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TOEFL Tip #207: Active vs. Passive Vocabulary

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on June 7, 2013

 Whether you speak only your native language, or have learned a second (or third, or fourth …) language, most people know a lot of words.

  But the real question is, how well do you know them?

 The words that you recognize in context when you read or hear them are your passive vocabulary. You understand what these words mean, and can follow what’s being written or said. Whether you’ve seen and heard these words a few times or repeatedly, the words in your passive vocabulary are familiar when other people use them, but you yourself don’t use them.

 The words that you use in your own speaking and writing are your active vocabulary. You not only understand these words, but you can also call them up from memory and use them accurately. Most people have a larger passive vocabulary than active vocabulary, and use somewhat different sets of words when speaking or when writing.

 Here’s an example of passive vs. active vocabulary. When you read a newspaper item or listen to a radio report, you’re probably using your passive vocabulary. You can follow the news item because you recognize the words in context. When you tell someone else about the same news item, you use your active vocabulary. For example, if the news item is about a natural disaster in which people died, your passive vocabulary would make it possible to understand “devastation” and “death toll;” you would then use your active vocabulary to refer to the “large amount of damage” and “number of people who died” when you talk about the event with someone else.

 One goal of learning a new language (or improving your skill in your first language) is to convert as many words as possible from passive into active vocabulary. You can do this by studying the vocabulary you recognize, and making a specific effort to use it in conversation. In the above example, you would say “devastation” and “death toll” as you talked about the natural disaster. You might struggle to remember the correct words at first, but the more you do it, the more words you will add to your active vocabulary.

 Next week, we’ll talk about another technique for converting words from passive to active vocabulary: crossword puzzles.


Categories: Listening,Reading,Speaking,TOEFL for Pharmacy,TOEFL for University,TOEFL Preparation,TOEFL Vocabulary Questions,Vocabulary,Writing

2 comments so far. Leave a comment.

  1. Jin Hee Lee

    wrote on March 18, 2014 at 5:09 pm

    The passive vocabulary is the words that you recognize when you read or hear. For example, the words that you can understand when you read the newspaper are the passive vocabulary. While the active vocabulary is the words that are used when you speak or write. For example, when you restate the contents from the newspaper, you use the active vocabulary to make the same meaning.

    Even though the passive vocabularies are understood, the use of passive vocabularies as active vocabularies needs a lot of practice.

  2. Calton nhautse

    wrote on March 26, 2016 at 3:39 am

    Passive vocabulary vs active.
    Passive vocabulary are words that you know when you read or hear .

    Active vocabulary are words that you using in your own speech and writing.

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