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One Easy Way To Build Your Vocabulary

If you pay attention to the way people speak, it quickly becomes apparent that we fall in love with particular phrases and words. If they communicate the point we’re trying to make, then we may be tempted to say, “Well, I can be understood, and that’s good enough.” But I see no reason why the largest vocabularies should belong to doctors, lawyers, and other upper-tier professions where the sheer amount of jargon they learn boosts their command of words well above that of the layperson. For myself, I know one very easy way to build your vocabulary, and it doesn’t take much work at all.

This assumes that you read. Not that you can read, but that you read books, maybe even vocabulary books. But at least magazines, online or off. The crucial point in vocabulary building is the moment when an unfamiliar word is encountered. Reading books virtually ensure that we will run into words we don’t recognize.

At that point, one of two things happens to me.

1. If I am speaking to someone I ask them to clarify the word

2. I pretend I understand and hope to pick up the definition from the context of the following conversation

It’s the same with reading. I either stop and look a word up with a dictionary, or I scan the sentences around it to glean the meaning of the word. Sometimes that is possible, sometimes it isn’t.

Reading with a dictionary is the easiest way I know to learn more words. And I find that the more often I do it, the less frequently I have to go looking for my dictionary. Words assimilated in this manner seem to stick with me more quickly than words I pick up from contextual clues. Something about the effort of looking something up and reading its meaning contributes to my retention of the new vocabulary.

The other great benefit of this is that I literally feel like I can spend more time reading before I get fatigued. There is some accumulative exhaustion that I feel when I skip too many words without defining them. It short circuits me before I want to be finished reading, but I have to stop because reading begins to feel like it’s taking more effort than it should.

So that’s it. Nothing too mind blowing, but very effective. If you read, I suggest reading with a dictionary at your side. You’ll learn a lot of new words this way–and it may surprise you to find that every time you look up a word, you can’t help but skim the surrounding words in the dictionary.


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