The best users of English Language in the world (both in written and spoken form) are those who have worked hard to build an extensive personal vocabulary. That is why we often see some persons with only secondary school education speaking more eloquently or writing more prolifically than some university graduates. The late William Shakespeare of world fame, had only a formal education that is equivalent to Junior Secondary School Class III in our time, but was able to acquire an extensive vocabulary with which he produced marvelous collections of literary works.

          How then can you, as a student or an English user, build a personal vocabulary? Basically, (as I have experienced) you need just one or two good dictionary (s), a note book (that will serve as your vocabulary book or word-bank notebook) and pencil or pen, and then follow these simple suggestions given hereunder:

  1. Whenever you read any piece of information (be it newspaper, magazine or textbook or whatever), underline any unfamiliar word you come across in it and read on until you are through or tired.
  2. Now lift (copy down) all the underlined words into a piece of paper and keep it (in the meantime) in your vocabulary notebook.
  3. Whenever you are ready for search, look up the underlined/copied words in your dictionary(s) and write out the meaning of the words (briefly) into your vocabulary notebook. Also take note of other features like: (a) part of speech the word belongs to; (b) the word’s root or origin, (if shown); (c) pronunciation; (d) tense (if the word is a verb);    (e) possible synonyms, and (f) possible antonyms. So, your vocabulary notebook should have columns for the following:
  • Word;
  • Part of Speech;
  • Root;
  • Tense;
  • Meaning;
  • Synonyms; and
  • Antonyms

          As you continue to make more entries into your vocabulary notebook, cultivate the habit of reviewing your work from time to time and also endeavour to use your new words both in writing and in speaking and with time, they will become part of you.

          I have no doubt in my mind, that if you can keep this recommended practice for a few years, you can stand up anywhere in the world, and use the English Language excellently.


Those who are privileged to have smart phones can use the phone notebooks or notepads as their vocabulary notebook or word-bank notebook. They can equally use the phone’s dictionary for ease of reference.


Those who have access to computers can use the following add-ons to make good writing easier:

  • Synonyms & Antonyms: With Microsoft Word, right click your mouse on any English word (in your write-up) and you will see synonyms and antonyms of such word, which you can use to your advantage.
  • Correction of Grammatical Expressions: With Microsoft Word, the computer automatically questions wrong grammatical expressions, and suggests corrections for you. (However, since we in Nigeria use British English and the computer is programmed with American English, we may need to scrutinize some of the computer’s grammatical suggestions before applying them. Or you may re-programme your computer with British English by default).


          The dictionary is the greatest teacher of English to a user. As a matter of fact, the dictionary is as important to a user as a cutlass (matchet) is to a peasant farmer. A good dictionary has the following benefits and even more:

  1. Meaning/Definition of Words: This is the most common benefit which learners and users have known a dictionary to have. The dictionary has several meanings or definitions; and it is in the dictionary that one can have full explanations of such.
  2. Pronunciations: Most dictionaries (both hard copy and online) provide pronunciations of words that are treated in them. It is very important to know the correct pronunciation of words so that one does not mislead the audience when speaking nor make one’s self become a laughing-stock. Sometimes, one English word could be pronounced in different ways. For example, the word Sow is pronounced like ‘Sew’ when used to mean plant, spread or introduce, but it is pronounced ‘saʊ’ when it is used to mean a mother-pig. (Please find out from your dictionary)
  3. Correct Spelling: When in doubt about the correct spelling of any English word, the best source to turn to, is the dictionary. Never use a word without ascertaining the correct spelling.
  4. Word Root (Derivation): Some dictionaries indicate the language from which a word is derived into English. Such knowledge has additional advantage to users of English.
  5. Parts of Speech: Dictionaries in general, indicate the part of speech a particular word belongs to, and this is very helpful as it enables the user to know how to use the word correctly in a sentence. Some dictionaries use the following abbreviations to indicate parts of speech (1) n for noun; (2) v for verb; (3) for adjective; (4) adv. for adverb; (5) pron. for pronoun; (6) conj. for conjunction; (7) prep. for preposition; and (8) inter. for interjection.
  6. Idioms: There is no other language that is as colourfully rich with idioms as the English language. There are more than ten thousand idiomatic expressions in English and almost all of them are explained in dictionaries. The word cat for example, goes with more than ten idioms. Check them up in a dictionary, study them and start using as many of them as possible.
  7. Correct Tense: In connection with verbs, dictionaries show the tense of a word, and this is a very good guidance for learners and users of English language. For example, if you look up the word overtake in the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, you will find that it states overtook as the ‘past-tense’ (pt) and overtaken as the ‘past-participle’ (pp).

          Other Information: Dictionaries contain a lot of other information like English names, ranks in the armed forces, measurements, abbreviations, acronyms, pictures and much more.

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