Level Up Your English: Essential Vocabulary Guide for International Students

Level Up Your English: Essential Vocabulary Guide for International Students

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Aishwarya Bhatnagar
Study Abroad Expert
Updated on May 7, 2024 11:33 IST

All About Vocabulary: Vocabulary is an important aspect of any language in question. Without the vocabulary or words, a language is empty. From finding root words to building a lexicon, vocabulary building is an asset for any student going to study abroad. Check out this guide on vocabulary for international students to incorporate in day-to-day life. 

english vocabulary building

Students who are going to study abroad will require good communication skills. Good communication skills come to those who have a good vocabulary. Building vocabulary is equal to increasing brain power. There is fun involved in learning and of course, getting to learn so many new words. Here’s a guide on vocabulary for international students. 

What is Vocabulary?

Vocabulary is a set of words which make up a language on the whole. Vocabulary is required to understand the words that exist in a language plus be able to use it for reading, writing and communication. The vocabulary of any language defines how the language works, differentiates it from other languages and most importantly is the stepping stone for building a lexicon. Students who are going to study abroad would need to brush up their communication skills by building their vocabulary. 

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Why is Vocabulary Important? 

Vocabulary is an important aspect of a given language. Taking the example of English words, vocabulary is expansive. The importance of vocabulary comes into question for international students studying abroad when:

  • They have to have strong verbal and non-verbal communication skills to take admissions abroad.
  • The students have to understand difficult discourses and find meaning on their own at college.
  • Students have to complete an individual project or assignment for submission at college. 
  • Students are required to be independent with their academics and study independently too.
  • Also when the students are applying for part-time jobs abroad or full-time jobs abroad after graduation. They will have to submit CVs and appear for interviews too.
  • Finally, to be able to interact with people in the new place in English or any other language alike. 

Thus, these are the situations when the importance of vocabulary comes into play for students who are studying abroad. 

Read more: Best Spoken English Books for Indian Students

Levels of Vocabulary 

For a student going to study abroad, vocabulary is an important aspect. Students who wish to learn where they stand based on the level of vocabulary they possess can check it out in the section below:

Beginner Level of Vocabulary

Early learners, who have just begun learning a new language and are slowly and steadily grasping the language. At the beginner level of vocabulary, students barely know much about the language. They just have basic knowledge of the language like - the alphabet, numbers, basic greetings, etc.

Check out:

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Intermediate Level of Vocabulary

The intermediate level of vocabulary of students is more than the basics but one step lower than the advanced level. Intermediate level of vocabulary is defined as being able to read, write and understand the language words with ease. By this time, students begin understanding the meaning and making coherent sentences with limited vocabulary. Grammar rules kick in at this point, which enables learners to understand how the language lexicon works.

Advanced Level of Vocabulary

The advanced level of vocabulary is the mastering of a language in terms of reading, writing, articulating, making sense of contexts and engaging in meaningful conversations. At this stage, students can also build their thought processes in the language with the use of the best possible vocabulary. The students’ vocabulary is a notch higher and they can choose the best possible words for use. 

Beginner vs Intermediate vs Advanced Levels of Vocabulary

To assess oneself based on the level of vocabulary, students can have a look at the following table for a better understanding:

Beginner Level

Intermediate Level

Advanced Level

Look (See)

Observe (Notice details)

Scrutinize (Examine critically)

Feel (Sense)

Perceive (Be aware of)

Discern (Recognize subtle differences)

Talk (Speak)

Converse (Have a conversation)

Discourse (Elaborate discussion)

Run (Move quickly)

Dash (Sprint)

Bolster (Move with great force)

Happy (Glad)

Content (Satisfied)

Ebullient (Exuberantly happy)

Big (Large)

Immense (Very large)

Colossal (Gigantic)

Beautiful (Pretty)

Elegant (Graceful and stylish)

Exquisite (Delicately beautiful)

Good (Positive)

Beneficial (Helpful)

Propitious (Favorable)

Bad (Negative)

Troublesome (Causing problems)

Heinous (Extremely wicked)

Find (Locate)

Uncover (Discover something hidden)

Elicit (Draw out information)

Thus, each level of vocabulary building while learning a new language or upgrading the knowledge of an existing language can be a hard task. However, it is important to understand at which level the student stands so that there is room for building vocabulary. 

