Improve Your Vocabulary: Part 1

17 May 2024

Hello! This week on Ask a Teacher, we talk about how you can improve your vocabulary.


Many VOA Learning English fans write to us with this question: What is the best way to improve my vocabulary?

Improve Your Vocabulary: Part 1
Improve Your Vocabulary: Part 1


This is a good question, VOA fans.

Many learners think the best way to improve their vocabulary is to learn the definition of many words. But this is not necessarily the best way to improve. The best way is to fully know a word.

To know a word, we must know its form, meaning, and usage. Today let's talk about the form of a word. In the coming weeks, we will talk about meaning and usage.

The form of a word can relate to how it sounds, is written and what its parts are. Knowing the sounds of a word includes recognizing it when it is spoken and being able to say it correctly. This includes the individual sounds and also how the sounds may change when people are saying the word quickly. For example,

It's nice to meet you.

When some people say this sentence at a natural speed, they might make a /ch/ sound at the end of the word "meet" and the beginning of the word "you" although the words' spellings do not suggest this.

This sound change does not affect the meaning of the words. But it might cause you trouble when you are trying to understand the sentence.

In English, stress is important to the sound of a word, and it can even decide whether a word is a noun or a verb.

For example, the word spelled r-e-c-o-r-d can be thought of as two words. When we stress the first part of the word, RE-cord, it is a noun. When we stress the second part of the word, re-CORD, it is a verb. What appears to be one word is really two parts of speech. This is part of knowing what form a word takes.

The form of a word also involves its parts. It is important to recognize the root word in addition to prefixes or suffixes. These are added beginnings or endings, which change the meaning of the word's root.

For example, knowing that the word "addition" includes recognizing the verb "to add" plus the suffix –t-i-o-n, which suggests a state or an action. Knowing the word "untrue" includes recognizing the base word "true" and the prefix -un, which means "not."

When we look at English words in this way, we can see that our vocabulary expands by understanding a word's form.

As we saw in the word "record," the same word can work as two parts of speech.

VOA fans, the best way to improve your vocabulary is to really "know a word," its form, meaning, and usage, not just a definition.

Do you have a question about American English? Send us an email at

And that's Ask a Teacher.

I'm Gena Bennett.

Yaroslav Khrokalo wrote this lesson for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

vocabulary –n. all the words a particular person knows

stress n. giving attention to one part of a word when speaking it

prefix –n. a group of letters appearing at the beginning of a word that changes the word's meaning

suffix n. a group of letters appearing at the end of a word that changes the word's meaning