What Are Some Interesting Ways to Learn English Vocabulary?
If having to learn new words, expressions, or phrases makes you want to groan, sigh, or crawl under your desk and hide, then you’re probably looking for some new ways to learn and retain English vocabulary.
And if you feel this way, you’re definitely not alone.
If learning new English vocabulary feels difficult or even useless, it’s not because you’re undisciplined or because you lack focus.
It could be because you’re a more visual or auditory learner than you think. Or it might be because you’re someone who learns best by doing or demonstrating what you’ve just learned.
It could be because the educational materials or content you have used in the past aren’t relevant enough to your actual interests or needs.
Whatever the reason, it’s most likely because you’re an innovative or creative thinker that needs a new approach to learning vocabulary words that works for you and your learning style.
I think you’re going to feel pretty inspired and excited about learning new vocabulary after you’ve taken a closer look at these six interesting ways you can learn English vocabulary:
Play video games.
Learn a new skill in English.
Go to a real (or virtual) museum.
Read scripts from your favorite movies or t.v. shows.
Read poetry or flash fiction.
We’ll also talk about some inventive and effective things you can do to use and retain the phrases, expressions, and idioms you learn. So, if you’re ready to bring the creativity back into your vocabulary learning journey, let’s get started!
Play video games
It doesn’t matter how old you are: If you like puzzles or problem-solving, video games are a great way to improve your English vocabulary.
In fact, successful video blogger and YouTuber Nuseir “Nas” Yassin credits playing video games with helping him improve his English so much that he was confident enough to apply - and get in - to Harvard.
If you want to turn your love of video games into a useful, vocabulary-building method, try bringing a pen, notepad, or a note-taking app with you when you play. Write down any new phrases or expressions - not just words - that you don’t know, and before your next gameplay, use those notes to review vocabulary from your last gaming session.
But if you’re not ready to jump right into the world of gaming yet, you can start with games designed specifically for English learners.
If you’re a beginner to English or gaming, I recommend Influent, in which you can explore an apartment and interact with objects in order to collect vocabulary words.
And, if you prefer playing with a partner or group, try Space Team: ESL. You can play this with a WiFi connection and a group of two to four people who have Apple or Android devices. In this high-energy game, you have to shout directions at each other to successfully fly a spaceship. It’s a fantastic way to acquire new vocabulary words you might not find in other situations.
You can also use websites like Vocabulary.com or Quizlet to gamify your learning with quizzes and timed matching activities. The idea is that you don’t allow new vocabulary to become part of your passive memory. You want to activate it!
Another great way to turn one of your interests into a way to learn English vocabulary is by reading comics.
Why comics? Well, what’s not to love about them? Reading comics in English offers you a short and often laughter-filled way to learn real expressions, idioms, and slang that English speakers use every day.
And if you have an Instagram account, that's an even better way to find cartoonists and artists. We highly recommend these ten comics for intermediate and advanced learners because they’re hilarious, you can find them on Instagram, and some of them post new comics every day, which is great if you want to make learning English vocabulary a daily habit.
Learn a new skill in English
My students often tell me that they don’t have time to try new hobbies or learn new skills because their English learning takes up so much of their time. Trust me, I get it! But what if you gave your learning approach a bit of a shakeup by learning a new skill in English.
Instead of trying to make your lifestyle and interests work around your English learning, the key here is to make English work for you! It’s important to choose a new skill relevant to your needs, interests, or lifestyle.
Do you want to cook vegan recipes? Find some recipes in English! Do you want to learn how to paint with watercolors? Watch a YouTube video in English.
And if you want to upskill in order to improve your professional resume, take some free or affordable courses in English. Here are a few ideas:
Find out more about SEO (Search Engine Optimization) with this free course from Moz.
Teach yourself how to use Adobe Photoshop with this course from Udemy.
Learn more about Google Analytics and how it works with this free training from Google Analytics Academy.
Go to a museum (or a virtual one)
If you’re a history, science, or culture buff, turn your next trip to a museum into a vocabulary-learning adventure.
This means you should take a pen and paper or use a note-taking app on your phone to record new phrases and expressions that you find. It also means you’ll have to get ready to do some reading about the exhibits instead of strolling past them.
Going to a museum doesn’t have to cost you a lot of money. Most museums offer discounts for locals and free or reduced-cost hours weekly or monthly. You can also buy a yearly multi-attraction pass if there are a few museums in your area that you like to visit regularly.
And many museums, like the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, offer a pay-what-you-wish option in which they will only suggest a donation amount.
If you don’t want to leave the comfort of home or your pajama pants, try visiting a museum online! Google Arts and Culture offers a glimpse at the collections from museums all over the world. You can even take a virtual tour of the museums themselves!
Just keep in mind: Sometimes visiting an art museum can feel intimidating or overwhelming, but it doesn't have to! When it comes to viewing and studying works of art in a museum, I suggest taking a look at these questions before you approach a painting, sculpture, or photograph:
What are the first things you notice in terms of color, texture, shape, space, and scale?
How are all of these elements organized together?
Does the work have a sense of balance or movement?
What kinds of materials and techniques did the artist use?
What is the subject of the work of art? Does it have a story?