Types of Vocabulary

Different types of vocabularies exist and are used by students. This section will discuss in detail the different types of vocabulary for students to understand how they acquire, learn and use vocabulary. 

Active Vocabulary vs Passive Vocabulary

There are ideally two types of vocabularies, one is active vocabulary and the other is passive vocabulary. Let us discuss in detail what these types of vocabulary are for students and how they acquire them:

Active Vocabulary

Consider the example: You are talking to someone and the words automatically flow. These words are a part of your vocabulary which you use often. They are a part of your day-to-day conversations. 

So these vocabulary words that you use daily for conversations are a part of your active vocabulary or productive vocabulary. You are aware of their existence and use them frequently when you talk or even write. 

Passive Vocabulary 

On the contrary, passive vocabulary can be understood this way:

You are talking to a stranger and he/she uses a set of words that you know exist and understand their meanings too, but do not use them often. These words that the stranger uses are a part of your passive lexicon. Students often come across these words while reading or writing or while talking too. These words are a part of the subconscious mind but they are not actively used daily. 

Thus, this is the difference between active vocabulary and passive vocabulary for students to understand. 

Formal vs Informal Vocabulary

As the name suggests, formal vocabulary is used for formal conversations and informal vocabulary is used for informal conversations. Following is a list of words which are used in formal settings and informal settings: 

Formal Vocabulary

Informal Vocabulary


































Begin (less formal than commence)







It's not a thumb rule to use fancy words when in a formal setting. Formal vocabulary is just a very appropriate use of vocabulary. Informal vocabulary can be used just like day-to-day conversations, there is no formality here. 

Subject Specific Vocabulary for Students

As you know English uses the subject-verb object rule of grammar, thus, the subject is described in order to make sense of the context. Subject-specific vocabulary will vary with the type of noun in question and what it means to say. Following is a list of a few subjects, their subject-specific words and a more descriptive set of vocabulary for the subjects:


Subject Specific Words

Subject Speciifc Descriptive Vocabulary 


  • Journey
  • Explore 
  • Depart 
  • Arrive 
  • Navigate 
  • Scenic
  • Remote 
  • Breathtaking 
  • Treacherous
  • Bustling 


  • Eat
  • Cook
  • Devour
  • Savour
  • Relish 
  • Delicious
  • Mouthwatering
  • Decadent
  • Bland
  • Pungent 


  • Aroma
  • Fragrance 
  • Stench
  • Odour 
  • Whiff
  • Fragrant
  • Musky
  • Acrid
  • Sweet
  • Putrid 


  • Beautiful
  • Happy
  • Big
  • Small
  • Good 
  • Exquisite
  • Joyful
  • Enormous
  • Minuscule
  • Impeccable 


  • Person
  • Individual
  • Man
  • Woman
  • Child 
  • Gregarious
  • Stoic 
  • Compassionate
  • Enigmatic
  • Flamboyant 


  • Routine
  • Custom 
  • Practice
  • Addiction 
  • Quirk 
  • Habitual
  • Ingrained
  • Meticulous
  • Sporadic
  • Eccentric


  • House
  • City
  • Country
  • Mountain
  • Forest 
  • Majestic
  • Quaint
  • Serene
  • Tranquil
  • Sprawling 

These are just a few examples for students going to study abroad to understand how uniquely they can build their vocabulary for common subjects in question.

Figurative Vocabulary

Next in line is figurative vocabulary, remember studying the figures of speech in school? This is exactly the set of vocabulary words which are used in different contexts. There are around 20 figures of speech in English, but we have summarised six major ones which are used frequently. Check them out:


A metaphor is a figure of speech which makes an implicit, implied or hidden comparison between two things or objects that are poles apart from each other but have some characteristics common between them. In other words, a resemblance of two contradictory or different objects is made based on a single or some common characteristics.

Examples of Metaphor:

  • “Finishing this assignment was a nightmare.”
  • “Getting there was a piece of cake.”
  • “Dan was an angel!”
  • “That little girl is a fighter.”


