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Mastering Vocabulary: 6 Tips for Long-Term Retention

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Write down new words and expressions




In this article (as a Guest Writer) I'll discuss ‘vocabulary retention’; how to remember new words to use them later.

I'll also suggest some strategies you can use to help you cement those new words in your memory.

Let’s begin with the question of where new words and expressions (phrasal verbs, idioms, words from other languages found in English, slang, colloquialisms etc.) are found.

Social Media as a source of new words and expressions

While books, newspapers, and magazines are traditional sources of new words and expressions, it’s easy to come across them in English online. Social media platforms (Meta/facebook, X, Instagram, Pinterest etc.) are a common source of new words and expressions.

How many of them do you remember though?

Do you read or hear the words and then immediately forget about them?

Or are you active in finding out the meanings of the new words and try to use them in your own written and spoken English?

Experts believe that exposure to a new term needs to happen several times to keep it in your memory.

Use all your skills for vocabulary retention

Moreover, it’s useful to practise all the four key skills to help with this. These skills, of course, are reading, writing, speaking, and listening.

The more you do all these things, the more likely you are to fix new words and expressions in your memory.

A focus on speaking not writing

I’ve been teaching English for over 10 years. Something I've noticed is that most adult learners don’t do much writing in English. They see it as unnecessary, and focus instead on speaking.

But writing is a good way to practise using new vocabulary. The simple act of writing helps new words stick in your mind.

Here are my six ideas you might use to help you integrate new words into your everyday English. They all focus on writing.

Some tips for vocabulary retention

1 Use the new word in sentences


You could write a few sentences with a new word. Adding context aids retention. Good writers care for their readers. Words you use may be new to your readers. So, you need to explain them, at least for the first time you use them.


For example:


"Fermentation [the new word] is the process in which yeast breaks down a substance into a simpler form. Fermentation is crucial for making beer, wine, bread, kimchi, yogurt, and other foods."

2 A daily diary

You might try writing a daily diary. Include new terms when you note down your personal thoughts and reflections about the day’s events.

3 Record your experiences

Write about an experience you've had, such as an enjoyable trip you went on. This is another good way to incorporate new words and expressions.

4 Commenting on social media

I mentioned earlier that new vocabulary on social media can end up being forgettable. But you can make the most of these platforms by commenting when you see a vocabulary post.


Write a sentence or two with the new word(s). You might also get some feedback from the author of the post on your word usage.

5 Write a blog in English

Some English learners write a blog in English, as a way of improving their writing skills. This is an example of using the word in written English. This time it's in a blog article.


By recalling terms you learnt in the past and using them, helps fix those words in your memory.


6 Use other English words to explain the new word/expression

Recently, I posted this piece on LinkedIn. Michael (from Apex English Tutoring) made a great observation in a comment on this topic.

He remarked that learners write the meaning of a new word in their first language. Instead of doing this, he recommends that you write the definition in (simple) English as well. This is a useful strategy to help you remember the new term.

Concept Checking

Moreover, your teacher can check if you understand the meaning of a new word or expression. This is important if they don’t speak your first language.


Imagine your teacher asking you the meaning of a word or expression. If you cannot explain in English, but you can in your first language, this is not satisfactory. It's not even practical, as proof of learning is not achieved.


Indeed, as Michael believes, the worst question a teacher can ask is "Do you understand?" The nods and 'yeses' are not proof of effective learning. Students often take the easy option of agreeing, to please their teacher. Or they are afraid of admitting they don't know.


Michael told me he builds 'concept checking' into his Method for practising English.


In this article, I have explained how to remember new words and expressions.


I have stressed that the act of writing new words helps you remember those new words.


Also, I have suggested several strategies - six of them - that you can use for vocabulary retention.

Finally, a question for you:

How do you usually try to remember new vocabulary?

About the Author

portrait of smiling woman with long dark hair parted in the centre

I’m Mary Costello, a British online English tutor for adult learners, content writer and creator.

I write about English vocabulary and grammar, to help you to expand your knowledge and improve your communication skills in English. 

I’ve been teaching English for over 10 years, 8 of those online. I’ve previously lived and taught English in Spain and Colombia, and I’m a keen Spanish learner.

Published 20 March 2024


Michael, the owner-operator of Apex English Tutoring, saw a shorter version of this article on LinkedIn in mid-March 2024, liked it, and invited me to write a longer version as a Guest Author here. I was delighted to accept his offer. I hope my tips help you with your vocabulary retention.

Further Reading

To learn more about English Vocabulary I recommend you read these articles.

And to learn why it's important to develop your vocabulary, read this article that will put you on the right path.

man in striped long-sleeved shirt talking on a phone.

About Me

Hello and welcome!

My name is Michael Finemore and I am the owner-operator of Apex English Tutoring.

As an experienced English Teacher, I'm passionate about helping people turn their 'poor' English into great English, with easy and effective ways to practice.

My 4-Step Plan will help you get great English. Download your plan by completing the form at the top of this page.

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Let's connect!

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