In this article, we will look into the 5 awesome tips to build your vocabulary. Rest no more. Apply these and become an inspiring speaker.
1. Do not force it
A natural vocabulary is the strongest vocabulary and as slow-brewn rich-textured coffee or matured-liquor of a fine flavour, it is gradually developed over time. Research has shown that word-power being ‘crystalline intelligence’ develops over time, and an elderly person is likely to beat a young, more calculative, sharp, faster sudoku solver at a crossword.
Do not fall for speed-learning or ‘crash’ tactics. Word Power is power but it needn’t arise from struggle and strife. Rote and mugging-up attempts to build a vocabulary will lead to a dicey, compromised foundation, and the edifice of your vocabulary would be like a Jenga tower – about to fall over anytime. There will also be chinks, incongruities and disproportions in your vocabularial structure owing to hasty disorderly , unsystematic and mutually unconnected arrangement of words.
2. Inside-Out over Outside-in Approach
As stated in the previous point, a vocabulary must come naturally, else it becomes slippery and unsure. An inside-out approach means to be sincere with learning – this approach might take time but it always builds a firm conceptual foundation. Look beyond the superficial aspects – taste and chew a word, carry it with you to places, check its fitness in various contexts, scenarios, fields and domains, experiment with it and once you have figured out the entire profile of the word, internalise it. Know each word as a personal friend, not just a casual acquaintance. Respect the unique identity of each word – its connotation, context, collocation, specificness, level of technicality, belongingness to particular parlance or set-jargon, and so on.
An inside-out approach simply implies seeing beyond (but not overlooking) the general, common idea of the word – and using a word only when its need arises and it is the best candidate there. Delve deep and wide. Your usage of a word must be driven by a genuine lack of a word that does true and wholesome justice to the idea that you wish to convey there, not impelled by your desire to sound high and mighty, cool, or flowery. A vocabulary might come in handy for decorative purposes but redundancy, inaccuracy, obscurity and inaccessibility to a general audience are cons that come hand-in-hand with it. A good vocabulary should provoke, arouse and inspire others to explore, not bombard, burden or intimidate them.
3. Get the nuances
Know the subtle differences between two similar words. Understand that synonyms cannot be indiscriminately substituted, and collocation and connotations need to be minded, otherwise, your sentence might feel awkward as: “I am struck by the beauty of your dusky hair”. Understand that word meanings are neither arbitrary nor inflexible – they are rigid and plastic to an extent, and can be moulded, but only so much. Grasp that each word is like a circle radiating-out from a central definition and encompassing a certain range, at times decreasing inappropriateness as we move further away from the centre.
4. The Etymology web works wonders
Develop a passion for learning word roots – they are interesting. Start reading word origins, if possible, in detail using resources such as Google, Oxford, Online Etymology Dictionary and Wiktionary. Understand that several words share a common root modified by suffixes and/or prefixes, and this can serve as a very ready and useful memory organisational aid.
In case you think this is going to be bland and tedious, here are some random tidbits to rouse your interest. Did you know that ‘malaria‘ comes from the Latin word for ‘air’ aria being prefixed with mal meaning bad or foul (as in malnutrition or malware), because Roman soldiers couldn’t pinpoint mosquitoes or germs as cause and carriers of the disease and because mosquitoes were more common near swamps, marshes and other stinking, wet and stagnant-water areas, you were likelier to contract the disease when near a foul-smelling place. In a classic case of misattribution and correlation over causality, the Romans ascribed the diseases to the stench and bad air. ‘Disaster‘ derives from the Greek word ‘aster‘ meaning star (wherefrom we also get ‘asterisk’, ‘astral dimension’, ‘astronomy’, ‘astrology’ ‘aster fibres’ and ‘asteroid’.) prefixed with ‘dis‘ meaning wrong, irregular or misconfigured, because accidents and calamities were thought to be caused due to unfavourable star movements in astrology.
Learn a word-root and make it the centre (axis) of a wheel-like structure having its derivative words as the spokes radiating out from it. This diagram will enable you to actively learn fewer words but recall many more when needed. Organise your vocabulary is a number of such wheels. For example, ‘thermo‘ meaning heat gives us thermodynamics, thermometer, hypothermia, hyperthermia, thermal, thermos flask, hydrothermal, endotherms, and so on.
Over time, you’ll automatically learn to deduce the meaning of a certain prefix or suffix by generalising the meaning from two usages. Be wary of drawing superficial deductions and reductions though – the plural of octopus can seem to be octopi because it ends in us but it is not so. This is because it is octo+pus and not octop+us, unlike bacillus (plural bacilli) which has a genuine Latin us ending.
Casual reading constitutes the single-most-important activity to build a vocabulary. Diversify your reading and read everything carefully – you need not stress yourself or invest active effort but try to read everything completely – from random pamphlets, you encounter to office-notices and circulars, public displays, advertisements and obviously newspapers, magazines and books. Casual reading ingests and embeds material into your subconscious where they are churned, circulated and ruminated-upon. Casual and diversified reading helps you gather multiple, varied instances of using the same word, and hence clarifies its abstract meaning – automatically deduced through a large, expansive sample set of its multifarious implementations.
Casual reading is like ‘chewing the cud’, the way bovines (cows, buffaloes and related animals) hurriedly ingest a lot of grass without properly chewing it and then bring it back up to chew it properly. Similarly, ponder, tinker, mull and muse upon what you read over the day and let each new instance strike, ‘ring a bell‘ in your mind and redirect you to a previously-encountered instance.
Use these tips to become a masterful juggler of words, remember that it comes slow and compulsion, recklessness and abuse seldom work. Treat each word as a personality, befriend them, respect their individual characters and unique personalities, let them evolve, and they shall remain the most faithful and reliable companions you shall ever earn in your life.