When it comes to enhancing your vocabulary, there are several ways to learn new words so you can begin to put them into use in your writing and in everyday conversation.
No matter what your personality or your reasons for wanting to improve your vocabulary skills, you're sure to find that one or more of these methods will help you become a better wordsmith in no time.
One of the very best — and most enjoyable — ways to increase your vocabulary is to read more for pleasure. By exposing yourself to new and varied reading material, you'll inevitably come across words that are new to you.
When you do, see if you can figure out their meaning based on context clues — that is, by using the plot of the story and the tone of the writing to see if you can make an educated guess at the definition. Then double-check your understanding by looking the word up to make sure you were correct. If you prefer not to interrupt your reading time, you can highlight words for later or jot them down in your personal vocabulary notebook.
Over half of English vocabulary is derived from either Latin or Greek. In fact, English owes more to Latin than to Greek when it comes to most words, except perhaps for political and mathematical terms. This means that if you broaden your understanding of these root languages, you can more easily figure out what new words mean. The real fun of learning more words is knowing where a word comes from, how it found its way into the English language, and what its roots are.
For example, take the words culpable and culprit. These words share a similar root in "culp". Have you ever heard the phrase, mea culpa? It simply means "my fault" in Latin. Both "culpable" and "culprit" derive from that single expression. A person who commits a mistake (or is at fault) is a culprit; the punishable offense is the culpable offense, related to guilt and fault. As you can see, learning one root word can help you learn many more words that derive from it.
You can get started on a formal study of roots words by checking out a list of common roots, prefixes and suffixes and memorizing them. You can also challenge yourself to list all the words you know with a similar root to study how their meanings are related.
Word association is another great way to improve your vocabulary. One way to do this is to connect a new word with something more familiar.
For example, take an unusual word like "aristate," which means “bearded" (it’s a term used to describe bristled leaves and grasses). The word "aristate" sounds like the name of the famous philosopher, Aristotle. If you envision a bearded Aristotle, it will help you remember the meaning of the word in a fun way.
For many people, this type of mnemonic word association is the best memory trick for remembering not just new vocabulary, but also people's names.
In addition to using word association to create mnemonic devices based on the sound and/or sense of a new vocabulary word, you can also use basic word association to help you remember what a word means.
For example, if you learn that "colonoscopy" means a medical procedure in which a doctor looks at the inside of the bowel with a camera, you can think of many words related to this procedure, such as: doctor, hospital, stomach, medical, and belly.
Having these words in come to mind when you hear the word colonoscopy will help you remember what it is not just by memorizing the definition, but by having the associated words help trigger your memory by activating similar neural pathways.
Playing word games is another simple tactic for expanding your vocabulary. Start with a quick game that requires no tools other than your friends and your brain. Here's how:
For variety, players can take a slightly different route and suggest a synonym to the word. Players can also challenge the answer if they think someone is incorrect or bluffing. Referring to YourDictionary is great way to check answers and learn new words along the way.
The point of the game is to bring an element of novelty and fun to learning and recalling a variety of words.
It can also be helpful to learn new words in groups centered on a particular theme. You can use a textbook to find useful vocabulary word lists, or you can look online for ready-made flash cards to practice new words by category.
YourDictionary flash cards can be tailored to your own interests and then shared with others, or you can browse our collection to find an existing list that covers that topic. Flash cards are a great way to study for a test, prepare for the SATs or just explore vocabulary for your personal enjoyment.
There's a reason why word-a-day desktop calendars are so popular. Adding to your vocabulary in small bites is very manageable and more easily remembered. You may even find yourself looking forward to a new ritual of reading about an interesting word, its definition and linguistic heritage.
If you don't want a physical calendar, try using an online dictionary to look up words at random every morning before you open your email. You can also try downloading a daily vocabulary app or game to play on your smartphone for a few minutes each day.
No matter which of these learning techniques you try, you're sure to improve your vocabulary if you dedicate some time to the process regularly. Once you find some new words, the next step is to use them whenever you can. Adding new words to your writing and speech will help solidify your understanding and keep them at the top of your mind for future use, so don't be shy about trying out your favorite words on a daily basis.