Boost your word bank

June 22, 2019

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Illustration by Ahmed Amin
Illustration by Ahmed Amin

Raheel’s English teacher asked his class to write an essay on “A visit to a park”. He was delighted at the easy topic and more so because he had gone to a park only last weekend. He described the park and its beauty in detail and was confident that he would get an ‘A’.

But when the teacher handed out the assignments, he was disappointed to get a ‘C’. Noting Raheel’s and some other children’s crestfallen looks, she explained to the class why some students scored better than others.

The teacher gave Raheel’s example, who had written a first-hand description of the park, but had used the word beautiful for everything he saw over there. She gave a list of words that could have been used for describing the flowers, trees, plants, lights, benches and the weather. She shared a number of adjectives — ‘stunning’, ‘striking’, ‘breath-taking’, ‘enchanting’, ‘amazing’ and ‘delightful to sight’, etc. — that could have been used instead of repeating ‘beautiful’.

and ‘delightful to sight’, etc. — that could have been used instead of repeating ‘beautiful’.

Friends, you must have noted that the writing comes very easily to some of you. There are children who can easily describe an incident or write an essay or a story without wasting another minute. Words flow easily to them and they have a big variety to choose from. The second group is of students who are found struggling for expressions when asked to write an essay or describe something. Often times, their writings do not catch the interest of the reader because they are at a loss for synonyms and repeat the same words again and again, which becomes irritating and boring.

The same situation applies when different children are part of a discussion. Some of you are fluent and can speak comfortably in class, during debates or when you are just hanging around with friends. Others find it hard to express their thoughts in the right way and do not feel confident enough to voice their views or feelings.

Have you ever wondered about the reason for this difference in the writing/speaking skills among your peers? The foremost explanation is that the children who have a better word bank and command over their vocabulary are always among those who can express themselves easily, both in writing and speaking. I am sure all of you would like to be amongst the first group.

All of us do not possess the same IQ level; for some children learning new words is easy; when they look up the meaning of an unfamiliar word, using it later on is effortless for them. Others find it difficult to remember new words and their meanings, and are confused about how to use them in their speech or writings.

Enhancing your word bank is not as difficult as some of you may think. You can build and keep on expanding your vocabulary by following some simple steps. Today, I would like to give you some easy tips to improve your writing and speaking skills, so that you can be more fluent vocally and when you pen down your thoughts. This would boost your confidence level and improve your grades in school.

Read a lot

The main issue with the young generation is that they do not want to read. Reading for them is a chore, rather than an interesting hobby. The advantages of reading are so many that I would have to write a separate article on it.

I only want you to know that, if you want to learn new words, reading daily is an absolute must. You do not have to read for hours. Set aside 15 to 30 minutes daily to go through the newspaper, a magazine or a storybook you find interesting.

Keep a pencil handy and keep on underlining the words new to you.

Illustration by Ahmed Amin
Illustration by Ahmed Amin

Maintain a vocabulary book

The next step in your vocabulary building exercise is to pen down in a notebook all the new words you had marked. Looking up meanings while you are reading can be time-consuming and can also spoil your interest. So when you have put down whatever you were reading, write down the words, and look up their meanings in your dictionary.

After noting down all the meanings, take out some time to re-read the passage. You will be surprised at the difference of comprehension and interest level you will feel. Keep going through your vocabulary book whenever you have free time. This will help you to remember the new words you had come across.

Never hesitate to use new words

Be sure to use the words you had noted and looked up earlier, as soon as possible. When you use them while speaking or doing a school assignment, you will feel more confident about your language skills. Slowly and surely, you will learn a number of synonyms for the words you want to use, enabling you to avoid repetition.

Set a target

When you start on your vocabulary enhancement project, give yourself a daily target. The slow learners amongst you may learn one to two words every day. In the beginning, you may struggle remembering them, but as you keep on working diligently on your vocabulary book, your interest will increase.

You may then increase your target to five to ten words daily. There is no limit for the quick learners, as they learn the meanings of new words with ease.

Seek help where needed

Some children are shy to ask the meaning of the word a teacher, parent or peer had used. Do not feel ashamed or be afraid to appear ignorant if you find a new word incomprehensible or confusing. Remember that every language has unlimited words and it is humanly impossible for anyone to know them all.

Make it a habit to inquire confidently, but politely, “What does that word mean?”

You will usually find people more than ready to help and explain the meaning.

If you hear a new word from a stranger, in a park or a supermarket, or in any situation where you cannot ask right away, make a mental note, or scribble the word in your pocketbook. Look up the meaning as soon as possible, so that you do not forget it.

Make a habit of carrying a pocket dictionary and thesaurus with you. You can also use online apps and websites if you are allowed to and have a smartphone or gadget with you.

Often we are on a long drive, stuck in a traffic jam or have to wait for our turn at the doctor/dentist’s. Instead of fidgeting and wondering how to pass the time, you can utilise these minutes to boost your vocabulary.

Study a few words which you find new and interesting, and with the help of the thesaurus, find out how you can use them in different sentences.

Play board games and solve crossword puzzles

Board games like Scrabble and Upwords are not only a good mental exercise, but they help you in learning new words. You also come across root words and discover how you can use them to make different terms.

In the same way, crossword puzzles boost your thinking skills as you experiment to use various words to solve the puzzle. These games are not only productive means to utilise your leisure time, their additional advantage is the improvement in your mental sharpness and word bank.

Build your confidence level

Children who do not have a good command on their vocabulary usually feel shy to take part in a discussion. They lack the courage to participate in debates or essay competitions. Always remember that you can improve only when you are confident enough to involve yourself in all language building activities. You may not perform well in the beginning, but do not be disheartened. If you keep on trying hard and working on your word bank, you will find yourself among the top performers.

I want all my friends to remember that we all should be learners from cradle to grave! I am nearly 70, but I find myself learning something new every day. Never feel bad about yourself if you feel you know less than your peers. We cannot excel at the same things as each of us has different capabilities. Most of the time, working hard is the key to all problems. If you want to be successful, keep on learning, not only in school but in every walk of life.

Published in Dawn, Young World, June 22nd, 2019