you know, but you find yourself never using them. And then I want you to put it on that list.
Now, every now and then, you’ll come across a word that you don’t know, but you feel people are using it all of the time, and you may think to yourself, “Hey, maybe I need to know that word.” You can put it on the list as well.
But remember, the purpose, the first stage is to get you to start using all the words that you already know. It’ll be a lot faster and a lot more effective.
And then you are going to start adding those words as you are listening to English. So don’t think about it and try to remember it, because you’ll forget. The moment it happens, the moment you come across that word, you put it on your list.
And then, once a day, or once every other day, I want you to go to that list and pull one of those words out. The best way to make this word more available and more accessible is to, first of all, develop the muscle memory of the pronunciation.
Let me tell you a secret. A lot of times your subconscious mind knows a word but will avoid using it because you are uncertain about its pronunciation.
There is this fear here that is preventing you from using that word even though you know when you need to use it. So it keeps shoving it down until it’s no longer available.
So for example, let’s say that on your list you have the word “regurgitate”. Now, this is a word that I know, but I never use. And I know that I can use it more often.
So let’s say, that that’s my word, and I’m going to probably say it 20, 30 times, just like this: regurgitate, regurgitate, regurgitate, regurgitate, regurgitate, regurgitate.
Then I might want to use another resource to help me get it into my system. So then you can use our friend Google to google for sentences with the word “regurgitate”.
And then I would probably say these words out loud a few times, then I would want to invent some sentences with the word “regurgitate”.
So for example, now I need to think about it. “The students regurgitate the material they learned from their teachers”. Okay.
So, maybe at first, I’ll get stuck. No, wait, is there a better way for me to say it? The students keep regurgitating the material they learned from their teachers. And then I say it again, and I’ll try to refine it and do it again and again and again, until it comes out naturally with flow.
That’s how I’m starting to connect all the dots together. All the senses, hearing it, seeing it, ’cause it’s written in my notebook. You might wanna write it phonetically.
Feeling it in your mouth, getting the muscles to work around the sound. Reading it out loud, using resource that someone else created, and then creating my own sentences, right, and connecting all the dots there. The word with context. That’s how you start remembering words.
Now, don’t overwhelm yourself. You don’t need to do 10 of those a day. One word a day is enough.
Expanding your vocabulary by 20 words within 20 days or 30 days, one month, is incredible. It’s more than what you’ve had before, right?
So, the other alternatives, they don’t work as well, so start enhancing the words that you already know. You will see that it’s a skill, it’s an acquired skill.
The easier it is to start retrieving words that you know, the easier it will be for you to store new words, or to start using words that you actually don’t know.
So what we’re doing here will expand your vocabulary, will help you feel more expressive. But most importantly, it’ll give you the skill to know how to retrieve words easily and to integrate words into your day-to-day speech fast and effectively.
Remember that understanding something, gaining clarity without taking action right away is meaningless. It’s as if you haven’t done anything.
So what I want you to do right now is take a piece of paper and a pen, and write down 10 words. So you’ll need to do some mind searching right now – brain searching – and you’ll need, I want you to come up with a list of 10 words that you know but you never use, you find yourself never using because you’re not sure how to say those words, or maybe it’s just they’re not available.
And if you can’t think of something, then start a list of five words, maybe words that you heard in this video. Maybe the words that you have recently come across. If not, make a point that you’ll get that list done by the end of today.
And then I want you to post those 10 words in the comments below, because I really want you to commit to yourself to take action. And also your words are going to be someone else’s resource. So this is a win-win situation.
Okay, that’s it, thank you so much for watching. If you liked this video, I invite you to subscribe to my channel and come on over to my website to sign up for my email newsletter, where you’ll get a new lesson into your inbox every single week.
Also, if you felt that this episode was beneficial, then share it with your friends, your students, your colleagues, so they can all enjoy the knowledge of new and old words.
Have a beautiful week, and I’ll see you next week in the next video.