My recommended magic pill is, unfortunately, not an instant solution - but it is a way of improving your vocabulary for writing without too much conscious effort. I'm sure some of you will be very disappointed when you hear what it is, or fed up with hearing me say it yet again.... Read, read, read, read, read. Read on your laptop. Read on your smartphone. Read on the bus. Read at the bus stop. Read fashion magazines, football websites, cereal boxes, Metro. Read 'rubbish', read kids' books, read notices in shop windows - read ANYTHING.
Notice that I'm not telling you to read text books, IELTS revision guides, great works of English literature. Of course I'd be absolutely delighted if you did read those things, but you don't need to do that to greatly improve your ability to write in English.
So why does reading for pleasure help your vocabulary (and your language development in general)?
- You meet the words and phrases you half know, and just about understand them, maybe with a bit of difficulty. The next time you see them - you understand them a bit more easily. The next time - you don't even think about it - you know them already. No sitting with a vocabulary list, memorising. When you come to write something, that word or phrase is fresh in your mind.
- You meet words and phrases you don't know at all, but you manage to work them out from the context, basically by making a good guess. The next time you see them, you use the information from the new context to confirm your previous guess, or re-think your guess if it doesn't seem right. You don't always need a dictionary. Those words and phrases may not spring to mind when you next do your writing, but they are on the way to becoming part of your usable vocabulary.
- You meet words and phrases you have no idea about, and it becomes obvious to you (again, from the context) that these might be important, and you can't work them out on your own, so you look them up in the dictionary and maybe make a note of the meaning in your vocabulary book (you do have a vocabulary book, don't you?!!). Eventually these words and phrases will also become more familiar to you, and before too long they will be available to you for when you want to write or say something.
Of course this is only one way to improve your vocabulary, but it's the way which has worked for me in my learning of German.
What works for you? Let me know in the comments below..
PS I also think that this type of reading is a pain-free way to improve your grammar, but I'll come back to that another day.