I have bought many books about vocabulary. Most of them by Cambridge Press. However, I don't know if it is the right way to learn vocabulary from a book like those or is it better to pick new words while reading!

Any studies around this?

  • Building vocabulary requires plenty of broad reading experiences, good reference books. Conversations with native speakers will be helpful too. – ScotM May 2 '15 at 2:37

I think it depends on your level and aim. For a trip abroad vocabulary lists for specific situations are good. Archer Martin, Nobel chemist taught himself useful Dutch from Detective stories. As you suggest, look up words that are difficult and jot them down. Stephen Fry tells people he read dictionaries.

So long as you enjoy the books, the most natural way is reading if you can get the conversation practice too.

  • +1 Also, if you're going to be using English in a technical or academic field learning by reading is essential--dictionary/lexicon definitions won't give you the very narrow and detailed context. – StoneyB on hiatus May 2 '15 at 0:33

I rarely recommend brute-force as a learning approach, but I will recount the following experience:

I grew up in Europe and had to take the American SAT college entrance exam many years ago.

I bought an SAT study book containing a massive list of 1500 advanced English words, and spent 2 months memorizing them (often using mnemonic techniques, which I'd recommend if you are thinking of doing something similar).

That was 20 years ago.

The effort paid off for what I wanted (I got into 10 of the 11 universities I applied to) but real benefit of learning those words was the added richness of vocabulary that I've been able to express myself with over the last 20 years.

There are only a handful of learning experiences in school that have really changed my life, and sitting down to learn 1500 words by brute force is one of them.

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