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Filed UnderLearning Vocabulary

Is it useful to learn vocabulary only?

December 15, 2020 , by Dr Julian Northbrook

This is a question that came up recently:

Is it useful to learn vocabulary (only words) in English instead of phrases? How can I easily remember these when I start to speak?

So this is two very different questions, and they have contradictory answers.

Yes, it’s always “useful” to learn vocabulary.

All words are used somewhere, after all. But that doesn’t mean that memorising lists of words will be the best thing for improving your English proficiency (it almost definitely won’t be).

Once you hit the intermediate level, just learning more vocabulary won’t do much (or anything) for your fluency. In fact, it might make it worse. Learning random vocabulary also won’t do much for your naturalness — in fact, it might make it worse.

The point is, if your goal is to speak more fluently and naturally, no just learning more and more (only) words won’t help much and there are much better things you can do.

More: memorising only words is the worst way to “easily remember” them.

The reason is the same as why it won’t help build fluency and naturalness much — with few exceptions, we don’t speak in individual words.

We speak in “chunks” of language (and yes, phrases are a kind “chunk”).

Human memory isn’t designed to learn random individual bits of information and remember it — it’s designed to build information into a network, with every bit connected to something else. There are many ways I help my clients do this, but the quickest and simplest is to learn English in context, not from lists, and learn in larger blocks of English (phrases and chunks) and not in tiny bits (words).


You get the idea.

If you’re stuck with your English and not moving forward, things like “just learn more words” really aren’t going to help you much.

I can show you a better way, but it’ll be a shit-ton of work and my time is very expensive. So it’s only for people who see real value in better English.

If that’s you?

MEFA enrolment will open for January 2021 on Dec 24th.

This is normally the fastest-filling month of the year and if you want a place I advise you to add yourself to the waiting list:


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