Five Steps to Building a Better Vocabulary

As we discussed in a previous post, the choice of words is very important in order to produce a good piece of writing. But how are we to choose the right words if our vocabulary is limited? This is why it is very important to build a good vocabulary – rightly called a powerful writing tool. So, how should we build a good vocabulary?

Here are five easy steps:

1. Read, and read more. Reading is the best and most effective way to building a good vocabulary. Read books, literary magazines, newspapers, or even good websites. When you read a wide variety of things, you come across many new words. Look at these words – how have they been used? Sometimes you can guess the meaning of the word from the context. If not, look it up in a dictionary. Once you know the meaning and its usage, try and use the word as much as possible for practice.

2. Make personal meanings of the new words that you have learnt. This makes it easy for you to remember them. For example,   if you want to remember “arrogant”. Think of a person you know who is arrogant and associate the word with him/her. Then whenever you see or hear the word “arrogant”, the image of that person will appear in your mind, and you will be reminded of the meaning of the word.

3. Keep a good thesaurus handy. When you sit down to write something, look up all the words with similar meanings and see which one fits best in your context. When you keep looking up, you learn several different words with similar meanings and this makes it easy for you to select the right word.   

4. Learn as many prefixes and suffixes as possible – both their meanings and usage. If you know what the prefixes and suffixes mean, you can guess meanings of words with them. For example, if you know that the prefix ‘kilo’ means ‘thousand’, then you can immediately guess the meaning of ‘kilometer’ to be a ‘thousand meters’.

5. Play word games. This is a great way of building a good vocabulary, and it’s a fun way, too. There are some good classic games like Scrabble and Boggle, but you can find many more on the web that can be played online. Just go to Google or Yahoo and you’ll find plenty of good word games to play.

There’s still another way to building a good vocabulary, which I personally have found to be very useful. Why I haven’t included it in the list here is because it’s something that cannot be done immediately. It requires time. What I am referring to here is learning Latin. Most English words have their roots in Latin. So, if you know the language, you can easily identify the root and grasp the meaning. For example, if you know the Latin word ‘manu’ (hand) and you know the word ‘script’ (writing), then you can easily grasp the meaning of ‘manuscript’ to be ‘hand-written’.  This is why I always advise my students to learn Latin. 

What have you found to be the most useful way?


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