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April 2019

Expanding Vocabulary for Intermediate and Advanced Students

Breaking through the plateau to learn new words

It happens to most students: After a lengthy period of being a beginner, you reach a point when further improvement seems difficult. Each step forward toward fluency feels smaller and smaller. You can sense your language skills are getting better, but the improvements seem more subtle than before. In some instances, you don’t feel like you’re even improving at all. This is the period called the plateau. You’ve climbed the steep slope as a beginning language learner, but now you’ve reached flat land, seemingly unable to climb higher. What is one to do? In this post we’ll offer some learning strategies for supercharging your vocabulary acquisition.

Where to find new vocabulary

There are so many words out there, and as an intermediate-advanced student, you’ve already covered the most basic and common words. Now you need to add more useful vocabulary to that which you already know without detouring too far into esoteric terms. How can we identify new, yet relevant, words if we haven’t yet encountered them?

Frequency lists, which would be useful for beginner students, are less useful for more advanced students. These lists highlight the most commonly used words in a language, but these words will also be mostly known by more experienced students. To get into more advanced vocabulary, we need a more advanced source.

“Extra, extra, read all about it”

A great source for new vocabulary is the newspaper. Newspaper articles cover a variety of topics, and the language they use is modern and straightforward. Unlike novels, they tend to not be poetic at all.

Pick up a newspaper in your target language or find a good source online. Read a few articles covering different subjects and write down the words that are new to you. If you find that you’re not encountering new unknown words, move on to a more advanced source like literary journals.

Dictionaries, not only good for inducing sleep

Modern teaching methods seem to try very hard to do away with dictionaries. Who can blame them? Dictionaries are heavy and boring, but they will always be useful to the language student. This is especially true if you can find a dictionary in your target language that organises words by subject (numbers, moods, politics, gardening, etc.).

Dictionaries that organise words by subject are helpful because they allow you to quickly find unknown words in fields relevant to your interests. You can quickly skim them to find and write down words you haven’t yet encountered.

Putting it all together


Perhaps the best place to compile and study your new vocabulary lists is with a smart flashcard app. Apps like Anki and Cram allow you to create your own flashcards that you can study with. Many of these apps use a learning method called spaced repetition which exposes you to the words you tend to forget.

Even better, using an online flashcard app will allow you to add new words as you come across them in your daily life. Maybe you’re in a restaurant and you’re suddenly curious as to how to say “sausage with pickled vegetables”. You could look up the term and save it in your flashcard app, syncing the addition to all your other devices.

If all this sounds tiresome, it’s because really pushing for fluency can be difficult. But once you’ve developed the habit of finding and recording new words and periodically studying them, you’ll find that the process can also be fun, much like a treasure hunt game.

What is your top tip for learning new vocabulary when you’ve already studied the basics? Let us know your results on our Facebook Page, and be sure to “like” telc English for more articles on language learning!

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