How To Find Words That Are Worth Learning

16 September 2010 

Word count: 650

Estimated reading time: 6-8 minutes


Increasing your English vocabulary is essential if you work in an international business. A larger vocabulary gives you the benefit of a broader, deeper understanding of the language, and it gives you the ability to express yourself in a more sophisticated style.


There are many ways to increase your vocabulary. But today I’d like to talk about choosing words and expressions to learn.


The vocabulary you need to learn is based on your unique situation. For example, if you work in insurance or finance, you’ll use a very different vocabulary from those who work in entertainment or tourism.


Choosing words to learn

One way to choose words to learn is simply to write down words you hear or read but do not know. That’s definitely a good start, but this method might be a bit hit-or-miss. You might be wasting time on words that aren’t used very often. Or you might not be spending enough time on words that are really essential to learn.


Use ‘Wordle’ to choose vocabulary

There’s an easy and fun way to decide which words to learn from documents that are in electronic form: use ‘Wordle’ (


‘Wordle’ is an online tool you can use to create ‘word clouds’ from a text. The illustration above is an example of a word cloud I created from the text of an online news story.


You’ll notice that the words in the cloud vary in size. This is what ‘Wordle’ does with the text. The more times a word is used, the larger it appears in the word cloud. That is, larger-sized words are more common.


Learn common words first

Generally, the more a word is used, the more important it is for you to know. So start by learning words that are commonly used in your industry. You’ll need to find those words from a good-sized sample of documents.


How to use ‘Wordle’

The ‘Wordle’ tool is free (yay!).


Here’s how to use it:

1) Choose several documents (in electronic form) that are common to your industry.

2) Select the text from each one and copy them all into a single Word document.

3) Open ‘Wordle’ (

4) Click ‘Create’.

5) Paste the entire text in the box and click the ‘Go’ button.


‘Wordle’ then creates your word cloud. You can change the layout and colours if you want. Use a screen capture tool to save your word clouds to your computer -- or create your own Wordle account (also free) to publish and retrieve your word clouds.


(‘Wordle’ also allows you to enter the URL from a blog or web page that has RSS feed. This saves you the time of copying and pasting text.)


Choose from a large sample

Try to create several word clouds before you decide which words to learn. This will give you a broader base of relevant vocabulary – and you will probably see a fair amount of overlap among them. The large-sized words will be the ones worth learning first before going on to ‘smaller’ words.



Of course, learning vocabulary is more complicated than just looking words up in a dictionary. In addition to the denoted (literal) meanings, many words also have several implied meanings (connotations). So you need to think about how they’re used within a text.


Seeing how a word is used in a text not only gives you a deeper understanding of its meaning, but will also help you learn the grammar of various sentence structures. We’ll talk more about these things in future posts.


Give ‘Wordle’ a try

Find some soft copy documents or online articles that you’re interested in, then copy and paste the texts into ‘Wordle’ – and check out the most commonly used words.


Let us know in the comments how this method helps you choose words to learn. And if you’ve got other resources for building vocabulary, please share them with us. Thanks! 

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