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BOOST YOUR VOCABULARY

 

 

 

 

 

 

This article reviews seven easy ways to improve your vocabulary and learn new words.

 

1. Read, read, and read. The more you read -- especially novels and literary works, but also magazines and newspapers -- the more words you'll be exposed to. As you read and uncover new words, use a combination of attempting to derive meaning from the context of the sentence as well as from looking up the definition in a dictionary.

 

2. Keep a dictionary and thesaurus handy. Use whatever versions you prefer -- in print, software, or online. When you uncover a new word, look it up in the dictionary to get both its pronunciation and its meaning(s). Next, go to the thesaurus and find similar words and phrases -- and their opposites (synonyms and antonyms, respectively) -- and learn the nuances among the words.

 

3. Use a journal. It's a good idea to keep a running list of the new words you discover so that you can refer back to the list and slowly build them into your everyday vocabulary. Plus, keeping a journal of all your new words can provide positive reinforcement for learning even more words -- especially when you can see how many new words you've already learned.

 

4. Learn a word a day. Using a word-a-day calendar or Website -- or developing your own list of words to learn -- is a great technique many people use to learn new words. This approach may be too rigid for some, so even if you do use this method, don't feel you must learn a new word every day. (Find some word-a-day Websites at the end of this article.)

 

5. Go back to your roots. One of the most powerful tools for learning new words -- and for deciphering the meaning of other new words -- is studying Latin and Greek roots. Latin and Greek elements (prefixes, roots, and suffixes) are a significant part of the English language and a great tool for learning new words. (Follow these links for the sections of this site that provide English Vocabulary Derived from Latin and English Vocabulary Derived from Greek.)

 

6. Play some games. Word games that challenge you and help you discover new meanings and new words are a great and fun tool in your quest for expanding your vocabulary. Examples include crossword puzzles, anagrams, word jumble, Scrabble, and Boggle. (Find some word-game Websites at the end of this article.)

 

7. Engage in conversations. Simply talking with other people can help you learn discover new words. As with reading, once you hear a new word, remember to jot it down so that you can study it later -- and then slowly add the new word to your vocabulary.

 

 

The most common question that people ask our team at Memrise is: can you help me learn a foreign language? A vocabulary rich in French or Chinese words is indispensable for speaking those languages fluently, and the quickest route to competence.

 

But we can be guilty of neglecting our own language. A large native vocabulary is a gift that doesn’t stop giving. It improves our powers of expression and comprehension, and opens the imagination.

 

Words define the shape and scope of our understanding. Learn a word such as “aglet”, the little plastic end to a shoelace, and you’ll be better able to recognise and enjoy something familiar and unremarkable. Learn the word “tarantism”, a disorder characterised by the uncontrollable urge to dance, and you’ll gain the ability to recognise and describe a trait in yourself or a friend. And, of course, words such as these are simply fun to know.

 

Learning vocab can, however, be tricky. If we don’t know the best way to retain new words, we can forget what we’ve learned.

 

I like to think of the mind as a garden. Each new word begins life as a seed. It needs to take root, and will die without attention early on. In this way, expanding your vocabulary is a long-term activity that depends on good habits and sensible practice.

 

Here are my tips on how to enlarge your vocabulary.

 

Little and often

 

The first rule of learning is do it in small chunks. Brief bursts are better than one long blast. During a break of only an hour, the brain assimilates new connections, then is ready for more.

 

Three words a day is a good number to aim for in a busy life. It’s best to collect words from your reading, and add them to a wordbook or a list on an app such as Memrise.

 

Make connections

 

Memories are connections. So when you’re learning a new word, you want to make sure it’s connected to those you already know. What does the word “tarantism” remind you of? Tarantula? Tarantino? Your friend Tara? The link doesn’t matter, it’s only important that there is one.

 

Take two other words you might not have heard before: nivial and callipygian. Before you know their meaning, ask yourself: what do these words make me think of? What do they resemble?

 

With a long word like callipygian, you might want to break it into parts.

 

Visual association

 

The next step is to connect the sound to the meaning. This is best done with a vivid visual image. A strong image sticks in the mind for a long time. For example: to link “tarantism” to its meaning, imagine Quentin Tarantino dancing manically: this vivid image should lastingly connect the concept of manic dancing with the word.

 

Nivial might have reminded you of the brand Nivea. It means “growing among snow”. So to remember it, you could imagine a bottle of hand cream protruding from some snow.

 

Callipygian means having well-shaped buttocks, but sounds like “call a pigeon”. Imagining seeing a pert bird in Trafalgar Square.

 

Active usage and recall

 

The more a memory is used, the more it will endure. So my fourth tip is to engage in active repetition and usage. This is where you get to play with your new words.

 

Next time you go dancing, for example, think of Quentin Tarantino there with you, going wild on the dance floor, and you’ll remember “tarantism”.

 

It’s absolutely fine, indeed recommended, to over-use the word, to abuse your new knowledge. What do you think of polar bears? “They’re nivial.” Of George Clooney? “Callipygian.” You look restless today? “Don’t worry, that’s just the tarantism coming on.” You see someone tying their shoelaces: “nice aglets”.

 

Words to learn

 

Try adding these to your vocabulary – how will you make them memorable?

twyndyllyngs (TWIN-dilingz): twins (obsolete, from the Welsh)

apricity (ah-PRI-ci-tee): the warmth of the sun in the cold winter

snollygoster (SNOL·ly·gos·ter): someone guided by personal advantage, esp politicians

princox (PRIN-koks): a self-confident young fellow (used in Romeo and Juliet)

novercal (NO–ver–cal): of, relating to, or characteristic of a stepmother

yclept (IH–klept): by the name of, as in “a man yclept Ed”

hodiernal (ho–di-ER–nal): relating to the present day (from the Latin)

snicket (SNICK–it): a narrow passage between houses, an alley

tresaiel (TRE–sayle) a great-great-grandfather (legal term)

syzygy (SIZ-uh–jee): the straight alignment of three celestial bodies