vocabulary building game

Have you started building your word power?

Or ‘how to fertilise your vocabulary’!

As we venture into the magical season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, most Scottish schools are preparing for (or already enjoying!) a welcome break.

However, it was not always thus: ironically, this two-week hiatus in Scotland used to be referred to as the ‘tattie holidays’ (with the term ‘holidays’ being a distinct misnomer, as my back knows from personal experience!). Those fourteen days were anything but relaxing for teenagers, many of whom spent the two weeks bent double over a muddy field, picking potatoes out of the ground by hand …

Fortunately, the advent of modern agricultural machinery means that the backbreaking days of ‘howking’ tatties by hand are but a distant memory, and this year – perhaps more than has ever been the case in living memory – teachers and pupils alike will be immensely relieved at the prospect of having some precious time to relax.

However, while holidays offer an ideal chance to recharge the batteries, equally, having more time to think provides the perfect opportunity to get into some good habits for the winter term ahead – and to make them stick.

One such habit, which involves a gradual but continual process, is working on broadening your vocabulary, both in English and in any other languages you may be studying in preparation for certificate exams next year.

We regularly encourage TLC tutees to work on building their vocabulary, and an email from our favourite logophile (look it up!) website Wordsmith.org merely echoed our ‘vocabulary is king’ mantra. It reminded us of what novelist Evelyn Waugh once said:

One forgets words as one forgets names. One’s vocabulary needs constant fertilising or it will die.

how to boost vocabulary learning
We couldn’t have put it better ourselves! And now could be an excellent time to follow Waugh’s advice – so this autumn, go against the trend of plants that are fading, and start watering and refreshing your word power.

Previous blogs here at TLC Towers have focused on why you need to be a ‘vocabulary vulture’ in other languages that you’re learning (be that French, German, Spanish or Chinese). And there are all sorts of tricks you can adopt, from having Post-It notes on your bedroom mirror to setting yourself a specific number of words to master per day or per week in the months leading up to the exams.

But don’t forget the importance of boosting your word power in your native tongue as well!

Bear in mind that it’s only once you have identified and recognised a new word in your reading, or used it yourself in written tasks, that you can truly start to ‘own it’ – whatever the language.

Here are some of the apps currently available that you may find helpful:

This free app incorporates a vocab game for your iOS device. Play a daily quiz to learn 1,200 important words, all picked by a highly experienced tutor. Each word has definitions and example sentences to go with it.

Scoring 4.7/5 on the App Store preview, it’s also earned some rave reviews from users.

If you’re a sociable sort, this one should be just your chalice, vessel or receptacle of a certain hot drink starting with the 20th letter of the alphabet! You can enjoy this app, which looks like a crossword puzzle, with buddies to hone your vocab skills in a way that’s similar to playing Scrabble. Put your brain power to the test as you expand your vocab and perhaps reconnect with friends and family from whom you’ve been separated thanks to lockdown or social distancing.

It scores 4.5/5 and is free. However, we should point out that some reviewers said they have noticed scammers infiltrating.

Love learning new words? This app was designed by qualified English teachers and does what it says on the tin, teaching you a new piece of vocab on a daily basis. It’s free to use the basic version, or you can pay for premium features.

It scores 4.7/5 and has so far garnered some rave reviews.

This one was designed using a method we love working with ourselves – flashcards! It’s free and aimed at older students to give them a crash course in word building. So it would be ideal if you’re after a more advanced level, having found other apps too easy.

This one hasn’t enjoyed such enthusiastic reviews, and it has a lower average score of 3.3/5. But it could well be worth checking out anyway.


Broadening the range of words at your fingertips is a goal to cultivate and enjoy across your whole lifetime, whether or not you’re a native English speaker. So get into good habits now, and take one or two of these free apps for a spin. You have nothing to lose, and an extensive English-grade-enhancing vocabulary to gain! Do let us know how you get on.

PS: If you learn just one new word every day, that equates to around 30 new words per month (depending on the month). In seven months’ time – i.e. by early next May, at time of writing – that would add up to over 200 new words. Just think of the difference that could make when you’re tackling “in your own words” questions in the RUAE paper!



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