Improving your Vocabulary


HaydenHello, I am Hayden Meads, the Director of Studies at Langports Gold Coast. Today I would like to provide you with an approach to learning vocabulary that you may find helpful.

Having a good range of vocabulary is important to being able to communicate with your friends in English. Some students, however, can find learning vocabulary a challenge.

The approach that will form the basis of this blog is the Lexical Approach and is based on the need for vocabulary to be learned as “chunks” of language and not just as single words. This is largely due to the fact that English is made up of phrases and set expressions where words co-occur with each other, meaning that vocabulary needs to be learned like this.

  1. Idiomatic expression

Let’s have a look at two key groups of language that come under the lexical approach. The first of these are idiomatic expressions. An idiom in English is a set phrase of language that can have a literal and figurative meaning yet the literal meaning is seldom ever used.

For example, read the following sentence; When I was out running last night, I bumped into David in Southport. The expression, I bumped into David” means that I saw David in Southport and not that I physically bumped into him.

Here is another example; My new course is so difficult that I feel like I am struggling to keep my head above water. The expression “to keep my head above water” means that I am finding my course very difficult at the moment and actually has nothing to do with swimming.

When learning idioms like these, you need to focus on the whole expression and not the individual words. Focussing on each word will not give you the true meaning of expression and will only confuse you.

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  1. Collocation

The second key group that comes under the lexical approach is “collocation”. Collocation can be described as words co-occurring with each other and is what differentiates native English speakers from second language learners.

A very simple example of this is that native English speakers say Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday and not Merry Birthday or Happy Christmas. There is no grammatical reason why we have coined these phrases other than they are the result of habitual use over many years.

Further examples of collocation can be seen when using certain prepositions with words. For example: interested in, apply for, according to, attest to, fond of, jealous of, keen on, abide by are all examples of collocation with prepositions.

Collocation can also be seen with the use of verbs like make, do, have and get.

For example – collocations with the verb make; to make a difference, to make a noise, to make money, to make trouble.

Collocations with the verb do; to do homework, to do a course, to do your best, to do someone a favour.

Collocations with the verb have; to have a birthday, to have a haircut, to have a problem, to have sympathy

Collocations with the verb get; to get angry, to get upset, to get a job, to get home.


Learning as a “chunk” of language, Applying the “lexical approach”

Learning vocabulary is a fun and exciting way to improve your English. Remember, vocabulary should be learned as a “chunk” of language and not as individual words. If you do learn a new word, have a look at the words that go before and after it because it is common for words to be linked to other words as I have explained above. Applying the lexical approach when you are studying vocabulary should help you to make the necessary improvements you need to widen your vocabulary, which in turn will help your overall communication skills.


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