13 EASY WAYS TO INCREASE YOUR VOCABULARY
13 EASY WAYS TO INCREASE YOUR VOCABULARY
from Sharon Green, Reading Coordinator, Learning Center, Niagara University
1. Spend at least 15 minutes every day reading either a daily newspaper or a weekly newsmagazine.
As you read, circle words that are unfamiliar to you. After you finish reading the article, return to the circled words to see if you can define them, using context clues. Then look them up in a dictionary, comparing your approximate definition with the actual definition. Then add each word, its definition, and its sentence in a vocabulary notebook or on a 4 x 6 index card (see # 8 below). Here are some suggested magazines and newspapers: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Time, The Toronto Globe & Mail, Newsweek, MacLean’s
2. Look at vocabulary websites, especially those with a "Word of the Day."
There are some great websites that can help you increase your vocabulary. Many have games, and look for a "Word of the Day" feature. Here are some useful sites:
www.readersdigest.com (click on "Word Power")
www.m-w.com/game/ This web site by Merriam-Webster, the dictionary company, includes a very good "Word of the Day" page.
www.nytimes.com/learning/students/wordofday/index.html Another excellent "Word of the Day' feature.
3. Do the quiz "It Pays to Enrich Your Word Power" in any issue of Reader’s Digest.
This regular feature in Reader’s Digest is a quick and easy way to learn new vocabulary. First try the 20-question quiz; then turn the page to find the answers, the meanings, and derivation of the word.
4. Browse through dictionaries.
Develop the habit of leafing through dictionaries, looking for words that seem familiar or useful. For example, when you notice the word "unorthodox;" you may realize that you have seen it before, but never really knew what it meant. (It means "breaking with convention or tradition.") Browsing through dictionaries to look for words that are familiar to you or that seem related to subjects you are studying helps you learn only those words that are most useful to you.
5. Learn the origins of words.
It is fascinating to learn where words come from. And because so many English words trace back to Latin and Greek, once you learn the meaning of a word part, you can apply that knowledge when you encounter other new words. Once you discover the "story" behind a word, you are much more likely to remember the meaning of that word. Here’s an example of one such "story," taken from 1000 Most Important Words, by Norman Schur:
endemic (en dem’ ik) adj. Anything endemic is characteristic of or peculiar to a particular place, race, nation or sect. This word is used, for example, of diseases that flourish regularly in certain parts of the world: "Dysentery is endemic to India, Egypt, and to much of the rest of the Third World." Not only illnesses, but also customs and folkways can be said to be endemic to a particular place or sect: "Community singing is endemic to Wales" and "Vendettas are endemic to Sicily." From the New Latin endemicus, based on the Greek endemos; note the root demos (people), from which we get democracy.
The following books in the Niagara University library describe the origins of words; they are located in the PE 1500 – 1582 section (on the 2nd floor):
Giangrande, L. Latin in the Service of English.
Green, T. M. The Greek and Latin Roots of English.
Grummel, W. C. English Word Building from Latin to Greek.
Kelz Sperling, S. Tenderfeet and Ladyfingers: A Visceral Approach to Words and their Origins
Nealon, T. E., & Sieger, F. J. Vocabulary: A Key to Better College Reading.
Weekly, E. An Etymological Dictionary of Modern English (2 volumes).
Williams, R. Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society.
Or purchase the inexpensive paperback Merriam Webster's Vocabulary Builder, which includes a discussion of over 1,000 words and their origins and which includes frequent quizzes with an answer key.
6. Use context clues to try to determine the meanings of words.
When you encounter an unfamiliar word, do not skip over it. Instead, before you look it up in a dictionary, use the words and sentences around that word to try to determine its meaning. Often a careful and analytical reading can give you a pretty good idea of what the word means. Mark the word with a pencil. When you finish, look it up in a dictionary to see if you were close. Keep in mind that context clues are not always present. However, looking for possible context clues can sharpen your comprehension.
Here’s an example of using context clues to determine the approximate meaning of an unfamiliar word: "The job was more odious than taking out the garbage." Because most people find taking out the garbage to be an unpleasant task, you can guess that "odious" describes something very unpleasant. (The dictionary definition is "exciting hatred or repugnance; abhorrent.")
7. Get a tear-off calendar with a new word each day.
The next time someone asks you what you would like for your birthday or a holiday, request a daily tear-off calendar with a new word for each day. They can usually be found in office supply stores. Then place your calendar where you will see it each day.
8. Use 4 x 6 index cards to make vocabulary flash cards.
When you try the suggestions on this handout, don’t just read about a new word or look it up in a dictionary. Make a vocabulary flash card. On one side of an index card, write the new word, its part of speech, and its phonetic spelling. On the other side, write its definition and any related word parts. Then copy the sentence in which you found the word, and then try writing the word in an original sentence of your own. Also note any Greek or Latin word parts. Carry these cards with you and review them in free moments. Before you begin to write a paper, flip through your cards, to refresh your memory. This increases the chance that you will be able to use one or two of these words in your writing.
9. Discover your optimum circumstances for learning new words.
Do you remember new words that you have heard in conversation or on television? Do you notice unfamiliar words while you are reading? You can only add new words to your
vocabulary if you have the desire or motivation to do so. Using your optimum circumstances may enhance your ability to find, define, and use new words.
10. Set a specific goal for yourself.
Learning new words requires a real commitment. Since you are less likely to hear sophisticated vocabulary in casual conversations, you must take matters into your own hands
and teach yourself new words. Set a goal for yourself, such as, "I will learn one new word each day," or "I’ll try one of the suggestions on this handout every day during semester break."
11. Do crossword puzzles and other word puzzles.
Although some of the words in crossword puzzles are somewhat obscure, others can be useful to you as a college reader. And some of the facts that you gain from doing puzzles can broaden your knowledge base.
12. Listen to radio and television programs that use a college-level vocabulary.
Watching only network television (ABC, CBS, and NBC) and listening to only mainstream radio stations limits your exposure to new vocabulary. Here are some local sources that will expose you to a wider vocabulary:
Radio: - National Public Radio (in Western New York, WBFO FM-88.7), particularly "Morning Edition" from 6 – 9am, and "All Things Considered" from 5 – 7pm. - CBC (from Toronto, AM 740)
Television: - PBS – just about any program that interests you; also, instead of watching the news on the networks, try the News Hour with Jim Lehrer, from 3:00 – 4:00 p.m. (live), 6:00 – 7:00 p.m. (re-broadcast) on Channel 9 (KQED).
13. "Use a word 3 times and it’s yours!"
It’s that simple. If you don’t make a concerted effort to use new words that you have learned, you are likely to forget many of them. Using words makes them a part of your vocabulary. After all, why do you know words such as "cow" and "walk" and "pleasant"? You know them because:
· you have heard them many times
· you have read them many times
· they may have been taught to you in elementary school
· you have used them many times in your speech and in your writing
However, if you read the word "catalyst" or "disparage" or "aberration," they may not be words that you have heard in conversation, read before, or learned in school. So you must use these words at least 3 times in order for them to be a part of your vocabulary.
Some of these suggestions are adapted from the following sources:
· Becoming a Successful Student, by Laraine E. Flemming and Judith Leet (1989).
· Instructor’s Resource Manual that accompanies Thinking Critically, 3rd ed., by John Chaffee (1991).
· Sharon’s Simple Study Strategies for College Success, by S. Green (1997). Niagara University