How to use ChatGPT to learn new English vocabulary words

How to use ChatGPT to learn new English vocabulary words

Published: Feb 11, 2023 | By: Lucas Weaver

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One exercise I started giving business English students for homework years ago to help them learn new English vocabulary words is one I call the "article summary" assignment.
It's quite simple: You have to find one new article to read each week from a high-level source, such as Bloomberg, Forbes, etc., and you read it from beginning to end.
While reading the article, you must also highlight any vocabulary words that you don't know or fully understand.
For each word, you then need to look up the definition and write both the word and definition down on a separate sheet of paper. You do this for every word, and once you're finished reading the article, you should have a full list of new words and definitions.
Now, often times even after looking up the definition, the students still wouldn't be entirely clear on what the word means or how to use it.
That's where I would come in as a teacher. I would explain the meaning of the word in a different way and think of a few example sentences I could give them in order to help reinforce the meaning in their minds.
I would also try and think more broadly about the word and tell them anything I could to add more context to it, whether it be through a story or a related word that means something similar.
While I still think teachers are valuable resources and can give you a lot of knowledge and nuance about foreign languages, technology is certainly changing the game for language learning.
Now with ChatGPT, you can actually have a language tutor right at your fingertips, absolutely free!
Let's use an example from an article I was reading this morning from Forbes:
English vocabulary word jittery
"Despite a jittery stock market, shares of South Korean biotechnology company Caregen tripled over the past year, making its founder and CEO, Chung Yong-ji, a billionaire—the first entrepreneur in seven months to join the country’s three-comma club."
Now if I read that article at home alone as an English learner, I might find it to be a head-scratcher.
So if you were a student in one of my classes, you would look up the definition, write it down, and then ask me about it when you got to your next class.
But in 2023, we can go straight to ChatGPT and take advantage of its power.
Let's start by asking it the definition:
using chatGPT to get the definition of an English vocabulary word
Already right off the bat, we have a great definition that has not only covered the traditional meaning of something or someone being "jumpy", but it's also already provided a definition that includes a business context without me even asking.
Now, if we want to actually learn the meaning of the word, we're going to need a bit more context that will help us process it in our brain and build some meaningful neural connections for long-term memory.
One method teachers have long been effectively using is to use the word in multiple example sentences so that you can use the context clues in each sentence to gain an increasing level of understanding of the word.
So let's ask ChatGPT to give us 5 example sentences with the word "jittery".
using chatGPT to get example sentences for English vocabulary words
Those are 5 really good examples with a decently wide variety of contexts that can really help you learn the possibilities of how the word might be used.
Let's take it a step further and see what the opposite of jittery is.
the opposite of jittery via chatGPT
Now we have an even deeper understanding of the word by learning what it doesn't mean and how we would talk about a situation that's the exact opposite of jittery.
You can also see that we have two very dialed-in opposites from the two examples:
"For example, a jittery economy is one that is unstable or unpredictable" vs. "For example, a calm economy is one that is stable and predictable".
This is quite clear and easy for an English learner of any level to understand.
For the last step, let's see if we can get some instruction on how not to use the word and any common mistakes to avoid.
common mistakes in learning English vocabulary
This last tip is especially good:
"Using "jittery" to describe objects: While "jittery" can be used to describe unsteady or shaky movements, it is not typically used to describe objects or things. If an object is unstable or unsteady, it might be more accurate to describe it as "wobbly" or "unstable" instead of jittery."
While it would make sense when you learn the overall meaning of the word "jittery" to describe an "unstable economy" to try and also use it to describe, for instance, an "unstable bridge", this would definitely be a bit weird use of the word jittery, and a native-speaker would certainly notice it as odd.
By going through this last step, you're making sure to prevent any obvious and major errors you might make with your new vocabulary word.

Putting it all together

Can ChatGPT replace your English teacher? Not entirely, but my maybe surprising answer is, in many ways, yes!
As an English teacher, this is the exact 3-step formula I would take when teaching a student new words.
  1. Explain the word, the definition, and how to use it in multiple sentences to give added context.
  2. Explain the opposite of the word to show the contrast and help aid in understanding.
  3. Correct any misunderstandings and point out any common mistakes I'm aware of that I can help the student avoid.
ChatGPT can do all of these same three things just as well as I can if we're being brutally honest.
So if you're a non-native English speaker who frequently uses English and reads a lot of English texts, I highly encourage you to take advantage of this system.
It's free and takes just a couple of minutes to help you consistently improve your English nearly every day.
Try it with the next English article you read, and let me know how you feel about the results. I'm looking forward to hearing your feedback :)
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Lucas Weaver from the Weaver School

Lucas Weaver founded The Weaver School in 2016. He's passionate about using the latest learnings in neuroscience and education to create the best language learning experience possible for our students, so they can quickly build effective language learning habits that will last for years. Lucas is a graduate of Texas A&M University and after 7 years of living in the Netherlands, he is currently traveling through Southeast Asia while learning their languages along the way.

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