by Krishna on June 2, 2008

I was chatting with my friend the other day and we got talking about vocabulary. In his case, he was interested in some short-term solutions to the problem because of an approaching exam. I didn’t have many ideas at that time, but later, I came up with some thoughts:

  • Read political writing in blogs and newspaper editorials. The writing is generally done by trained journalists who are very good writers. Politics also covers a wide variety of topics (economics, law, etc.) and you will be exposed to many different words in short time. Any of the major newspapers (liberal or conservative) or magazines would do the trick as long as you consistently read them. Blogs are even more convenient. Reading a few articles daily takes just a few minutes, but pays a high dividend.
  • An easy book to learn big words is Norman Lewis’s “Word Power Made Easy”. It contains several exercises and mnemonics. I suppose there are many similar books in the same category to improve vocabulary, but this is the only one I have read. My recommendation is to get at least one book in the category and work through it.

Short-term vocabulary improvement requires making a conscious, active effort at learning. This can mean writing down new words that you are unfamiliar with and looking them up in a dictionary. You should try to use these new words in your writing or speech until you become comfortable with them. Sometimes, a poor choice of words may result in embarrassment, but such problems come with the territory when you are in learning mode.

A long-term commitment to improving vocabulary can be passive. The easiest way is to read whenever you can and your subconscious mind will automatically learn new words. Fictional works will introduce you to generic, but obscure words, while non-fiction will give you jargon, terminology specific to the area you are reading. The trick is repetition. The more often you see a word, the more your brain understands the context and is able to notice it then and recall it at a later time.

Writing is a good way to strengthen your knowledge of words. You don’t have to write articles or blogs to do this. It could be as simple as trying to write better emails to people, or writing full sentences when you exchange instant messages with someone. You could use the opportunities when you are asked to prepare any written material (say technical documentation) to use the words that you come across.

Listening to famous speeches and podcasts is another way to improve recognition of words, the only problem being that it is sometimes inconvenient to interrupt your listening and record the new words that you are hearing. Joining a Toastmasters Club or a local debating association will also help you improve vocabulary skills (and of course, your speech-making capability). Public speaking forces you to be structured and accurate with your words. In addition, you also get to hear talented speakers.

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