Mastering English vocabulary is a dream for every language learner. However, not everyone of us knows how to learn new words in an effective way. Getting stuck while speaking in English because of the lack of vocabulary is a common problem among English learners. Why is that? In this post, we’re going to find out why and also discover an easy, yet effective way to improve our English vocabulary. Let’s get into it!

Why do you forget English vocabulary quickly?

One of the common English vocabulary learning methods many of us have used is learning individual words without context. We try to memorize a list of words which are barely related to each other. Have you ever found yourself noting down onto your notebook new words you came across while reading something? If your answer is yes, then…

Well, good news is.. you’re not alone because it’s sadly a typical way that teachers in traditional classes tend to use to have you learn English vocabulary. And yet, bad news is… that way of learning is just a waste of time and effort. Learning words off of lists is not an effective way to increase your understanding of English vocabulary nor a good way to start being able to use those words in your own speaking. It’s the very reason why we forget English vocabulary quickly after a very short time.


Well, here is what happens when you just try to memorize a list of individual words:

  • You don’t know how to use English words: Being able to memorize a long list of single words does not mean that you can always know how to use them in a way that makes sense. It’s because to convey your thoughts in a daily conversation, you must learn the way native speakers speak, which means you have to combine individual words in the right order, use the right grammar and of course, if you only study vocabulary off lists, you won’t be likely to know how to do that. Some words have many different meanings. The best way to get through all of the meanings is to learn them in their context. When you learn phrases in context instead of studying single words, you can know the meaning of the word in that sentence.
  • Recalling English vocabulary becomes difficult: While our brain’s storage capacity is virtually unlimited, it is not wired to work like a computer. We can’t expect ourselves to read a new word once and remember it forever. Do you know that sometimes, losing studied information has less to do with forgetting and more to do with the fact that it never made it into long-term memory in the first place? Any new info in our brain is always linked to some other existing information, and we recall the new information through the associated bits of info. Therefore, if you only focus on learning individual words without context, those words are more likely to stay in your short-term memory and be lost soon. It’s because you have very little information about their meaning and how to use them, it’s almost impossible for you to remember them forever.
Learning individual words is not an effective way
Never learn individual words

The best way to learn English vocabulary is learning English phrases with context

1 Phrases are easier to remember

As I mentioned before, only when new studied information makes it into long-term memory will it be remembered forever. Building a picture for new information in your mind is a good way to retain it in your brain. When it comes to learning English vocabulary, it’s more effective if we learn phrases with context because phrases are easier to remember. Most of the English phrases have meanings, they have a kind of a picture, a story, especially when you learn them from something that you’re reading or listening to (which I often mention – the context).

Let’s say you come across the new word “budget” while reading online news. The whole sentence containing the word “budget” is “Leong also became an expert at travelling on a tight budget, spending less than S$7,000 over three months travelling to 15 countries in Europe”. If you take note of both the entire phrase “travelling on a tight budget” and the sentence, you’re more likely to remember the meaning of the word “budget” forever because another time when you come across this word, you’ll automatically recall the whole context related to it – travelling 15 countries in Europe for 3 months with very little money.

Phrases are easier to remember
Phrases are easier to remember

2 When you learn phrases, you are learning grammar also

Another benefit of learning phrases or sentences is that when you learn phrases or sentences, you’ll learn some basic grammar subconsciously over time. And then you tend to have ready answers and responses for any situation – no need to over-think.

For example, when you learn the sentence “life is full of choices”, you will not only learn one word but 5 different words. In addition, you’ll probably know that “life” is a singular noun, and a singular noun can be followed by “is” not “am, or are”, and “of” is followed by not a verb but a noun.

And so, in the future, whenever you say anything with the subject “life”, you’ll automatically use the verb “is” other than “are” without thinking.

You can even make different sentences by yourself with the similar structure such as life is full of joy, life is full of surprises, life is full of colors,…

By learning this way, you’ll improve your grammar more quickly without much effort.

When you learn phrases, you are learning grammar also

3 Learning phrases helps improve your English speaking and writing

By learning entire phrases with the context you understand how words are actually used in speaking and writing in certain contexts. In other words, it will help you speak and write in English more naturally.

