Building Vocabulary Week by Week

You know building vocabulary in English is important. But it’s easy to put off because it seems too difficult.

Building Vocabulary Week by Week: a partially built brick wall and the text 'Vocabulary, like a wall, is built little by little, one 'brick' at a time.'

Don’t give up! I started this website to help people with a little English learn more-- enough to use! (Maybe not quite a 'zillion' words, but thousands-- see below.)

The best way to learn vocabulary (and grammar, and gain fluency) is by listening and reading a lot.

There is so much good reading (sometimes with audio) available in English on the Internet. The problem is that it isn't so easy to find information at a level you can understand.

It's also important to read and hear the same words at least 6-10 times, according to experts.   Then you will recognize them again when you see them later.

Would it help to have recommendations of appropriate reading material, chosen so you could see some of the same new words several times?

What about adding some practice activities and quizzes to reinforce and check your learning)?

Building Vocabulary with English Detective

English Hints has a free online newsletter for that very purpose. 

  • Increase your vocabulary a little at a time, by reading, practicing, and reviewing 6-12 or so less-common words each issue. (You’ll know some of them already, but that will help you understand others.)
English Detective. Weight lifter icon with a message: Build your word power week by week!
Picture of a smartphone with an English Detective issue on it.
  • Every month (usually on the 3rd Tuesday) get links to several articles, talks, or podcasts on a subject, with key vocabulary to review & practice. (If you would like more frequent practice, check out the Back Issues-- now over 100 or Comprehension Exercises.)
  • Every few issues complete a crossword puzzle to practice and review over 20 words related to what you've read.
  • English Detective emphasizes interesting reading from various fields important to school, tests (like the TOEFL or IELTS) or jobs.
  • Learn a little about many different subjects, written in different styles. 
  • In a few minutes each month, you’ll build your English vocabulary. Get more comfortable reading English without spending hours searching for interesting articles. (You don't have to be stuck with reading that is TOO difficult or boring either.*)

Jump down to the sign up form here(or check out the best of older issues here). Read on for more details and a free ebook on English word formation with roots and affixes.

*If you can read English at an intermediate level—B1 or B2 up-- you should be able to understand most articles. 

(Important or less common words used several times are explained in the English Detective vocabulary section. Sometimes there's a crossword puzzle. Then you can match those words with easy-to-guess meanings instead.)

I check the vocabulary level of every article or talk I think about using in English Detective. I try to have a mix of short and longer articles. They're all written clearly, without too many idioms or difficult expressions. 

(One great advantage of TED talks is their clear, simple explanations, so they appear often in English Detective. They often have translations or captions available too. That means you may be able to check in your first language if something is hard to understand.)

The first 23 issues of English Detective taught and practiced the Academic Word List. (It's 570 very useful words. There's more information on the AWL here.) See the Back Issues or Academic Vocabulary Word Lists to study them.  

Each of the 570 'words' of the AWL is actually a group of words with the same root. For example, see authority, authoritative, authoritarian, authorize, authorization-- all taught in issue 13.

So in those first 23 newsletter issues there were explanations and/or practice activities for close to 2,000 thousand individual words. Most recent issues highlight fewer words, but they add up, every issue. 

Watch your vocabulary grow-- even as you review many of those basic academic words in new reading contexts.

Building Vocabulary ebook cover: a tree with multi-colored fall leaves, some already on the ground

Special Offer

You can get a bonus ebook free right now along with getting English Detective.

It's Building Vocabulary: Roots, Prefixes, and Suffixes. It includes lists of common prefixes, suffixes, and 80 of the most common Latin roots of English words. (150 of those words are from the Academic Word List.)

Print out what you need, and keep the rest on your computer for easy reference.

Of course, you won’t learn new words just by reading a list. Use these lists as background information. They can help with some of the new words you’ll read and practice in English Detective. 

You can download this ebook as soon as you confirm your subscription to English Detective. (Sign up in the form below-- or on the right.) I hope you find these roots and affixes as helpful as I have!

Just think how much easier it will be to understand what you read in English in a few months!

Sign up in the pale blue box below.

As I mentioned, I will not share your name or email address with anyone, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

Get the Best (older issues) of English Detective

EnglishHints has a lot of reading and listening comprehension and vocabulary practice (see the sitemap-- the Vocabulary Practice and Skills sections.)

However, many people find it easier to learn in "bite-sized" chunks. That's one main purpose for the English Detective newsletter. By now there have been well over 100 issues, and several of them are still being referred to, over and over.

Because of that interest, I decided to offer a quick free five-lesson course using the best of those earlier issues.

You can sign up below to get those lessons by email. I will send the best parts of five of the most popular newsletters. (Some of the earliest were way too long!)

Sign up for the Best of English Detective

You'll get one a week for five weeks, with links to reading or videos and practice pages-- excellent English practice including some of the most useful academic vocabulary.

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For even more ways of building vocabulary, see Vocabulary Strategies.

P.S. A few of the topics for our first issues were detective methods (& how to investigate English words), the scientific method and the discovery of penicillin, and planning for success (while learning from failure.)

Then there were issues on the roots of English, ancient Greece & Rome, a few highlights of English (and European) history, including the Renaissance, bilingualism and the brain, the value of networks for creativity, business, community service, the environment, cognates, and so much more!

You can see back issues here. If you are interested in which issues teach particular words from the Academic Word List, or the reading selections, puzzles,  and practice activities in any particular issue, you can find that information in  Academic Vocabulary Word Lists in English Detective Issues.

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