Keeping a vocabulary book

Your vocabulary book

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While working through Develop Your English you are encouraged to keep a vocabulary book. It’s easy to find new words but less easy to remember them. When you write a new lexical item (i.e. a word, group of words, or a phrase) in your vocabulary notebook the process of actually writing it goes a little way towards committing it to memory. Having a notebook means you can regularly review new lexical items until you have mastered them. Choose whether you prefer to keep a paper or an electronic note-book.

What items to include?

You can decide what is important to learn by asking yourself ‘is this item important for me?’ In this way you’ll develop your own personalised vocabulary resource.

What information to include about each item?

Below is a list of some of the things you can include when you write a new lexical item into your notebook. Some of this information can be added straightaway, and some at a later stage as you gain a more sophisticated understanding of the item. It would be very unusual to include all of this information for one entry in your vocabulary book. Choose the information that helps you understand and remember the item. The vocabulary tasks in Develop Your English offer you practice in many of these techniques:


Include a translation of the word in your first language, but be careful about differences in meaning and of use.


Writing a definition instead of a translation provides practice in expressing meaning and allows you to note limitations to the meaning (i.e. what it is not, as well as what it is). At C1 level this is a more useful technique than relying on a translation. Use the free Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English (LDOCE) online to help you.

Example sentence

Include the new item in an example sentence from the context in which you first found it, or find a sentence from the LDOCE.

A ‘chunk’ of language

It’s much more useful to learn ‘tell a joke’ than just ‘joke.’ ‘Chunks’ include such things as collocations, phrasal verbs, fixed expressions, verb patterns, idioms, etc. Knowledge of chunks of language helps you produce more natural language. See the ‘phrases’ section below the each entry in the LDOCE to help you.

Common collocations

Words that are often used together, or a particular combination of words such as ‘sustainable development’, ‘circular economy’, ‘gender equality’, or ‘make progress’ can be noted so you can use your new knowledge in natural-sounding sentences. Many of the example sentences in the LDOCE contain these common word pairs, and there is often a ‘collocations’ section beneath the definition.

Word family

When recording single words it is very useful to note other members of the word family as well. If you record the noun, for example, it is useful to have other parts of speech from the same root such as the verb, adjective, adverb, noun person (see the sample vocabulary pages below). It’s also useful to note other words that can be made using affixes, such as opposites. In the LDOCE notice the ‘word family’ section at the start of the entry.

Synonym and/or antonym

It’s useful to record other words with the same or a very similar meaning (synonyms), and words that have the opposite meaning (antonyms). See the sample vocabulary pages below.


Pictures often convey meaning effectively, and may help you remember the item, especially when you have to think about how to draw the meaning. You can also draw diagrams and semantic maps (a visual representation of related concepts using a web or word cloud) to show the relationships between words.

Register, connotation and style

Making a note on register (i.e. how formal a word is), connotation (i.e. how positive or negative a word is) and/or style (e.g. if it is journalistic) is an invaluable way to help you use a new lexical item appropriately.

Easily confused words

Make a note if the new lexical item is often misused or confused with another.

Grammatical information

Record any relevant grammatical information that you need to remember when using the new item (e.g. a dependent preposition, or an irregular past tense form).


You’ll hear a range of different accents in the podcasts in each of the 16 Units in Develop Your English, which present speakers from a range of English-speaking countries and speakers using English as a global language. The pronunciation tasks in Develop Your English focus on a limited set of core pronunciation features which aid mutual understanding when a non-native speaker of English talks to another non-native speaker, and are based on studies by Jenkins (2000) and Hahn (2004). They should help you develop comprehensibility with the people you’re using English to communicate with. There will certainly be important features of pronunciation found in your local context that are beyond the scope of this book. Add a note about the pronunciation of new items to your vocabulary book.

  • If you know how to, you can record a phonemic transcription (if you are keeping an electronic vocabulary book you can copy and paste International Phonetic Alphabet symbols here).
  • Getting word stress in the right place helps achieve mutual understanding, so as a minimum mark the primary word stress of any new item that you add to your vocabulary book.
  • To help you remember the pronunciation of a new item, note down homophones (words that sound the same, such as aunt/aren’t), or words that rhyme with the new item either in English or in your first language.
  • If it is relevant, you can use the free LDOCE to listen to new words and hear how they are pronounced by British speakers. Click the audio symbol next to the word in the LDOCE to hear the British English pronunciation.
  • If you have access to digital platforms AI can be used to identify instances of communication breakdown caused by pronunciation issues (see the Speaking practice page for information).



Use the free LDOCE. It offers you definitions, synonyms and related words, sample sentences and an audio version so you can hear the pronunciation.

Most important words to learn

In the LDOCE the 9000 most important words to learn are highlighted with three red circles ●○○

Using the Oxford 3000-5000

The Oxford Learner’s Word Lists are designed to help English language learners at any level focus on the most important words to learn. Based on an extensive corpora (i.e. collections of written and spoken texts) and aligned to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), the word lists have been researched and developed together with vocabulary experts, and cover the words that you will come across in class and in your study texts.

  • Filter the words by CEFR level C1 to see which words you should know at your level and which words to learn.
  • Check if the new words that you’ve come across in a text or a language activity are on the list, then look up the meaning in the dictionary.
  • The keywords make an excellent starting point for expanding your vocabulary. With most keywords, there is far more to learn about them than the first meaning in the entry. Often these words have many meanings, have a large family of words derived from them, or are used in a variety of patterns. You will also find a wide variety of usage notes at the keyword entries.


I’ve used British English spelling conventions throughout Develop Your English, and the texts from The Conversation also follow British English spelling conventions. You may see a few American English spellings, however, mostly in the United Nations material.


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Develop Your English Copyright © 2024 by Susan Robbins is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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