Alright, we know… it sounds a bit strange talking about “expanding your vocabulary”. Isn’t that just something that people do when they’re trying to create a false perception of intelligence? Well, no, actually…
Many of the most successful people in the world, whether consciously or subconsciously, work on their vocabulary; and for good reason.
Your linguistic skill can make you stand out against competitors. It can help you put your message across in a more concise or persuasive manner. It can generate more interest in your ideas and products. It can make you more money.
Conversely, not being able to find the right words, choosing words poorly, and a lack of variety in your vocabulary can make strategic thought difficult and communication a struggle.
We feel with emotions, but we think with words. If you can make people feel the power of your message through your words, then you’re on the path to success, regardless of your particular industry or field.
In this piece you will discover some simple tricks to help you become more eloquent in your thoughts, your speech and your writing. Some are very simple. Some involve a bit more work. But each one of them can become a valuable asset if you make it a habit.
1. Learn new words
We’re starting with one of the simple ones. Let’s call it breaking you in.
If you want to do anything in life you need to make a commitment. You need to decide “this is what I am going to do.” Then, you need to form a plan of action, after all a journey of a thousand words begins with a single word.
Make the commitment to learn one or two new words a day. Taking this small step will help you become focused on the process, and provide you with a practical activity to become a better speaker, writer and thinker.
There are different ways to do this: some people like the old fashioned manner of sitting down and writing the words out, over and over, until they’re committed to memory; others prefer to make up a song or jingle, it doesn’t matter. The important thing is to make your process fit the way you learn. Sign up for a word of the day email. Watch Countdown. Read a challenging novel. Listen to an audio book.
Whatever you choose to do, make it something that fits your life, your personality, and make it a daily occurrence.
2. Use your vocabulary practically
Words only have power when they become part of you. If they sit in the recesses of your mind, never touched by thought or the tongue, they are dormant. A good way to form the habit of “learning and then using”, is to begin by learning words related to your trade or industry.
You don’t want to become a fountain of cliché and buzz words, but if you learn a mix of technical language, buzzwords, and some industry power words, you can use them straight away as part of your work.
You will find that you have more impact in your business discussions, and come across as more strategic. You are also laying the foundations, the habit pathways, for learning non-industry language, by internalising and then adopting your new language into your interactions.
3. Add variety to your dialogue
Make the decision (there’s that word again) to vary your language. Never use the same word, or word root, twice in a sentence. Use synonyms in a paragraph, rather than regurgitating the same language again and again.
We are blessed with a language that is rich in diversity. There’s no excuse for sounding repetitive, as being repetitive, creates the impression that you have no other choice but to be repetitive, and being repetitive (Did you see what I did there?) will make others see you as low on intelligence and, frankly, boring. Never a good thing.
4. Never skip over words as you read
Many of us have the habit of skipping over words when we get the gist of what is being said in a sentence. That is fine for speed reading, but is not a great habit in general. When you come across words that you don’t understand, or only vaguely comprehend, write them down in a notepad. Get to grips with them. You are reading them, so they are already part of your world, which makes it your duty to master them.
A vague understanding of words will make you come across as equally vague when you use language. A solid, confident grasp of meaning will make you more concise and persuasive in your written and spoken conversations.
5. Learn the roots of words
As one famous Scottish son said in Braveheart “You don’t know Latin? Well, that is something we will have to remedy then, isn’t it?”
Understanding the origins of words is one of the best ways to get their true meaning. When you ‘get’ the roots you can understand the prefixes, suffices and some of the most common roots from Greek and Latin. Once you know one root, you can easily use that knowledge to work out the meaning of words you haven’t ever read before.
This word root resource is a great place to start your learning process.
6. Use words as soon as you can
You can learn many new words each and every day but the trick is to make use of them. To form a memory you need to have word associations, and need to move words from short term to long term memory.
Let words be a game for you. Word play if you like.
Every time you learn a new word, make use of it as soon as you can. Repeat it to yourself and then slip it into your conversations. This doesn’t mean steering a whole conversation in a particular direction, just so you can use an obscure word. Just be aware of opportunities that a more expansive vocabulary offers you.
7. Read as much as you can
Every source of information gives you plenty of new words to learn. If your vocabulary is already fairly broad then you may need to enter some new literary arena; leave your comfort zone.
If the Daily Mail is your paper of choice why not read the Telegraph?
If you normally read gossip magazines why not dip into a bit of psychology news?
Uncover the treasure of new words with everything you read, diversify your reading, and make it a habit to expose yourself to as many new words as possible.
8. There’s nothing like a dictionary; except, errr… a thesaurus
Always keep one handy. Today there are hundreds of applications that you can install on your mobile, tablet or PC, which access a dictionary within seconds.
Thesaurus, or Merriam, or An Other, the options are many. Most of them help you find easy synonyms and workable related words too. But more of that later…
9. And there’s no greater treasure than a journal
It’s probably impossible commit to memory all the new words you read on a daily basis, so keep a list of new words, and to go back to it as part of your daily routine.
