In my previous post I mentioned how improving your vocabulary can improve your life. There are a number of ways to improve your vocabulary which I will be discussing now. By using and applying these methods listed below you are sure to be on your way to building a strong vocabulary.
1. Read Read Read
It’s irrefutable that reading is one of the best ways to improve your vocabulary. Reading is one of my favourite things to do in my spare time and it has had a huge impact on helping me build my vocabulary. You see, when you read you get to see words being used in context. You can even guess the meaning of a particular word by seeing how it is used in the context. Reading should be a pleasurable activity; so don’t be afraid of coming across unknown words, but make sure the text is appropriate for your reading level.
2. Make the Dictionary Your best Friend
A dictionary is the first resource to improve your vocabulary. It’s only by looking up a word in a dictionary that you will learn its precise meaning, spelling, alternate definitions, and find much more useful information about it. Whenever I read and come across a word that I don’t understand, I immediately stop and look it up in the dictionary. After I’m clear of its meaning I write it down and include it in my vocabulary list of words to learn. A thesaurus is also a valuable resource for learning. It helps by finding connections between words, such as their synonyms and antonyms.
3. Practice Using the New Words
Once you learn a new word don’t stop there, it’s by using the new words that you truly commit them to your long-term memory.
Be creative and try to use your newly learned words in as many ways as possible:
- Write them down
- Say them aloud
- Create sentences with them, mentally or in writing
- Try to use them in a conversation
Also, it’s important to be aware of your own language style and how you talk: every time you catch yourself saying common or nonspecific words such as “nice”, try coming up with richer and more precise expressions instead.
4. Learn One New Word a Day
By striving to learn at least one new word a day you will be surprised at how quickly they’ll add up. This strategy can be done by anybody no matter who you are. Commit to learning one new word a day and the quality of your vocabulary will be phenomenal. You can find some helpful online resources here, here, here, and here.
5. Personal Relevance
Fact. Our memories are wired to block out information that isn’t considered personally relevant. We can use this to our advantage by making new words personally relevant and dramatically improving our retention. Making a word personally relevant dramatically enriches our learning. These same studies also show that our memory dramatically improves when information is made personally relevant.
When you learn a new word, think of common examples in your own life where the word would apply. For example, if you learn the word “belligerent”, which means “aggressive and war-like”, you could think of your belligerent neighbor who makes aggressive remarks over the fence. Next time you are complaining about him to your friends, tell them that you are “fed up with your belligerent neighbor”.
Another way to make a word personally relevant is to define it in your own words. When you look up a word, first read the definition presented in the dictionary. After you have closed the dictionary, try making up your own definition. For example, you could think of that belligerent neighbor and define ‘belligerent’ in your own words as perhaps, “my neighbor who always seems to be eager for a war of words”.
6. Use Imagery
The creation of visual images to represent words is an effective vocabulary building strategy. Of course, some words are easier to visualize than others. Generally, this technique works best with words that correspond to “concrete” objects. It does not work very well with words that denote abstract concepts.
An example of a concrete object is a computer. It is easy to visualize a computer while saying the word “computer” in your head. This will enhance your memory and understanding of the word and lower the chances of forgetting it.
An example of an abstract concept is “truth”. This is much harder to visualize and for that reason I don’t recommend using imagery to learn this kind of word.
7. Have Fun & Play With Words
A great fun way to improve your vocabulary is to play word games. Word games give you a chance to boost your vocabulary and have fun while you do it.
Traditional word games can be great fun. These include scrabble, boggle, and crosswords. There are also many web sites that have word games. Often these sites can hook you up with an opponent, so you don’t even need to find people to play with.
Some of my favorite word games are:
Question: What practical ways do you use to improve your vocabulary?