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 introduce you to materials that you may find useful if you like learning vocabulary from your normal reading or listening material (books, magazines, newspapers, films, news reports etc.), and to suggest learning techniques that you may like to try.

Finding materials

This won't normally be a problem - just read or listen to whatever interests you. The advantage of this type of vocabulary learning is that you can find materials anywhere, not necessarily from the SAC.

  • If you want to find material on a particular topic, you may like to search in the SAC computer catalogue: choose Vocabulary under 'Language skill', and then Vocabulary expansion; you can then choose a title on your particular topic.

Useful materials in the SAC

  • Magazines
    Time, Newsweek
  • Newspapers
    South China Morning Post
  • Films
    There are many movies in the SAC. Films with English captions can be useful, as you can read the words as they are spoken. Some films contain a lot of useful vocabulary; others do not. See the Advice Sheet Listening to Movies (L4) for further advice.
  • News reports
    For advice on audio and video news sources and learning materials available in the SAC, see the Advice Sheet Listening to the News (L2).

Learning tips

Here are some tips for learning vocabulary from your normal reading or listening. You may already have your own method that works well for you. If so, that's great - stick with it. If not, you may like to:

  • Read or listen to a lot of material on one topic (or a small number of topics). This helps you quickly become familiar with vocabulary on that topic. For example, for listening you can:
    • interview a number of fluent/advanced/native speakers for one or two minutes each on the same topic and record each conversation. You can then play back all the short recordings, noting the vocabulary used.
    • follow a major news story on the radio or TV over a period of time.
    • only listen to certain types of news story.
  • Check out the SAC computer catalogue for further techniques: 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).
  • If you are not sure which words you should spend your time on, check out the Advice Sheet Deciding Which Words are Worth Learning (V2).
  • For tips about organising your learning so that it's systematic and you don't become overloaded, check out the Advice Sheet Organising Your Vocabulary Learning (V3).
  • For tips about remembering words that you have learned, 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 learn effectively? If not, what could you do that would help you learn more effectively?

If you do use an effective technique, please contact an Adviser or e-mail lcsac to let us know about it - we would like to hear from you!

Evaluating your progress

Here is a method for checking on your progress that you may like to try:

  • If you are concentrating on words of a certain frequency range (e.g. the most common 3,000 words), try reading a simplified reader of the same frequency level after a certain period of time - is it easy to read the book now?

For more information, see the advice sheet Evaluating your Vocabulary Learning (V5).

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



Sub-titles that are printed on-screen in the same language as the language of the film — i.e. an English Language film will have English Language captions. Films in the SAC that have captions are marked with the symbol . Use one of the special machines on top of the VCRs (caption decoders) if you want to see the captions when you watch these films.


When two words often go together (i.e. one follows the other in speech or writing), they are said to collocate with each other. For example, an adjective that often collocates with rain is heavy. Heavy rain, therefore, is a collocation.

Frequency level/range

This indicates how common the word is. A word in the 1,000-2,000 frequency range will be one of the second thousand most common words of English — i.e. very common. A word at the 10,000 frequency level will not be common. Knowledge of the 3,000 most common words of English is considered to be essential for understanding texts at university level.

Simplified readers

Books which have been made easier to read for non-native speakers (usually the vocabulary, grammar and sentence length are altered). There are many to choose from in the SAC Area A, each with a certain frequency level (e.g. 1,500 words; 4,000 words etc.).


A word similar in meaning to another word.

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, 1998. Version 1. If you copy from this leaflet, please acknowledge the source. Thanks.

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