7 Easy Ways to Expand Your Vocabulary
Adding vocabulary to your linguistic locker (learning more words) is not just something you should do in order to ‘sound smart’. The fact is, having more words allows you to more easily express your feelings, or articulate your opinion about something, or even simply to give clear instructions that can be followed. Not just that, it also helps you understand more. Have you ever felt like a bit of a doofus because the group you were with used a word that you didn’t understand?
Everyone falls into one of those categories, right? There are not many us who could say, hand on heart, that we have ‘enough’ words. If you have ever been left speechless, it’s probably because you didn’t have the vocabulary to express yourself. And one more thing: having the right words mean you won’t need to say as much, either. If a picture tells a thousand words, then so can the right word.
So, you are motivated to learn more words, and we could be talking about in your mother tongue here, or even your second language. How do you go about it? Fortunately, here we can present seven easy strategies for learning new vocabulary.
But one more point before we do: remember that there is such a thing as active vocabulary, and then there is passive vocabulary too. Active vocabulary is comprised of, unsurprisingly, the words that you actually use. Something that passes as passive vocabulary is a word that you know, or at least understand, but would never actually use yourself.
In most cases, our active vocabulary is quite limited (some estimates place it at around 15,000 words or less, and that’s in a language – English – where there are more than one million officially recognized words (that’s 1.5% to the math wizards out there!) You may be one of those who wants to increase your passive vocabulary only, and therefore some of these strategies will be more useful than others. In other cases, you may want to actually use the word, and then you may need to combine strategies. In short, always think about whether you want to add a word to your list of active or passive vocabularies.
This one is obvious, but it is still probably the single most effective means of expanding your vocabulary. Reading presents words in the correct context (usually), so if you see a new word, most of the time you can understand what it means just from the way it has been used. Natural curiosity usually takes care of this for you.
An important thing here is to not always read the same thing, as unsurprisingly, this will stunt the amount of new vocabulary you are being presented with. And you can read absolutely anything to learn something new. For example, have you ever seen something on a menu and asked ‘what’s that?’
Another consideration is that reading is brilliant for building up passive vocabulary, so you will need to use it in conjunction with another strategy here if you want to actually use the words.
Linguix can help you to learn new words while reading online. When you encounter an unknown word anywhere on the web, just hold Alt and double click on it to see its definition:
Use a dictionary
It’s always advisable to be cautious when it comes to dictionaries. There are a very small number of people who actually enjoy ‘reading’ the dictionary. For most of us, it’s simply not a stimulating option. However, if you have a dictionary close at hand (and for the majority of people these days, that means an online version) you can then access it in certain circumstances. What circumstances?
First of all, a dictionary is useful if you don’t understand a word and you can’t understand it from context (always try ascertaining everything you can from the context in which the word is given, first). It’s a solution.
Secondly, a word may truly interest you, in that you can understand what it means, but it truly speaks to you, and you want it to become part of your active vocab toolkit. Looking it up in the dictionary will reinforce the word in your learning, and will also give you really important information about that word, including how to pronounce it. Remember, in English in particular, the words we see are not necessarily the words we say. How can you possibly know from the word quinoa that is it pronounced ‘keen-waa’? Paper dictionaries will give the phonetic spelling of the word, but an online dictionary will actually allow you to hear it. Listen, and repeat. It’s that simple.
You can enhance your vocabulary with Linguix Synonyms and Definitions feature. First, when writing something on the web, you can quickly access the list of synonyms of any word you type:
Learn a word of the day
Some dictionary websites use this technique (for example, dictionary.com), while others will present you with words that are trending, or even recent additions to the dictionary. Most of us have seen those desk calendars that offer a word each day too. It’s simple technique, and just be applying simple math, equates to 365 words a year. Why not give it a try?
Get interested in etymology
Etymology is all about the origins of words and phrases. Why do we say ‘it’s raining cats and dogs’, for example? (go exploring to find out!) Sites such as urbandictonary and the Online Etymology Dictionary seek to give us the answers to questions such as, ‘where does that word come from?’, and ‘why do we say that?’ Having a little bit more natural curiosity about the words we already use will propel your interest in learning new words and phrases (for you). There is no better extension of our culture that the language we speak and the words we use: dig a little deeper to find out why we use the words we do.
Think about lyrics
Most of us love music, even if something like poetry is a little more niche. Yet what are lyrics other than poetry set to music? Start reading the lyrics to your favorite songs (while you listen) and it won’t be long before you come across words that you may know but very rarely, if ever, use. Use a fun site such a lyricstraining which enables you to enter lyrics while you listen, therefore making a game out of the activity. It all adds to the interest.
Play word games
‘Use It or Lose It’
We started off by talking about passive and active vocabulary, and there is not one of us who can use more words than we understand, clearly. A tactic we need to implement then is transferring words from our passive lexicon to our active one, meaning words that we actually use. And that’s just it: use it!
Using the words when we speak (and write) is the only way to really keep a word alive, so don’t be afraid. You may get a word wrong from time to time (and you wouldn’t be the only one there), but this is a learning process, so making mistakes will only cement the learning. Try to talk about more diverse subjects so you get a chance to flex those lexical muscles, then write the words down, listen to them, and say them – it’s all part of the process.
Most importantly of all, enjoy it. They are only words, after all!
P.S. In the meantime, use our unique 30% off discount offer on a yearly Premium subscription to unlock the full power of our AI-based grammar-checking engine.