How to increase your vocabulary

Posted by Lori Goldman on Thursday, September 8, 2011

Expanding Your Vocabulary

Your vocabulary can be divided into 3 categories

    1.     Thoroughly familiar words you use confidently in everyday speech and writing.
    2.     Words that you vaguely understand in speech and writing, but which you wouldn't feel comfortable using.
    3.     Words that you don't understand at all.
Your goal would be :
  • to become confident enough to use category 2 words yourself
  • to gain an understanding of words that are fairly commonly used but which, for you, would presently be listed under category 3
Set yourself a target - say 10 words per week. (You can always increase your target as you get into the swing of things.)

Jot down category 2 and 3 words that you come across in your daily life - in newspapers, radio, TV and at school or work. 

  • Write down just the word itself
  • Write down the whole sentence in which it appeared
When it's convenient, perhaps when you’ve collected 2 or 3 words:
  • Open the dictionary to find (or confirm) the meaning. Does the word make sense in the sentence where it was used?
  • Note down  other words in the same word family. They should be listed along with the word you were looking up.
  • Look your word up in a Thesaurus to find other words having a similar meaning. (A Thesaurus is by far the best tool to help expand your vocabulary)
An example might make this clearer. Suppose you read the following sentence in your newspaper: "Mr Bigg, president of Betalanda, was yesterday accused of being a despot by the country's opposition leader, Mr Aggronom."
  • Your dictionary would tell you that a despot is "an absolute ruler, a tyrant...." and words to that effect
  • Your dictionary would also list:
    • despotic - acting like a tyrant, dictatorial ..... etc
    • despotism - rule with unlimited power
  • Your Thesaurus would take you to "dictator, autocrat, overlord, oppressor, bully, tyrant ... etc
THEN you need to practise your new word
  • Write a new sentence for each of the words in the word family, for example:
    • Since being promoted to office manager, Mrs Brown has behaved in a rather despotic manner towards the staff.
    • Despite appearing to take into consideration the views of his cabinet colleagues, the Prime Minister is still regarded as a despot.
    • Idi Amin promised to introduce democracy to Uganda but what followed was in fact despotism.
  • Practise using the words in speech: 
    • first thinking up sentences in your head
    • saying them out aloud (to avoid embarrassment you need to be alone while you're doing this!)
    • then using them in real conversations
It's important to set yourself a target of a certain number of words per day or per week.
From Spelling it Right
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About Me

Lori in I got my Bachelor of Education degree in the USA but was born and raised in Canada. Working in Asia and with immigrant adults and children for 26 years has given me insights into the difficulties they face in a new country and school system. I like to help adults adjust to and explore the rich and diverse opportunities in Canada while also supporting them in their challenge of parenting in a new culture. I love to help children learn English, develop skills, and gain confidence to succeed in school and life.


“Don't aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one's personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one's surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long-run—in the long-run, I say!—success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it” ― Viktor E. Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning A lack of planning on your part does not constitute and emergency on my part. "Most people don't plan to fail; they fail to plan." ~~John L. Beckley

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