How to Improve Your Vocabulary Steadily
Sylvia Grappone says, “An article on how to improve vocabulary would be helpful. I’m in my late 30s and noticed that I can no longer remember things as easily as I did when I was a teen, and with a hubby and kids have no time to really focus on studying. I do read in my leisure time but at the moment only technical books. Would reading novels help my vocabulary? Any shortcuts or techniques?”
Sylvia, the more you read, the more words you’ll see, and the more you’ll understand. Even in the Oxford English Dictionary, the final authority for the meaning of a word is how the word has actually been used in print.
But since your family limits your time, let me suggest some ways to improve your vocabulary that are more efficient than reading every book in the library.
- Make it a priority to learn new words. If you want to improve your vocabulary more quickly, you have to make at least a small commitment. Decide to learn one new word every day or two. Visit Daily Writing Tips for our Word of the Day. Or subscribe to a Word of the Day email list, install a Word of the Day tool on your computer desktop, or buy a Word of the Day calendar.
- Make your vocabulary practical. Start by learning the words that can express what’s most important to you. For example, learn more of your trade language – the words that are commonly used in your business or hobby or vocation. Go beyond the jargon and cliches. Find better, fresher, clearer words to express what your peers are talking about.
- Find the right word for you and use it. When you’re writing something, use a thesaurus frequently. That will help you express yourself better. And every time you do that, you’ll learn a new word and you’ll use that new word.
- Start learning where you are. As you read, if you come across an interesting word that you don’t understand, don’t just bleep over it. See item number 1. Take the time to look it up in a dictionary. Write it down and use it later.
- Learn roots. Most English words are built from common roots, prefixes and suffixes, often with Greek or Latin origins. They’re highly reusable. When you learn one root, you’ll start to understand the many other words that use that root.
- When you learn a word, use it immediately and frequently. Make it a game. Slip your new word into conversation with as many different people as you can. Repeat it to yourself. Use it in sentences. Write it on a flashcard and practice it while waiting for red lights.
The key to a better vocabulary is regular practice and progress. Maybe you can’t learn a hundred new words a day, but you can learn one or two a day, totaling thousands of new words over the years.