Obviously, to learn a language, you need not only to become good at the grammar and syntax (word order), but also to have the words you need to express yourself. So, when you study ESL abroad at EC San Francisco,
we try to give you a broad range of techniques to study vocabulary (which most of us are not very good at). I’ve read a lot of the research, and given a lot of workshops, so here’s another idea that works.
Most nouns are stand-alone – there’s only one word for a thing. Name another word for “hair.” “Fur?” “Hey, dude, nice fur-cut?” I don’t think so. The same generally goes for verbs. Adjectives, on the other hand (and, to a lesser extent, adverbs), tend to live in families, with different words having different strengths.
A very powerful adjective learning technique uses a scale (think of a thermometer), with stronger words at the top, and weaker words at the bottom. You used this to learn adverbs of frequency (“always” is at the top, “never” is at the bottom). You can use absolutely the same technique for sets of adjectives. And the good thing is, when you learn a new word in the set, you just stick it in where it goes.
Give it a try with these words – so-so, ecstatic, happy, sad, depressed, joyful, pleased, suicidal (hint – “suicidal” is NOT at the top!) And the good part is, this isn’t a science, so if you can’t decide if “joyful” goes above or below “happy” (I’d say it goes above), it doesn’t really matter, so long as you don’t think it is down with “sad” and “suicidal.”
For me, this technique often leads me to try to add words to the list (I do this with Spanish – I can figure out what “suicidal” is, and I know “sad,” but what is “depressed?”) And if you are tempted to learn new vocabulary, that is EXACTLY what you want!