What feelings does the work bring up in you?
Read screenplays and scripts from your favorite movies and TV shows
For cinephiles (i.e. movie lovers) or anyone who loves storytelling, reading movie screenplays and t.v. scripts will not only help you improve your creative writing - it will also give you another way to learn vocabulary you may not have encountered before.
And did you know that you can find successful and award-winning scripts and screenplays to read for free? Well, you can, and I recommend starting right here if you want to read scripts from shows like “Better Call Saul,” “Stranger Things,” or “Game of Thrones.”
Check out this page if you’re looking for movie scripts from almost every genre. You’ll find the screenplays for “The Dark Knight,” “Mean Girls,” or “Get Out.”
Challenge yourself even more by having a friend, family member, a language partner, or even an English teacher act it out with you! Reading out loud and with other people will help you get much more out of the material, will help you practice pronunciation, and, depending on the genre you choose, will make you laugh.
Read poetry or flash fiction
If you like reading books and novels in English but you don’t have a lot of time, scale your reading goals down to focus on short stories or poetry.
Flash fiction stories - or short, short stories - are fantastic for learning and remembering new vocabulary because they focus on short, vivid scenes that evoke emotion in readers in a short amount of time. Some great flash fiction stories I recommend to start with are "Girl" by Jamaica Kincaid, "Riddle" by Ogbewe Amadin, and "Sticks" by George Saunders.
Now, if the word “poetry” scares you and you think that you can’t read it, I promise that you can! Again, start small, with haikus from Matsuo Basho and Philip Appleman’s "Three Haikus, Two Tanka", and graduate to poems like "This Is Just to Say" by William Carlos Williams or Maya Angelou’s fierce and fiery poem "Phenomenal Woman".
The point is: don’t think you have to jump right into reading Shakespeare or Charles Dickens in order to improve your English vocabulary. It’s perfectly okay to keep your reading short as long as it’s interesting to you.
What are some interesting ways to use and retain new vocabulary?
So you’ve gone on a lot of vocabulary-learning adventures, but what now? How do you apply the same creativity to retaining and using the vocabulary? Here are a few ideas:
Turn phrases and expressions into art
If you enjoy crafting, visual arts, or if you’re someone who likes to make things with their hands, find new expressions, phrasal verbs, or idioms, and make art with them!
For example, one of my favorite expressions is:
“This _____________ isn’t going to _____________ itself,” as in:
“This book isn’t going to read itself.”
“This paper isn’t going to write itself.”
This expression means that you actually have to do the work yourself; it’s not going to be done for you. But if you like to draw or paint, try creating an actual representation of a book reading itself or a paper writing itself. Or take any other funny idiom or expression, and draw it out, literally!
Another way you can use this technique is to find expressions or phrases that are particularly challenging for you, and imagine that you need to explain these expressions or phrases without words. Draw or paint them out, and ask a friend or family member to see if they can guess what the picture means.
And have you heard of the medieval art of illumination? In the middle ages, illumination was the artistic practice of intricately decorating the first letter of the first word in a book or chapter, especially in religious texts. But it’s still around, and it’s a beautiful way to turn new vocabulary into art.
Whatever you do, be sure to show it off to the world. Create an entire Instagram page or Facebook account dedicated only to your vocabulary-inspired art! Or just share your art with us! We’d love to see it!
Use new vocabulary to write your own poetry or short stories
If you want to give poetry writing a go, start with very short poems, such as haikus, which are a Japanese form of unrhymed verse made up of three lines of five, then seven, then five syllables.
You can also follow the method that the poet Jen Bervin created in her book "Nets". Bervin creates something new from something classic by taking one of Shakespeare’s sonnets, underlining some interesting words or phrases, and creating her own poem out of those words.
And if you don’t want to write poetry, challenge yourself to write a piece of flash fiction using three new expressions or phrases you’ve learned.
Use the Rubber Duck method
Finally, teach new English phrases, expressions, and idioms to a rubber duck.
If you’re saying, “Wait. Did I read that right?” Yes. I want you to teach English to a rubber duck. Or your cactus. Or that picture of your grandma. Or your lazy cat.
The Rubber Duck Debugging method was developed by computer programmers as a unique and useful way to solve coding problems. When a programmer finds a problem in their code, they solve it by teaching the code, line by line, to a rubber duck until the flaw in the code becomes obvious.
And this technique also happens to work well for learning English vocabulary.
Why? Because studies have shown that teaching something to others is a better way to retain knowledge than traditional methods of memorization.
But if you’re not ready to teach others or there’s no one available to learn from you, teach your new expressions and vocabulary to any inanimate (i.e. not living) object. They’re really great listeners!
So, maybe now you see what I’m getting at: learning English vocabulary doesn’t have to look a certain way, and it doesn’t have to mean spending endless hours at a desk. It’s about choosing a method that works best for you so that you enjoy it and stick with it.
If you liked these ideas, let us know below in the comments. Tell us which of these ideas you’d like to try yourself, and if you have any other creative methods, feel free to share those, too!
About the writer
Marta is an online ESL teacher who works with students from around the world. As a writer, language nerd, and content contributor for In English With Love, her mission is to empower English learners with knowledge and positivity.