Students' resources


Students resources thesaurus

How to expand your vocabulary and avoid repetition?

All the English students I have known get stuck at a certain level (more or less intermediate B1). They feel they are not really progressing anymore. And I have to agree with them, they aren’t really! They have learned most of the grammar, they just need to work on their mistakes and be comfortable using it. The only way to really expand is to focus on their vocabulary, but students forget this. They feel at ease using the language and don’t see anything wrong with it. And that’s why they are not really progressing. As a result many students just give up and drop out of class.

How to change this?

We have already talked about reading more and listening more, but what about using some synonyms to really express what you want to say

There is nothing really wrong with saying: ‘I like chocolate’, but that is something an elementary(A1) student can say. Maybe you want to say. I love chocolate, I enjoy eating chocolate, I really treasure the taste of chocolate…. 

Another one is the word ‘important’ that comes back many times even in Cambridge First (FCE), Cambridge Advanced (CAE), Cambridge Proficiency (CPE), or the IELTS exam. ‘How important is….’ And then I hear the students repeat important over and over again. Why not say: It is crucial; it is critical, it’s paramount, it’s essential,…  

There are many synonyms that can be used for many of the words you know and most of those synonyms you have come across or have seen somewhere before. You just forget to use them!

Where to find synonyms?

The easiest way is to go to the thesaurus. Type in the word you want synonyms for and have a look at the synonyms you want to use: The website also gives you antonyms, so maybe you can say it using a negative and an antonym instead.

thesaurus synonyms for important
thesaurus antonyms for important

How can I start using synonyms

The easiest is in your writing, when you have time to change some of the words you have written for better words. So, when you finish writing you just check and see: interesting, interesting, interesting…. Maybe time to pick a different word? You go to the thesaurus and change your words.

In speaking it is a bit more difficult, but sometimes the teacher gives you time to prepare for the speaking. Then, pick up your phone, go to the thesaurus, look for some synonyms you want to use, write them down on your piece of paper, look at them before or while speaking and try to use the words in your speaking task. After some practice and repetition it will become second nature and you will start using them more often.

Why do this?

This practice and repetition is extremely influential on your memory and the retention of vocabulary. For that reason it is paramount to look up some synonyms and start using them, especially if you want to do a Cambridge exam: First certificate (FCE), Advanced (CAE), Proficiency (CPE) or IELTS. These synonyms are going to push your language development to the next level and give you a far better score on any English exam. They will also make you feel that you are progressing again, because now you have more choice of what you really want to say.

Watch out!

You cannot always change 1 word for another word! You need to think about the context, the formality (informal vs formal), and grammar (some words use different grammar constructions). This means be careful when you replace a word, make sure it fits. 

So what’s stopping you?

Have a look at the thesaurus, go find some synonyms and tell us in the comments below which words you always use again and which synonyms you want to use in the future! 

Spread the word

Kristof Abrath
Teacher, Trainer, Course Designer
Teaching in English on 4 different continents since 2006.

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