Ways to widen your vocabulary

November 12, 2016


Illustration by Ahmed Amin
Illustration by Ahmed Amin

Having a large stock of words makes you a better speaker and writer, helping you through your student life and giving you the edge in any profession that you choose.

Knowing and understanding a large number of words will make you better understand what you hear or read, and also convey what you know in a more effective manner. So whatever stage of life you are in and whatever you want to become, putting some time and effort into building a large vocabulary is a good investment that will give you instant rewards.

Learning a new word and trying to use it is something that we all do. But it is not enough to leave the learning of new words to whenever we casually come across it. We need to actively work towards improving this important language skill by different means. Though there are many ways, which one is the best is debatable because what works for one person may not work for another one.

to actively work towards improving this important language skill by different means. Though there are many ways, which one is the best is debatable because what works for one person may not work for another one.

So go through the tips for building a better vocabulary that we are sharing here to become a better reader, writer and speaker.

Read, read and keep reading

The more you read, the more words you will come across, both familiar and unfamiliar ones. Don’t ignore the unfamiliar ones and move on. Pause and read the sentence again. You will probably get the meaning of the word now by analysing the whole context of the sentence.

But often you don’t know the meaning of the words that you read in course books,­­­ story books, magazines, newspapers, online posts and even on billboards and graffiti. You may either read it and not bother knowing what that word means or you may act smartly and make the effort of finding out the meaning by asking an adult or looking it up in the dictionary.

The more you read, the more words you will come across, but you will only learn new words when you make the effort to find their meaning and usage. Reading will also have the added benefit of being a source of information, knowledge and introduction to different styles of writings.

Use the dictionary

If you are aiming to improve your knowledge and use of words, you should make the dictionary your best friend. And like all friendships, this one too takes effort and time to grow and deepen. It will only take a few minutes but open a dictionary, or turn to everyone’s best friend Google, and you will be introduced to the new word.

It is important to go through the different meanings/usage of the word you have looked up to understand how it can be used and if you go the extra mile by checking the word in a thesaurus, you will come across similar words and phrases which will make the meaning of the word clearer to you.

After having taken the whole trouble of checking the meaning, you are more likely to remember the word and use it correctly than if you just make a guess or ask someone.

Make a word book

Now that you have been such a good kid and taken so much trouble to find the meaning of a word and its usage, don’t let it go to waste by just relying on your brain to remember it. Note it down for future reference.

Better still, make a ‘word book’, using a diary or notebook, and note down the word, its meaning and, if you are a really good kid dedicated to improving yourself, note down a few sentences as examples of its usage.

This will serve you as your ‘word bank’ where you can turn to whenever you are short of words and using the words you have noted down in your verbal and written communication will make you richer in terms of language skills.

Learn a word a day

Don’t rely on chance encounter with new words to enrich your vocabulary. Make the commitment to learn a new word each day.

There are many websites that have a ‘Word of the day’ section that is very helpful and then there is also the dictionary, which contains a treasure of words waiting to become a part of your collection.

You can either choose a word randomly from the dictionary or in alphabetical order. Read the new word, record it and use it.

Play with words

Yes, learn by playing games, word games. There are many word games that challenge you and lead you to discover new words and their meaning. These games also help to reinforce your existing vocabulary in many fun ways that doesn’t seem like learning at all.

Crossword puzzles, anagrams, word jumble, Scrabble, Boggle and many others, are all games that test our knowledge of words in different ways and can be played by people of all ages and language proficiencies.

Learn word roots

To be better skilled at English, learn the roots of the words, and the origin or roots of words are often from another language, most likely Latin and Greek, although there are many commonly used words that have roots in Asian languages.

Prefixes, suffixes and roots are a significant part of the English language and a great tool for learning new words. If you know that the prefix ‘mono’ is from the Greek word ‘mónos’, meaning ‘alone’, so every word that starts with ‘mono’ will indicate something that is one or single in quantity.

Use the new words

There are basically two ways to learn words — read and use. Add the new word to your vocabulary by using it in your speech and writings. There is no sense in just adding new words to your word book if you are not going to add it in your communication.

You may initially find this systematic way of building your vocabulary too much of a chore. But then to achieve something, you have to make an effort. Once your vocabulary is enriched with words that better convey what you mean and also make you better understand what you read or hear, you will start to feel empowered and encouraged.

Websites to learn new words

Here are some great websites, beside a thousand other ones, that you can visit and check out to see which one you feel more comfortable with and start expanding your vocabulary today!

Wordnik — https://www.wordnik.com/word-of-the-day

This site claims to be the “world’s biggest online English dictionary”, by number of words.

It offers definitions from multiple sources, multiple example sentences, audio pronunciations and the links to the sources of the examples.

Another interesting feature of the site it its blog, at http://blog.wordnik.com/, which has weekly posts about the most interesting words and phrases of the week chosen from popular news stories.

Interestingly, the blog post of November 2, had “chaiwala” as the first word that was explained, and it was chosen because it was the top trending item on Twitter Pakistan recently. So the words may not be limited to English, though the source for the selection is.

Vocabsushi - http://www.vocabsushi.com/

Offering “bite-size learning method”, you have to sign in to use this site for free, and there is a 20-question quiz right on the front page to let you know where you stand.

Vocabsushi uses sentences from contemporary news sources to show how a word is used in the real world. The very user- and student-friendly site also offers tools like MP3 clips (for pronunciations), word games, offline quizzes in PDF, etc.

I found this the most interesting site during my research on this topic and it also has a section for teachers that offers many tools and sections to aid them in teaching.

Merriam-Webster -http://www.merriam-webster.com/word-of-the-day

Those who haven’t been on Merriam-Webster’s website shouldn’t be reading this. It means you have never searched for the meaning or spelling of a word on internet and are not likely to do it in future. Considering that it is a leading and most-trusted provider of language information, it should have been your go-to place for looking up a word.

Anyway, do visit this totally comprehensive website to explore and learn the English language, but just remember that it is an American website to the spelling are in American English, though in the spellings section the British spellings are of course given.

BBC’s Learning Englishhttp://www.bbc.co.uk/learningenglish

There are many sections and tools on this site to help both learners and experts of the English language. You can spend hours and hours on it and the best part is that it will not seem like ‘studying English’ at all.

It claims that as part of the BBC World Service, “BBC Learning English has been teaching English to global audiences since 1943, offering free audio, video and text materials to learners around the world”.

There are courses that you can opt for, many downloads and newsletters you can select to keep learning even when offline. There is just too much on this website, and all very interesting, so we can’t go through it here and you’ll have to check for yourself.— KAQ

Published in Dawn, Young World, November 12th, 2016