For some reason unbeknownst to me, some students have this notion that synonyms are like the holy grail of vocabulary. My hunch is that they think since they already know the meaning of these words, they’re easier to memorize. Whatever the reason, synonyms are a useful tool for language learners to avoid repetition when speaking and especially when writing in English (or any other language for that matter). If you don’t know what a synonym is, it’s simply a word or phrase which has the same meaning as another word.
Don’t get stuck in the habit of memorizing long lists of words which you’ll never actually use and eventually just forget! Instead, try to expand your vocabulary in a conscious and meaningful way. It will make remembering them new vocabulary easier and more enjoyable. Not sure how? Read on for 3 easy tips.
1. Learn Them In Context
As with learning vocabulary in general, the best way to learn synonyms is in context. When reading a story or article, underline new vocabulary as you go. Try to guess the meaning from the context and then check the word in an English dictionary. That way, you can check the pronunciation, other sentences with the word in context, the synonyms and antonyms. If it’s has a synonym which you already know, make a note. Try to keep all new vocabulary in one place - a small notebook dedicated specifically to this or a list on your phone that you can refer back to later. This will help you going forward.
2. Look Them Up As You Need To
One occasion where you may need to actively seek out a synonym is for writing tasks. The best pieces of writing are well-structured and use a range of engaging language, vocabulary and, expressions. When we read (and when we listen), using different vocabulary helps keep us interested and stop us from tuning out. Try and think back to the most boring class or speech you’ve attended. Chances are, one of the reasons you couldn’t stop yawning was because of repetitive language and lack of originality. Take pity on your audience and search out synonyms using a thesaurus to keep your writing fresh and express your ideas in new ways.
3. Expose Yourself to Different Varieties of English
A fun and interesting way to learn synonyms is through exposure to different varieties of English. In terms of day to day vocabulary, there is lots of variation between common words in British and American English but you’ll also be surprised by how much difference there is between regional varieties too. And that’s not even taking into account slang!
One of the easiest ways to expose yourself to new varieties of English is by traveling. However, if that’s not a realistic option for you, you could try listening to podcasts, watching Youtube videos or TV programs or by reading blogs. Want to get a head start? Check out this Youtube video by Go Natural English which goes through some common differences in American and British English vocabulary.
How important do you think learning synonyms is when learning a language? What are your go-to techniques to expand your vocabulary? Leave us a comment below.