When it comes to learning vocabulary, I’m a great believer in  ‘a little and often’. I’ve already written about setting up a system and getting into positive habits. Here are three tools which can help you to do just that and at the same time keep you motivated.


Look forward to a new word every lunchtime

Sign up – free of charge – to this service from Merriam Webster Learner’s Dictionary and they’ll send you a new word every day. Each word is illustrated with a photograph, defined in simple English, used in example sentences and with an audio file so that you can check the pronunciation (US native speaker). To give you an idea of the level and variety, words sent out in April included runaway, nocturnal, yawn, symbol, drab, lush, sparse, sample, …

What I particularly like about this is the regularity. In theory you’re only learning one new word a day, but because the explanations are in English you’re actually coming into contact with much more language – every day. And if you encounter new words in the definitions and examples there’s nothing stopping you looking these up and adding them to your word list ;0)

A word a day


Better technical English – inch by inch

If you’re aiming to widen your technical vocabulary I can highly recommend Inch. Subscribe for free and every week you’ll be sent two pictorials – drawings of a piece of equipment, a tool or machine, labelled with the English expressions for the parts and accompanied by an English-German word list. The motto: Another Inch pictorial, another inch closer to perfect technical English.

The range of equipment covered is amazing from a microscope to a bucket-wheel excavator (Schaufelradbagger), so far. And why not take the people from Inch up on their offer to cover a piece of machinery you use in you daily work? It doesn’t get more personalized than that.

Two pictorials a week 


And now the real fun starts

Perhaps you’re now wondering how to learn the new words from these two services and any other vocabulary you need. The answer’s simple: join Quizlet! It’s completely free – just fill in your email address and a user name and you can start entering the words you want to learn to create your own personalized sets of vocabulary cards.

By the way, you don’t have to let the whole world know which words you’re learning, click on the button next to the set title to choose whether your cards should be visible to everyone, only to people with a password (good for learning English in a group) or just to you.

And now the fun starts. Quizlet provides six different activities to help you remember the words:
Cards: Look at the German word, say the English word (to yourself), then click to turn the card over and check your answer.
Learn: Look at the German, type in the English, click to check.
Speller: Type in what you hear.
Test: There are various types of test on offer here. It works best once you’ve built up a larger stack of cards.
Scatter: German and English expressions are spread across the screen. Drag the German word onto the corresponding English one to make them disappear. Here you play against the clock.
Space race: The German word runs across the screen, type in the English translation before it reaches the other side.

There’s also a Quizlet app for iPhone and Android. It has three of these options – cards, learn and match (similar to scatter) – and would be very useful if you commute to work by train, for example. Imagine the feeling of satisfaction arriving at work in the morning having already worked on your English vocabulary that day.

Custom-made vocabulary cards


These are my current favourites. Do you have others? I’d love to hear about them, so feel free to leave a comment.

Posted on May 5, 2015 in getting ahead
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Porträt Nicola Bartlett
Nicola Bartlett
I’ve been an English trainer for over 25 years, helping adults to get their message across in English – clearly and appropriately. Successful communication in English requires more than just a good knowledge of the language. An understanding of different mentalities and a feeling for the best approach are vital, too. » more