Irony is a figure of speech in which words are used in such a way that their intended meaning is different from the actual meaning of the words. It may also be a situation that may end up in quite a different way than what is generally anticipated. In simple words, it is a difference between the appearance and the reality.

Examples of Irony:

  • “A fire station burns down”: fire stations are equipped to douse the fire and they could not save themselves from fire
  • “All the fishermen ate the fish”: fishermen catch fish and sell them, it's ironic that they ate them all
  • “The cops got looted on the way”: cops are trained to fight any situation and, ironically, they got looted. 


Personification is a figure of speech in which a thing, an idea or an animal is given human attributes. The non-human objects are portrayed in such a way that we feel they have the ability to act like human beings. 

Examples of Personification:

  • “The sky weeps” - the sky the ability to cry, which is a human quality. 
  • “Time heals all wounds” - time is a concept and wounds are related to living beings, thus personification.
  • “The trees sing a song only I can hear.” - trees cannot sing, thus personification.


A simile is a figure of speech that compares two things or persons which are not similar. A simile is usually in a phrase that begins with / has “as” or “like”

Examples of Simile:

  • As beautiful as a rose.
  • Cute like a puppy.
  • Your voice is like a nightingale’s.


Sarcasm is an ironic or satirical remark that seems to be praising someone or something but is taunting or cutting. Sarcasm can be used to hurt or offend or can be used for comic effect. Sarcasm sometimes depends on the tone of voice.

Examples of Sarcastic Quotes by Famous People

  • “Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.” - Oscar Wilde
  • “Sometimes I need what only you can provide: your absence.” - Ashleigh Brilliant
  • “I feel so miserable without you, it’s almost like having you here.” - Stephen Bishop
  • “I never forget a face, but in your case, I’ll be glad to make an exception.” - Groucho Marx


A hyperbole is a literary device wherein the author uses specific words and phrases that exaggerate and overemphasize the basic crux of the statement to produce a grander, more noticeable effect. The purpose of hyperbole is to create a larger-than-life effect and overly stress a specific point. Such sentences usually convey an action or the sentiment that is generally not practically/ realistically possible but helps emphasize an emotion.

Examples of Hyperbole:

  • He cried rivers of tears. 
  • Losing weight is child’s play.
  • Clearing the IAS exam is a cakewalk.
  • I will sell my kidney to buy an iPhone. 

These figures of speech say a lot about the contexts and subjects. The English words are brain-tickling and so innovative when used in different figures of speech. Thus, students who are going abroad can enhance their vocabulary by understanding these figures of speech. 

What is Vocabulary Building?

Vocabulary building in English can be quite daunting because there is so much to learn. There are antonyms, synonyms, collective nouns, adjectives, idioms, proverbs, homophones, homonyms, etc. there are different ways to build vocabulary in English, and this is important for students going to study abroad. 

How to Build Vocabulary in English?

So how to build vocabulary of English words? The following ways can be adopted for building vocabulary:

  • Read more in English - books, newspapers or online news apps.
  • Make a target and aim to learn atleast 5 new English words with their meaning everyday.
  • Interact with English speakers in class, college, colony friends and build your communication plus vocab.
  • English vocab can also be easily built by downloading dictionaries and play word games on them.
  • Signing up for online classes to increase your vocabulary can also be intriguing.
  • At the end, you can also play puzzles, crosswords or English improvement-related games online too.

By following these tips, students who are going to study abroad can build their vocabulary in English words. Also read about - How to Improve English Communication Skills?

English Vocabulary Building with Examples

Remember learning different types of English words in school? Its back to basics here too to build vocabulary. Here’s a list of some of these words to aid international students in building their vocabulary so that they can improve their communication skills. 

