September 6, 2021 , by Dr Julian Northbrook

Making vocabulary your primary focus is not something that I recommend. And this goes the same as memorising new words, too.

When I was studying for the Japanese Proficiency Test, I worked with a tutor who made me memorise loads of words. Sure, it worked. But it was painful and I hated it. And I ended up forgetting most of it in 2 months… so it’s basically useless. So I don’t recommend memorising words.

Instead, focus on speaking well in conversation in general — on blocks of English. See, if you concentrate on learning these blocks of English or what I call “chunks”  (which you can learn more about in my free training here), you’re going to sound more natural when you’re speaking.

But there are exceptions to learning vocabulary. If your goal is to get good at a very specific topic, then yes you should focus on new words. If, for example, you work at a car company. You’re at a meeting that’s being held primarily in English. Of course, you’d want to learn the English words like, “seatbelt” or “brakes” or any other English word you might need in your English meeting. The point is vocabulary learning is definitely better done in specific topics. Memorising words isn’t that useful in terms of general conversation, but it will be a huge help in specific topics.

And instead of memorising and retaining vocabulary, the best way is to learn from context. Find high-quality samples of English and learn what you see (or retrodiction).

There’s a section in the free training I mentioned about the best materials you can use (and what you can avoid) when it comes to chunking and retrodiction.

Hope that helps.

Dr Julian Northbrook

August 10, 2021 , by Dr Julian Northbrook

Learning more vocabulary doesn’t necessarily make you fluent in English.

In fact, memorising more words in an attempt to be better at English is actually a big mistake that a lot of people make.

And the problem actually isn’t that you don’t have enough vocabulary… it’s that you’ve got no idea how to combine these words into native-like units of English to use in conversations.

So that’s the main thing you should focus on if you want to be fluent in English (here’s a free guide I created that shows you how to do this).

This said, however, that doesn’t mean knowing more is bad. Learning more vocabulary is always going to be better than knowing less vocabulary. Kind of like money: if you have a lot, it’s always going to be a good thing. But if you think that money can make you happy… obviously it won’t. But it’s still nice to have it. Same with vocabulary. You won’t be able to be fluent in English automatically if you know a lot of words… but it’s good to know more vocabulary all the same.

So, yes, learning more vocabulary is a good thing.

But again, don’t make learning vocabulary your ONLY primary focus. It does depend on each and every person to a certain extent but in my experience, most people don’t actually need more vocabulary… they need better chunking skills.

Here’s a free guide I wrote that shows you how to do this.

Hope that helps.

Dr Julian Northbrook

August 3, 2021 , by Dr Julian Northbrook

The best way to learn and retain vocabulary is to stop trying to learn “vocabulary”.

Or at least, not as the main thing you do.

Let me explain. Even native speakers only use around 2.5% of the words in English. And for the vast majority of people learning English as a second language, more, more, more words won’t help at all.

Neither will just learning more in the same way help you retain what you learn.

The big difference between people who are intermediate in English and people who are advanced (and beyond) is that they’ve learned to CHUNK their English well.

If you don’t know what this means, I’ve got a free training here that will teach you everything you need to know about improving your English past the intermediate stage (including “chunking).

In a nutshell, though, we used to think native speakers had grammar rules in their head, and that they combined these with words to make sentences… but this never made much sense. Speaking like this, we shouldn’t be able to speak fluently because the brain’s RAM (working memory) simply isn’t that good. Using grammar and words, we’d speak slowly and awkwardly (like most non-native speakers who have learned to speak in this way). Also, we shouldn’t sound natural simply because most “grammatical” English isn’t natural – “make a picture” is grammatical, and so is “let’s try it”. But both sound awkward (we say “take a picture” and “let’s give it a go”.

This is because native speakers speak in chunks.

So if you also want to speak in an advanced, native-like way, that’s how you need to speak, too. And the easiest way to do this is to learn in chunks right from the beginning… not individual words.

This also makes retention much, much easier.

The reason you forget things is because your learning is too shallow. You probably memorise a word, with a translation in your native language… and that’s it. But the brain has nothing to connect that word too, so it’s lost.

Learning in chunks helps you to integrate what you learn deeper into the network of your English.

Anyway, this is getting long.

As I said, I have a free training here that will show you how to do everything I’ve talked about here.

Julian Northbrook