Some simple and effective techniques to help you build your vocabulary. Use these tips to quickly enhance your word power.
There are more than 600,000 words in the English dictionary. But, as Mark Twain once said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” The benefits from a well rounded vocabulary will show up in your career accomplishments, academic success and personal relationships. A long term study of college graduates found that those who scored best on a vocabulary test given in college inevitably earned the most, whilst those scoring the lowest were in the bottom income group.
If you want to extend your word power and impress those who know you, a few simple techniques will help.
- Keep a pocket dictionary to hand in your daily routine (available in your purse, pocket or car) so that you can look up new or unfamiliar words. Make a note of any which interest you, for later use.
- As well as a dictionary have a thesaurus. When you write any kind of text, look at a word you use a lot and find at least one synonym you wouldn’t normally use. However, beware that the meaning of a word offered as a synonym can be subtly different, or that the word may also have other meanings. The best way to use a thesaurus in pursuit of new words is to combine it with a dictionary.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for an explanation if someone uses an unfamiliar word. Obviously there will be some circumstances in which this isn’t appropriate, but mostly people will be quite happy to pass on the meaning. And this will be your first opportunity to use the new word in conversation.
- Whenever you find a new word you want to make part of your vocabulary, make a point of using your new word three times on the day you learnt it. For the next two weeks try and use it most days and preferably every day. Use it when you write and when you speak. After two weeks, try to use it at least once every few days.
- Use your imagination to construct mental scenarios which involve one or more of your chosen new words; perhaps because you need to speak the words as part of the scenario, or to describe something or someone within it.
- Do crossword puzzles. Many Internet sites offer free daily crosswords. Play other word games such as Scrabble or Boggle.
- Trying to memorise lists of words from a dictionary, aka rote memorisation, is a very ineffective and unenjoyable learning technique. You will soon get bored with trying to do this. On the other hand using a simple rhyming mnemonic device can help you remember even the most obscure facts.
- Pick words to learn that are going to be at least somewhat relevant to your everyday life. Any word with a limited and specific use, for example describing an obscure animal species, is probably not worth trying to learn. Unless of course you hope to be in a situation where knowing that word will pay dividends.
- The best way to increase your vocabulary is to read. A lot. You probably won’t take in a word the first time you read or hear it, it has been claimed that an average person has to be exposed to a new word at least eight times to properly remember it. Whenever you are reading with the goal of an expanded vocabulary in mind, make sure you choose a varied diet of reading sources (whether magazines, newspapers, other forms of print, or articles on the Internet). From time to time pick something to read which you wouldn’t normally look at. If you are willing to mark your books or magazines, circling or underlining a word will help fix it in your mind.
- Consider investing in a good quality computerised vocabulary building tool. You may not need to if other techniques are delivering results you’re happy with. But some people will find this a good way to incorporate vocabulary building into the time they have to spend sitting in front of a computer screen anyway.
Above all mix and match any of the techniques above in a way which is enjoyable to you. The more you relish the search for fresh ways to express yourself, the better your chances of success.