List of 20 Common Antonyms 

Antonyms or also known as opposites. Check out the list of 20 commonly used antonyms in English language: 











































List of 15 Common Synonyms

Words that mean the same or synonyms. Check out some synonyms in the table below of the given words:




Pretty, gorgeous, stunning, exquisite, breathtaking


Joyful, glad, delighted, elated, content


Unhappy, sorrowful, depressed, gloomy, downcast


Large, enormous, gigantic, immense, colossal


Tiny, little, miniature, petite, diminutive


Courageous, valiant, daring, fearless, intrepid


Afraid, frightened, terrified, horrified, petrified


Perplexed, bewildered, disoriented, foggy, muddled


Chatty, loquacious, garrulous, verbose, wordy


Silent, reserved, taciturn, unassuming, reticent


Burning, scorching, scalding, sultry, tropical


Freezing, frigid, chilly, icy, arctic


Rapid, swift, speedy, quick, agile


Sluggish, lethargic, lagging, deliberate, glacial


Challenging, hard, complex, intricate, arduous

Collective Nouns 

Unable to gather information for what to use - school of fish or shoal of fish? Check out the commonly used collective nouns and how they are used differently for different nouns: 

English Words

Collective Nouns


Lexicon or Vocabulary


  • Crowd (Large, Unorganized)
  • Audience (Watching a Performance)
  • Congregation (Religious Gathering)
  • Team (Working Together)

Animals (Land)

  • Herd: Mammals
  • Pack: Wolves, Dogs
  • Flock: Birds
  • Colony: Ants, Bees

Animals (Water)

  • School: Fish
  • Pod: Whales, Dolphins
  • Shoal: Small Fish


Forest (Large Area), Grove (Smaller Group), Wood (Densely Packed)


Constellation or Galaxy


Archipelago or Chain




Set, Outfit or Wardrobe


Stack, Bundle or File

Rooms / Furniture



Set or Collection


Sequence or World




  • Repertoire: Collection of Pieces
  • Orchestra / Band: Musical Group




Words that collectively give a meaning are called idioms. If you see the words one by one the meaning won’t settle in, but when you see the phrase you will decode a meaning, let’s check out some of the idiomatic phrases below with meanings and sentence use:



Example Sentence

Under the weather

Not feeling well

I can't go to the office today, I'm feeling a bit under the weather.

The ball is in your court

It's your turn to make a decision

You have all the information, now the ball is in your court.

Spill the beans

To reveal a secret

I accidentally spilt the beans about the surprise party to him.

A piece of cake

Something very easy

Fixing that flat tyre was a piece of cake for her!

Once in a blue moon

Very rarely

They only visit Italy once in a blue moon.

When pigs fly

Something that will never happen

We'll finish my assignment when the pigs fly!

Cost an arm and a leg

Very expensive

That new house has cost an arm and a leg!

See eye to eye

Agree with someone

My manager and I don't always see eye to eye with each other.

Bite the bullet

Do something unpleasant that needs to be done

It's time to bite the bullet and see a doctor to seek a cure for my back pain.

Break a leg

Good luck (often used before a performance)

Break a leg on your interview today!


Stuck between what to choose - herd and heard? Here’s a list of words spelt differently, and mean differently but with the same pronunciations:



Right (Adj)

Write (V)

Bat (N)

Bat (N)

Fair (Adj)

Fair (Adj/N)

Pair (N)

Pear (N)

Mean (V)

Mean (Adj)

Light (N)

Light (Adj)

Left (Adj)

Left (V)

Present (N)

Present (V)

Seal (N)

Seal (V)

Fine (Adj)

Fine (N)

Club (N)

Club (V)

Dress (N)

Dress (V)

Piece (N)

Peace (N)

Wise (Adj)

Wise (V)

Live (Adj)

Live (V)

Current (N)

Current (Adj)

Bark (N)

Bark (V)

Band (N)

Band (N)

Meet (V)

Meat (N)

Fairway (N)

Fairway (Adj)

  • (Adj): Adjective
  • (N): Noun
  • (V): Verb

The list is endless if you wish to dive into the world of English words vocabulary or vocabulary building on the whole. Vocabulary building is essential for conversations, writing and systematically articulating one’s thoughts. So, if you wish to hone your communication skills and take them a notch higher, build on your lexicon.

About the Author
Written by
Aishwarya Bhatnagar
Study Abroad Expert

Aishwarya is a professional Writer currently working as a Study Abroad Expert in the Editorial Team at Shiksha. She has over 5 years of experience and is skilled at creating Online Content with leveraged knowledge i... Read Full Bio

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