Part 1 of how to boost your mental lexicon? Some tools for you to use.

Many of my clients/students frequently pose the question: how do I become better at speaking and writing? There are many answers to that question, but the best one is just to start producing language output. In order words: just start speaking and writing in English. That way, you’ll quickly discover your strengths and weaknesses. You’ll find out which words can you come up with now, and which ones are currently unavailable to you. Via such an inquiry, the areas that require some attention are quickly exposed to you. Not all of them, I am sure, but you’ll gain some valuable insight.

All right, so you’re preparing for your next educational/occupational task and some of those areas are, in fact, exposed to you. So how to take it from there? And, how to quickly find the right words to best describe what it is you’re trying to convey? Well, answering these questions may not be easy. The fact is, you probably don’t really know where and how to start, which is something you can easily overcome. However, you may just need a little help in that department. (Please note that a post will appear shortly on how to start structuring your writing or speaking.) Perhaps, you find yourself translating utterances (speaking) or sentences (writing) from your native tongue to English. This can be temporary. Just remember, by the time you start dreaming in English, you’re able to think in English, which is half the battle, but simply takes time.

Back to your task. So, you’re preparing for a task, and now what? How to find the right words to use? Well, first off, start using a proper online dictionary instead of heavily relying on Google Translate. If you have already found Google Translate to be an unreliable source, great. If not, here is a list of some great online dictionaries:

  • Cambridge Online Dictionary:
  • The free dictionary: (This one has a great app too, free of change by the way and available through the app store.)
  • Online dictionary: (and
  • Oxford Dictionaries:

Second, as you come across words you may think: “well, this word doesn’t quite capture the meaning I’m looking for. What to do now?” Well, just look op synonyms in a thesaurus. “Say what now?!” Yes, a thesaurus, which can either be a book or an online corpus of words, which contains similar meanings of the word you’re comparing them to. A good online thesaurus is the following one:, but alway always always check its meaning in an English-English dictionary, to make sure that this is word that you should be using.

The only downside of this tool ( is that you may want to look up the meaning of the word given. After you click on the word, you are directed to the online dictionary website, but finding your way back to the thesaurus can be a little tricky. I’d, therefore, recommend opening a new tab and copy-pasting the word into another dictionary. That way, flipping back and forth between the dictionary and the thesaurus is much easier. But despite that small inconvenience, it is quite a useful tool.

How to use this thesaurus? Well, what you can do is look at the words in darker shades of yellow, which match the meaning of your search entry best. Please note that the brighter the shade of colour, the more the meaning will deviate from what you are looking for. Please see the printscreen below from (march, 2018)


To be able to improve at a faster rate, you need to immerse yourself in English by using these online resources of which the upside is that you’ll learn more new words by studying their descriptions given in English. 

Finally, you might think: “yeah, that all well and good, but why would I want to look up words in English? I’d rather just use a Dutch-English dictionary”, for example. As much as I understand that a quick fix would seem better, it really isn’t. In order to become more accurate, you need to immerse yourself in English and by using these online resources, you will find that you’ll improve at a faster rate! Another advantage of using such a dictionary is that you’ll learn more new words by looking at the English descriptions of new words. That way, you’ll learn even more words compared to when having looked them up in a Dutch-English dictionary, for example.

Remember when it comes to languages, it’s either use it or lose it! Good luck and have a good one!

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