The process of writing something down can aid your later recall, and you’ll soon have a wealth of gems noted down and ready to be rolled off the tongue.
10. Indulge in word games
There are many trivia games and puzzles out there that help you discover new meanings of words, which can also be a fun way to pass the time. Apart from the obvious crosswords, there are word jumbles, boggle, quiz up and anagrams to name a few – not to mention good old fashioned Scrabble!
11. Engage in conversations
When you want to improve your vocabulary, there’s no better way than to engage in conversations with people around you; especially those who have a strong vocabulary range. The spoken medium helps you to understand the exact meaning of words because you have intonation, emotion and context to make the communication richer.
You could also jump online, in chatrooms, to converse. Why not?
12. Use a word-a-day schedule
The best way to go about this is to use a calendar and place it somewhere in clear view. Write a new word on it, daily, and keep reminding yourself to use it in your conversations.
Here’s a word to start you off… “Discombobulated”
13. Be aware of the words that you choose
Make it habit to be conscious of the use of words. Then make a list of words you use most commonly. This could be a list of words you use to describe people, events, or just your daily routine. Once you’ve located your most repetitive words, find their synonyms and put them to good use.
With smartphones, it is easy to record speech and conversations these days, too. By using your phone to record yourself, for example, you can get a better idea of the language you use in your natural habitat. Just make sure you don’t break any laws or confidences with what you record.
14. Don’t limit yourself
Language is everywhere. So why limit yourself to the printed word?
Watch news, TV shows, comedy shows, go to the theatre watch all kinds of films. There is a whole world of word play, waiting to be discovered, in every medium around you.
15. Flash card fun to enhance vocabulary
If you’ve ever had to study for an exam or dissertation, or any other kind of academic work, then you’ll already know just how useful the ‘flash card method’ can be, when trying to commit something to memory. Try something similar with new words. Start by writing new discoveries on flash cards and then go through them, over and over, for a few seconds at a time.
16. Create a blog
When you reach out to the world, with your language, you want to sound different and interesting. While writing your blog, you will stumble upon many words that you may not have used for a long time. This will also instil a spirit of learning new words to express your thoughts.
17. Highlight the words in your dictionary
Whenever you scout through your source for new words, highlight or circle new discoveries. This makes it easy for you to go back to the word on a regular basis: the next time you open the dictionary, you will automatically notice the word you had circled before.
18. Make use of memory tricks
When you’re learning big words, break them up into different segments and connect them to the meaning. For instance, Egregious means extremely bad. You can split it up like egg-reach-us (people throwing eggs at you for doing something bad). Fun way to learn isn’t it?
19. Pictorial meanings of words
Another great way of remembering words is to connect them to pictures. For instance, eccentric! Which is that one celebrity you think of when that word comes to your mind? Use images to make learning easy.
20. Practice on vocabulary books
There are plenty of books that help you memorise new words. Find out which ones suit you best and work accordingly. Make sure you practise regularly.
21. Sign up for new word updates
If you’re serious about improving your vocabulary, many help guides provide lists of words published on a regular basis. You can also sign up for sites that offer new words every day; they will send you each day’s latest discovery through email.
22. Teach the language
Even if you’re teaching a small child the basics, you are still learning. There is so much to learn from kids’ books too. So if you can, take up one person to teach these new words to, or simply teach the basics of language to somebody looking to learn English (or your own language) from scratch.
23. Vouch for usable words
A good vocabulary doesn’t necessarily mean you pick up all those unpronounceable names from the shelves. To better your language, opt for words that are simple and usable in every day life.
24. Include personal relevance
When you learn a new word, relate it to an incident or a person. This helps you memorise it better and every time you speak to that person or think of that incident, you remind yourself of the word, too.
25. Test yourself
The next time you see that new word you learnt a few days back, in any journal or newspaper, try to recall its meaning without resorting to a dictionary or Google.
26. Learn about new things
Be it a weather report, a country, or a new cuisine; keep increasing your knowledge about new things, which helps your build a very strong and diverse vocabulary.
27. Create themes for new words
How do you define a delicious treat? What is the perfect word for a beautiful beach? Learn some basic words on specific themes, like adjectives for food, shopping, geography, etc.
28. Follow roots
The easiest way to learn many words at once is to understand one root and follow all the words around it. For example, Ambi, Dexter, etc are some roots that can help you understand a wealth of words stemming outward from them.
29. Pronounce them well
Sometimes when we learn interesting pronunciations, we tend to remember the word well. Use this to your advantage: say words aloud when you first encounter them.
Sure we’d all love a fabulous vocabulary, but how far are we willing to go to achieve it? It’s not going to become central to our lives is it? You don’t have to tire yourself out, day in day out. Just use these simple tips, in small doses, and they will gradually begin to expand your usable base of vocabulary.