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Recording new vocabulary: 9 guidelines

Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful. ∼ William Morris

The same rule goes for the vocabulary that you collect in your notebook. It should contain language that is useful to you, or that you find interesting and worth remembering for later use.


You have set up your notebook in a structured, useful way. You have decided what sections there are going to be, what vocabulary you want to record. (If you haven’t done so yet, see this post for some ideas.)

Here are a few guidelines on the best way to collect vocabulary.

1. Context
  • Record new words in a sentence.
  • This will show you how to use the word, and will make it much more memorable!
  • Due to multiple meanings that words have in your own language as well as in English, this will help to avoid a lot of confusion.
2. Pronunciation
  • This is essential information!
  • Underline the part of the word that carries the stress.
  • If you are not familiar with the phonemic chart (which I strongly recommend – you can start learning with Macmillan English or the British Council), transcribe the word phonetically.
3. Word form
  • Write n. for noun, v. for verb, adj. for adjective, adv. for adverb behind the word.
4. Colours
  • They add life to your notebook, making it clearer, more structured and more visual.
  • If you have the time and patience to do so, allocate one to each word form; for instance blue for nouns, red for verbs, green for adjectives, black for adverbs … It’s entirely up to you.
5. High importance words
  • Use a highlighter to mark them. That way you can spot them at once.
6. Draw
  • Small diagrams or pictures for some of the words will make your learning more visual and the words more memorable.
7. Two-column layout
  • It will help you to test yourself.
  • Record your English words in one column, and their definition or translation in the other.
  • After you have studied them, cover one column and say the other column out loud.
  • Don’t forget to switch columns.
8. Don’t isolate, integrate
  • As far as possible, don’t just collect phrasal verbs and idioms on separate pages.
  • Instead, add them to the different sections of your notebook.
9. Define in English
  • This will boost your ability to think in English!
  • Keeping your notebook in English is another way to incorporate English in your life.
  • Notwithstanding, in the case of specialized vocabulary (e.g. for engineering, finance etc.) you will benefit more from a translation into your own language.

Which guideline(s) did you find helpful? Would you add any more?


Here are some more tips and ideas for your language notebook:

Take your notebook to the next level
Setting up your notebook as a learning tool

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