Tips for Learning New Vocabulary Words

10 Tips for Improving Your Vocabulary


William Shakespeare once wrote "Brevity is the soul of wit," (Hamlet, Act 2, Scene II). A very true statement indeed and it brings us to one of the many advantages in improving your vocabulary. If you do so, you'll have greater options in both speech and writing and be able to in many cases, say what you want in a few words rather than a few too many. Improve your vocabulary and begin to have fun with language and see your own wit rise!

Tip 1, Reading: Improving your vocabulary begins with being exposed to new words. Reading books, newspapers, magazines, plays, blogs, etc., will provide you with new words daily, whether they're in relation to current affairs, sports, entertainment, or city government. Each new word learned helps to improve the size of your vocabulary reservoir.

Tip 2, Engage in Conversation: Similar to reading, conversation can expose us to new words. And also like reading, it provides ready-made context that can help us learn the meaning of words. For instance if the person you're speaking with says, "His essay was unfortunate, full of malaprops." Then adds, "I mean, he started out by saying there was a 'statue' of limitations. From that point on, it all fell apart." Of course, since the proper term is "statute of limitations," you could gather that a "malaprop" is the misuse of a word.

Tip 3, Look Up Words: If you happen to hear a word that you're unable to get a handle of, write it down and save it. When you look it up later in a dictionary or thesaurus, you'll already have the context to associate the new word with. Plus, the additional effort put into learning it will also help in retaining its meaning.

Tip 4, Read Definitions Completely: While just reading a definition is rarely enough to truly learn a word, it's important that when you do look a word up, that you read the definition completely. Don't give it a cursory once-over, but allow your brain to absorb the word's meaning entirely. To be remembered, a word needs context and reading a full definition, which covers word origin, part of speech, various meanings, and proper use, is a good first step.

Tip 5, Create Your Own Dictionary: This applies to your thesaurus as well. When you research a word, make some kind of mark: in the margins, using a tab, a slip of paper. By doing so, you'll be able to 1) return to the word more easily and 2) have a convenient reference for future use. It takes one minute to jot down context, but it can mean the difference in retaining a word for good. If you're using a computer dictionary, simply create a document with all the words you've looked up. Index them and create your own online resource.

Tip 6, Word of the Day: Calendars or websites that feature a different word each day are terrific ways to build up your vocabulary. By the end of one year, you'll have expanded your vocabulary by 365 words (at least) and chances are, they've stayed with you. Usually accompanied by a cartoon, a sample sentence, or both, the new words are given context right from the start. Also, if you're learning only one word a day, it might be easier to work it into casual conversation: "I agree. The 'dissonance' between the two as the debate went on didn't ease up. I don't see how they can be running-mates."

Tip 7, Use Your New Words: Indeed, do. This is of course easier said than done in some cases, as you don't want to come across as pretentious. However, it's important that you find some way to put your new words into use soon after you've learned them. Retention will come easier if you're able to create more associations for your brain.

Tip 8, Word Parts and Families: When watching the National Spelling Bee, it seems that each young contestant asks for a word's origin. The reason why is because the English language is based on Greek, Latin, and Anglo-Saxon. By becoming familiar with even some of the roots and affixes of these word families, you'll be able to create links between words you know and those that are new or unfamiliar. Indeed, they may share a word part in common. For example, "anthropos" is Greek for mankind, which is where we get words like anthropology, philanthropy, and misanthropy.

Tip 9, Focus On a Subject: If you're interested in a subject, it will likely be easier for you to remember the new words that are part of its lexicon. For example, a person with a love of Shakespeare will be more familiar with the language and as a result, be able to better keep "thy," "thee," and "thou" straight versus someone who is unfamiliar. To focus on a subject is a simple and enjoyable way to expand your vocabulary and you're sure to pick up some additional words along the way, too.

Tip 10, Practice: Surely you've heard of the brain being a muscle and like any muscle, it needs exercise. Word puzzles, crosswords, anagrams, rhymes, etc., all of these help create word associations and through this, fun practice for you. It's quite frustrating to know you "know" a word, only to not be able to recall it when you need it, to place it and use it properly. The final challenge of improving your vocabulary is being able to effectively (and eloquently) use your new words, whether they be one-, five-, or ten-dollar terms.