You have faithfully consulted your dictionary. You wrote a list, made some flashcards, practiced them on the bus. You now are ready to use that amazing word you found in your dictionary search. The moment comes, and you drop the word like a proud champion. One of three things happens:
Your listener stops and looks at you funny
What happened? Just like English there are many words that we have, that can be used in situations, but your average speaker will not use them. If you are going to use a dictionary try and look for one that indicates whether a word is a common word or not. If yours doesn’t indicate this, you have know way of knowing if the word you use is one of those rare literary words. Another resource you could use is Google. Google it and see what sites use the words, and under which contexts.
Another thing that could happen when you use the word is:
Your listener begins to laugh
Often words may mean what you intend to say, but only very figuratively. Much like English sometimes words aren’t used simply because they sound funny, or are innuendos that sound funny to native speakers. Once again consult Google to see how the word is used and under what context.
The last thing that could happen:
Your listener understands you and the conversation continues
You were lucky enough to find a word and use it in the right context. What you should be doing in this situation is jotting a note somewhere about the word you used, under which context, and that it worked out fine. Keep using the word and see if you have continued success with it.
The tool you can use to make notes about the words you know or don’t know is really simple: A small coil notepad. Having one of these around will leave you well-equipped to make notes on things you observe about the language you are learning, when you are learning them. You will be learning so many things, that you may not be able to recall all the juicy points later. Having you quick notes to refer to will save you a world of hassle. My last tip, make this note brief enough so that you can continue your conversation, but detailed enough so that you know what it means later.