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Words, Words, Words

Published: 07.09.2011, Updated: 04.03.2017
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Pop quiz: How many words do you think an average adult native speaker of English knows?

Use the internet to find the answer. You will probably find that there are multiple answers. Discuss which source is the more reliable.

(Note that some of the links in this article have to be copied and pasted manually. They will not open as a lightbox.)

If you want to learn to speak a new language, you won’t get very far without learning new words. It’s a bit like trying to build something complicated out of LEGO without the necessary pieces. Words are the LEGO pieces of your language, so to be able to say whatever you want, you need as many different pieces as possible.

WordsWords There are many ways of expanding your vocabulary. On this page you will find useful tips on how to actively improve your vocabulary online by using various tools.
All the tools below are free, but some may require you to sign in to get full access, and some may have paid versions that offer more functionality.

Test Your Vocabulary

To begin with you may want to get some idea about how many words you already know. Well, there’s a site for that. At Test Your Vocabulary you are shown three lists of words and asked to check the box for each word you know at least one definition for. You’re not supposed to check boxes for words you know you've seen before, but whose meaning you aren't exactly sure of. Honesty is essential here; otherwise you’re only fooling yourself. If you are worried that you know embarrassingly few words, you may do this test when no one can see you…

Learn New Words

Quizlet lets you create and share word sets, that is lists of words and their explanation or translation. These sets are turned into flashcards, various tests, and even a game, which means that you can choose what works best for you to learn. There are lots of existing sets on many topics for you to use as well, but you learn quite a lot by making them yourself.

If you want, you can download the sets you have made on a smart phone – that means you can learn new words wherever and whenever you like. You’ll find Quizlet apps for the operating systems iOS (Apple) at Quizlet-Powered iPhone Apps and Android at Android Apps for Studying Quizlet Sets.

Words WordleWords Wordle  Another site that may help you is Vocabulary.  Based on your answer to a few questions, the site predicts which vocabulary words you don’t know and teaches them to you. Through your user account you can also track your progress. It’s like   a vocabulary test, except there’s no grade and no teacher breathing down your neck.

In addition, the site has a very helpful dictionary which reads the word aloud, gives you definitions, examples of how a word is used in real texts, synonyms, and explains how you can more easily remember the word. Have a look at the entry for hover, for instance.

Furthermore, you may find the Wordsmyth Now Widget useful. Find the link on the middle of the page and pull it to your bookmark bar – click the bookmark to open an instant search window in your browser for when you come across a new word on a website. You can choose between different dictionary levels. On the same page you can also find a glossary maker which has some useful features when you want to make your own word lists.

Finally, Merriam-Webster offers a dictionary, games, videos, lists and other things related to words.

Learn More About the Words You Already Know

As your vocabulary grows and you can say something about more and more topics and events, its time to increase the precision and depth of the dictionary in your head. This is where Thesaurus comes in handy. On this site you can put any word in the search field and get a list of possible synonyms and antonyms. You will also find a large set of ready-made flashcards that you can study and be quizzed about. 

Use Your Cell Phone

Vocab AppVocab App Your cell phone can be a powerful tool for learning words, too. As we saw earlier, there are apps that can help you. On Android-based phones, you can download one of the following apps:

PowerVocab  has several word activities. You can select the correct definitions for words, work on the spelling of the words that appear and play word search games.

Words, Words, Words!  can either be used to familiarize yourself with the words or to quiz yourself. In addition the app offers audio to help you with pronunciation.

Vocab Builder   offers two ways to play: match definitions to words or match words to definitions. The words in this app are fairly challenging.

If you own an iPod touch, iPad or iPhone, the WordSeek HD app can be fun to play – find the words hidden in the jungle of apparently jumbled letters.

The app Wordfeud can be downloaded for free on Android and iOS devices. This is a Scrabble-style game that can be played against a friend or a random stranger. It's great fun and an excellent way of using and developing vocabulary skills.

Merriam-Webster and Dictionary.com both offer great free apps for Android and iOS that have many useful features that you will benefit from. 

Play with Words

If you just want have some fun and to play – or if playing helps you learn – there are also many cool sites and services out there.

Phoboslab z-type is a game where you have to shoot waves of words attacking you by typing the words. The game is quite addictive and helps you develop faster typing.

Storyman is a version of the classic game Hangman. It has hidden words and titles behind white squares. Reveal them by guessing letters. Storyman will allow six wrong guesses before he strolls off and takes 5 points off your score. You have 3 minutes…

Speaking of Hangman, Cheater Hangman by the way, there is a in which the computer cheats… Can you figure out how?

In Word Search you must find hidden words among the letters on the board. There is a new one every day, and the topics vary greatly.

Word Confusion tests your knowledge about words that are spelled very alike, for example “current” and “currant”.

You can also try to figure out which of the words on the list is not a word in Word Games. Looking them up in a dictionary is not cheating, but guessing may also be fun.

Step up your vocabStep up your vocabPerhaps you may want to take a stab at the Wordmaster game? You choose between three different levels and have to figure out which word   is missing, hangman-style.

Or, if you are in that mood, maybe the Devil's Dictionary is something for you?

Whatever you choose to do, never stop picking up new words, or new meanings of words you already know. Your ability to understand others and express yourself depends heavily on how many words you know. Having few words at your disposal could make you appear to be a philistine.