With approximately 171,000 words, English is among the world languages with the highest number of words. Hence, for any budding academic researcher, author, or copywriter, developing one’s vocabulary has numerous advantages.
There is a range of professional and personal benefits to increasing one’s eloquence and lexical range, and it is a particularly useful skill for writers in any field, whether it be medical writing, fiction, poetry, or journalism. And when it comes to speaking, there are no downsides to being a walking dictionary or thesaurus. Building a better vocabulary not only boosts confidence, but it also helps to produce vivid descriptions of environments, characters, actions, and ways of speaking. Reading, listening, playing games, and testing yourself are great ways to improve vocabulary, increase knowledge, and gain self-confidence when writing or speaking. In this article, we’ll take a look at the ways in which you can improve your vocabulary when writing.
Why it is important to have a broad vocabulary
To begin with, having a broad vocabulary means you are equipped with a large arsenal of nouns, adjectives, verbs, and adverbs to dispose at your will. But remember, they will only be as effective as their appropriateness in the context of their usage!
Whether you’re a journalist, researcher, or student, when writing or editing, a large vocabulary will lead to you making fewer revisions, since there will be much less repetition and wordiness. Also, using the same words over and over can make readers tired or disinterested, so keeping them entertained and captivated is essential.
And by boosting your vocabulary, having a larger pool of action words and descriptive words will allow you to be more descriptive and direct, with the ability to create vivid descriptions of environments, experiences, conversations, and events.
Moreover, you’ll be better equipped to describe specific locations, as well as emotions and ideas. Writing is a creative past-time, and like a painter who works with a broad color palette, the same applies to writers, whether creative, informal, or informal.
It is also worth bearing in mind how words are used. For example, there are many words that are nowadays considered archaic, and others that are in common use, and therefore easier to understand for the general reader. The best way is to use a combination of common and less common/complex words that can be understood through the context. This is especially important for ESL learners.
Mastering the finer details of what separates formal and informal language can really help you in many scenarios, such as when communicating with employees or bosses, or simply when chatting to friends or strangers.
Let’s now take a look at a few ways in which we can expand our vocabulary.
- Use a Thesaurus or Dictionary
Using a dictionary or thesaurus is one of the most effective ways to develop your vocabulary. Dictionaries not only provide precise definitions of words, but also how to pronounce them (through phonetic spellings), and examples of how the words are used in different contexts, such as in everyday conversation or in written/literary usage.
A thesaurus is particularly useful because each word listed comes with a list of other closely-related words. A classic example of a word with numerous alternatives is the word nice. Think of how many words you could use instead of nice… fine, pleasant, friendly, lovely, great––the list is endless! The same goes for many other common adjectives, such as small, big, good/bad, etc. As a copy editor, I have come across many instances of authors using conventional words when they could be so much more descriptive in their choice of words; but then again, that’s my job, and I enjoy boosting my own vocabulary through my practice!
2. Read, read, read
Although there isn’t much benefit in reading a book that is far too complex for one’s reading level, the act of reading still plays a large part in building up a comprehensive and creative vocabulary. Here are a few tips to consider when reading. First, instead of speed reading/scanning, try to read slowly, sentence by sentence, and have a dictionary or thesaurus on hand to check any possible alternatives that could be used in similar contexts. Newspapers can be really good for this because you could highlight sentences or specific words on the page, and then write them down as a list. To understand their meaning, you can translate them into your own language or just write down their meanings. This is a really good method to employ when learning a foreign language or even when developing your native language.
Second, reading a range of material from different genres exposes readers to a wider lexical range. Since authors all have their own word pallet, and even more so as specialists in science fiction, autobiographies, or non-fiction writing, their content allows us to not only learn new words, but also understand the subtle differences between formal and informal language conventions. Older books are also worth reading and comparing with their contemporary counterparts to analyze the evolution of grammatical structures and understand the difference between lesser-used archaic words and those in common use today.
Finally, audiobooks are also a great way to absorb information. When listening to audiobooks or podcasts, for example, a good technique is to write down word lists to find out their meanings. Audiobooks also help us understand words through context, improve pronunciation, and become familiar with difference accents.
3. Word formation
Mastering the suffixes and prefixes of English words will allow you to convert base words into all the different formats. For example, consider the word employ, which can be converted into employment, employee, employer, unemployment, etc. There are many lists and tools available online to help you with word formation, as well as the prefix and suffix lists in dictionaries and grammar books. Learning about word formation is a great way to improve your fluency and vocabulary, and given that modern English uses many core words derived from Latin, Greek, as well as Dutch, German, and French, knowing their root forms will help you to remember and understand even more.
4. Test yourself
Flash cards, games, and tests for laptops and smartphones are great ways to memorize and recall words quickly, while testing your memory at the same time. An example of a useful activity would be to take one adjective and thinking about all the possible alternatives available. You could do this visually by creating a map of words or a list.
In summary, there are numerous ways we can improve our vocabulary range. Remember, when learning, it helps to have fun, play games, be creative, and not take it too seriously; above all, have fun while learning! Also, using all the available senses helps us to learn in different ways, so make use of your eyes and ears to read, listen, and see words at every opportunity. If you’re in a cafe, or any place with a TV or where people are speaking, listen to what’s being said and note down any words you find interesting or those that are new to you. Then, use the list to define each of the words, and find any alternatives that you could use.
Further, if you enjoy watching videos and films, turn on the subtitles. By doing so, you’ll be reading and listening at the same time. Try to use all the means available to you, and definitely make use of printed material, such as books, magazines, and newspapers. You can also listen to podcasts, audiobooks, and music with lyrics to further your knowledge. If you’re looking for extra materials, games, tests, and explanations, the internet contains a plethora of invaluable information. Use what is available to you, pay attention to the words you see and hear on a daily basis, and have fun!