Language Center
The Hong Kong University
of Science and Technology
English Advice Sheets

The aim of this leaflet

The aim of this leaflet is to offer some suggestions which may be of help if you find that:

  • your present method of noting down vocabulary is not systematic or effective; or
  • there is too much vocabulary for you to cope with, with more and more to learn and remember as each week goes by

How can I organise the words and phrases that I want to learn?

When considering this problem, there are two main decisions to make:

  • Where do I put the words/phrases I want to learn?
    Notebooks, flash cards, computer files, pieces of paper around your home or room - there are many possibilities.

  • How do I classify the words/phrases I want to learn?
    Most people find that it's useful to organise the vocabulary they write down in some way, either to break the words/phrases into groups for learning, to show relationships between similar words, or to make it easier to find a particular word. Here are some ways of classifying your vocabulary that you might consider: according to alphabetical order; the order in which you found the words; topics; situations; 'families' of similar word meanings; frequency of occurrence (see V2); or level of difficulty (see V4).

For further advice:

  • Search for techniques on the SAC computer catalogue: choose Vocabulary under 'Language skill', then Techniques for Studying Vocabulary.
  • Read Chapter 7 of How to Learn a Language ('Learning a Language' shelf in the SAC Multimedia Area), or Unit 5 of Increase Your Vocabulary ('Vocabulary' shelf).
  • See the examples in Unit 1 of A Way With Words 3 or Unit 3 of English Vocabulary in Use ('Vocabulary' shelf).
  • If you would like to make connections between related words, so that you are not learning words in isolation, check out the Advice Sheet Learning Vocabulary for Speaking and Writing (V8).
  • If you are interested in the frequency of words, check out the Advice Sheet Deciding Which Words are Worth Learning (V2).
  • If you are interested in organising words according to how difficult you find them to learn, check out the Advice Sheet Remembering Vocabulary (V4).

N.B. The important thing is to find out what works/does not work for you and why. Do your methods help you to learn effectively? If not, what could you do that would help you to learn more effectively?

There's just too much to learn - how can I cope?

Let's say that you plan to learn 10 words a week (a modest target). Unless you can remember words just by looking at them once, you are likely to face the following problem:

As you can see from the Figure above, the first week, you will have no problems. The second week, in addition to the 10 words for that week, you will also have to revise the 10 words from week 1. The third week, in addition to the 10 words for that week, you will have to revise the 20 words from weeks 1 and 2, and so on.

Here are two ways in which you could reduce your learning load:

  • Try to recycle the vocabulary you learn as much as possible. If you try to read, listen to, speak about or write about the same topic (e.g. a particular news story) over a number of weeks, you will find that the same vocabulary keeps occurring. If you follow the same topic over several weeks, it is likely that you will meet some of the words you have tried to learn earlier. Meeting the words in context will help you remember them, and will reduce your memorising load each week. It will also give you an idea of how the words are actually used in context.
  • Focus on the words that you find most difficult to learn. You may be spending time on 'learning' words that you already remember - time that could be better spent on the words that you just seem to keep forgetting. This is covered in detail in the advice sheet Remembering Vocabulary (V4).

For further advice:

And Now...

If you would like any help or advice, or just a chat about your progress, please get in touch - we are here to support your independent learning! This is how you can contact us:

  • see an Adviser, on duty at the SAC Advice Desk (for details of advisers and their availability, please go to
  • e-mail lcsac ( with your query;
  • ask at the reception counter of the SAC — if the receptionist cannot help you directly, s/he will pass your query on to one of the SAC advisers

The introductory leaflet in this series is the leaflet Learning Vocabulary (V1).

This advice sheet is part of the Vocabulary series of leaflets supporting independent language learning, produced by the HKUST Center for Language Education SAC team. This leaflet written by Richard Pemberton, 1997. Version 1. If you copy from this leaflet, please acknowledge the source. Thanks.

©Copyright 2004 Center for Language Education, HKUST. All rights reserved.