Simple Strategies for Expanding Your Vocabulary
Vocabulary expansion is often pursued for a variety of reasons. Individuals may seek to communicate more effectively at work, or college students may be searching for a richer vocabulary to assist understanding and obtaining better grades. Perhaps the learner originates from a non-English speaking background and wishes to learn English for work or study purposes.
Whatever the reason, expanding your vocabulary is within everyone’s reach.
Strategies for increasing your vocabulary are many. What should be noted, however, is that we only remember a fraction of what we read (see Figure 1). The amount remembered increases to 30% of what you hear; 40% of what you see; and, 60% when you actually perform the task. As such, it is important that we combine all types of activities to obtain maximum learning.
Figure 1: Tasks and rate at which information is remembered
Taken from JCU (2009)
Apart from the above diagram and the types of activities related to retention, other facts to consider when expanding your vocabulary include:
- Wide reading is extremely important when developing your vocabulary. The richer and more varied the text, the more opportunities you have for increases. Knowledge of word meanings can also be grouped into the amount of words a person knows and the in-depth knowledge of a word. Many people have a wide knowledge of words. That is, they can recognize a significant amount of words, but when it comes to demonstrating meaning, it is often another story.
- Knowing a word means knowing context. Words used alone do not provide the full meaning. Depending upon the surrounding words and text, words can take on different meanings
- Our verbal vocabulary is often less sophisticated than our written vocabulary. This is because verbal communication relies heavily upon non-verbal cues and gestures. As such, it is important that we experience vocabulary in both environments (Allen, 2006).
Vocabulary development can also occur through exploring similarities and differences amongst related words and keeping written documentation of the words learned, their definitions, and the different ways the words can be used. Word associations (e.g. roots), words that signal a connection to other words and assist meaning (e.g. therefore), and words that have similar sounds but are spelled differently are all techniques that can be explored for improving vocabulary (California Department of Education, 2007).
Expanding your vocabulary is achievable. It can improve your communication skills and develop reading and writing ability. It does not matter at what stage of your career, your education, or your personal growth, vocabulary develop can benefit everyone. Using vocabulary software, such as that produced by VocabularySpellingCity, is a very effective way of achieving these goals and benefiting from the results.
Allen, J 2006, ‘Too Little of Too Much? What Do We Know about Making Vocabulary Instruction Meaningful?’, Voices From the Middle, vol. 13, no. 4. pp. 16-19.
JCU (James Cook University) 2009, JCU Study Skills Online – Active Learning, viewed 11 February, 2009.