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Using a Thesaurus to Learn English

May 1st, 2008

As you may be aware, a thesaurus is a tool that provides lists of words that have similar meanings. For example, an entry for the word “happy” might have listings for synonyms like “joyful,” “giddy,” or “gleeful.” Even though many people trying to learn English purchase a thesaurus, they rarely use it to its full potential. Unfortunately, doing so denies you a number of opportunities to improve your English language skills and vocabulary. Read on for more tips about improving your English with a thesaurus:

Improve your vocabulary

Becoming a natural sounding English speaker means using more than simple words in conversation. On the other hand, using large or complicated-sounding words that aren’t used in conversational language by native English speakers won’t help you either. A thesaurus can help you find the right words for every occasion. In addition, if you take note of the words that native speakers use regularly, you may be able to form a pattern of varying synonyms that makes your vocabulary seem more natural.

Work around difficult verbs and phrases

In many cases, you’ll know when a word or phrase isn’t correct. However, you may be unable to formulate a response that conveys your meaning using natural sounding English. This happens to ESL speakers most often when using irregular verbs and verb tenses. If you’re having trouble coming up with a response, look up the word you want to use in a thesaurus and you may find a common equivalent that follows the rules and makes sense. As you develop more of these workarounds, you’ll be able to observe how others use the English language and become a more fluent speaker yourself.

Practice sounding out words with similar meanings

Regardless of how many years you’ve spoken English or how advanced your language skills are, you may always have an accent. Even though there are many dialects of English, you may feel self conscious about pronouncing certain words in front of groups. By looking through a thesaurus, you may be able to finds words similar to ones that you have difficulty verbalizing that you can use instead.

Improve comprehension

As you become more advanced in your English language practice, you can take sentences and try adding new words from a thesaurus. This will help you practice everything from verb tenses to creating a specific style of expression. As you read the new sentence, you’ll gain new insights into possible meanings and see how sentences need to be changed to accommodate different words. This will help you identify stylistic differences as well as subtle changes in meaning. You may even find that you can improve your grammar skills much more quickly this way.

If you are trying to learn English, you’ll probably use the dictionary more than a thesaurus. While a dictionary is a valuable tool, it won’t do as much to help you learn a broad range of words that have similar meanings as a thesaurus will. Once you begin working with a thesaurus, you’ll find that you can convey your meanings more accurately and better distinguish the more subtle elements of the English language.