This is especially true when you practice speaking skills. If you use common phrases when you speak instead of combining individual words, native speakers will find it easier to understand what you want to say although your pronunciation may not be really good yet.

For example, if you asked a native English speaker “Is your health good?” as a greeting, chances are they’ll not understand what you mean. In terms of grammar structure, the sentence is correct. However, native English speakers still do not get it simply because they never say it that way. The question doesn’t sound natural at all. Meanwhile, if you say “how are you?” or “how are you doing?”, they will understand immediately, however, your pronunciation is.

Learning phrases helps improve your English speaking and writing
By learning entire phrases with the context you understand how words are actually used in speaking and writing in certain contexts.

Let’s take another example. If you learned the word “deadline”, you might know its meaning but do you know how to put it in a sentence that makes sense to native speakers? It seems difficult, right?  However, if you learned the entire phrases “miss the deadline” and “meet the deadline”, you would find it easier to make sentences with these phrases. And English native speakers will be more likely to understand the ideas you want to convey because these phrases are commonly used in daily life.

How to effectively learn English phrases with context

1 Notice the phrases

First of all, you’ll need to notice them. As you read or  listen to any English materials, underline anything that looks like a set expression. For example, when you read online news and frequently come across phrases with the same sentence patterns such as “live on a budget”, “live on a tight budget”, “I’m on a budget”, “travel on a low budget”… You notice that “on”, “a”, “budget” tend to come together as a phrase which is commonly used by native speakers. Once you notice the phrase, you may want to look it up on the dictionary or on the Internet to get its meaning.

2 Take note of new phrases for further learning

You need to take note of new  phrases you come across to review them in the future. Make sure you take note of not only the phrase and the definition but the whole sentence also.

For example, don’t ever write down only the phrase “on a budget” and move on. You should write the entire sentence “Leong also became an expert at travelling on a tight budget, spending less than $7,000 over three months travelling to 15 countries in Europe” as well. This will help you understand how the phrase is used in a sentence.

3 Review those phrases on a regular basis

To be able to remember any phrases you’ve learned, you need to review them regularly. You will need to take some time each day to practice those English phrases by making new sentences with them, practicing speaking them out loud,…

While traditional note-taking may still be a good choice in some settings, I still believe that digital note-taking is more efficient, especially when it comes to learning English vocabulary. It’s because writing notes by hand is sometimes a boring task and learners may feel overwhelmed by the huge number of vocabulary that they need to review. Not to mention the fact that this classical note-taking method takes time and is inconvenient because of its inflexibility.

But don’t you worry. Thanks to the eJOY team’s continuous effort, now we can learn English phrases with context in a fun and easy way. This useful feature will help you save any phrases to your word book with only several mouse clicks away. You can also save the entire sentences for reference. What’s more, you can practice using the saved phrases by playing interesting games anywhere at any time, at your own pace. Isn’t it great?

eJOY Phrasebook

You can use this feature right away by adding eJOY eXtension to your Chrome. Read our blog post to learn more about how to use eJOY eXtension’s Phrasebook.

4 Use learned phrases in daily conversations

Last but not least, you need to use newly-learned phrases in real-life situations as much as possible. Next time, whenever you join an English conversation, remember to use those new phrases and sentences rather than always use the same old phrases you’re already comfortable with. The more you practice with them, the more fluently you will become in speaking and writing in English.

You can also use the feature Word Hunt on eJOY GO to see how a certain phrase is used in daily conversations. By typing the phrase you want to learn on the search bar, Word Hunt will immediately give you a list of videos in which the phrase appears. For instance, if you want to learn how the phrase “on a budget” is commonly used, go ahead and type the phrase on the Word Hunt search bar. You’ll see a lot of videos with this phrase, like this…

eJOY GO - Word hunt

Watch the clips below to see how “on a budget” is used in real-life contexts.

We’ve just learned about the importance of learning English phrases in context. Have you had any difficulty learning English vocabulary this way? Please share your experience in the comment section below. I’ll be very happy to hear!