What does anyone need to build vocabulary in the first place? Well, it’s like this: when starting out as a new English learner, you are like a baby walking on all fours, then as a toddler, you start testing your feet to walk, carefully, so as not to fall flat on your face.
Thus, in learning English, whether writing or speaking, you cannot be always on all fours – meaning struggling with a few words to express yourself. If you have that inclination at all of speaking gracefully, assuredly, no longer a toddler, but an adult speaker, then this is the only way – build your vocabulary.
Getting to the Root
The word “vocabulary” itself can be our starting point in growing. The word has 5 syllables – vo·cab·u·lar·y – and pronounced like this /vōˈkabyəˌlerē/. It’s a noun which means that it can have the positions of a noun in a sentence, like this, “Vocabulary needs daily addition”. Its meanings come next, which are mainly the way someone can use them to refer to other words:
- the body of words used in a particular language.
Synonyms: lexicon, word stock, lexis
“they are intelligent people with an extensive vocabulary”
- words used on a particular occasion or in a particular sphere.
“the vocabulary of law”
- the body of words known to an individual person.
As students/learners of a new language, you need to develop the skills to improve your vocabulary because nothing will make you a better reader and communicator than having the ability to understand new words. The prescribed and logical way is to look at the root of the word. Noting what the root of a word is can give you a hint of what it could mean. Understanding and memorizing vocabulary roots, prefixes and suffixes is a surefire way of building your vocabulary fast.
The root word lingual could have the prefix bi- added to it to make the word bilingual.’Bi’ means two and ‘lingual’ means pertaining to language. Someone who is bilingual is fluent in two languages. Some root words can have both prefixes and suffixes attached to them to turn them into words with different meanings.
All this knowledge or body of words is just a preparation for what comes next, usage of the words. Nothing else can make you walk faster than walking, right? The same thing with speaking and writing in the English language, you need to be testing how firmly you can stand on the word or how you can use it confidently in your everyday language. There can be many ways but three methods are my main preferences.
Visualize the Word
As you use the words, try visualizing it in a creative way, or by visual association. When your mind can retain the image, then in the same manner, by extension, your mind can retain the word and all the other things associated with it – what is the root word, how to say the word, what the word means and finally, how to use it. Everything ties up faster when you can put the word in an image.
Like walking, building a vocabulary is a very personal matter and the manner of growing can be slow or fast as a matter of personal choice. As for walking, the more you talk, the more you grow confident and at ease with words or groups of words. There may be slip ups but hey, who does not commit grammar errors or wrong word choices? I would rather scrape my knee in trying to run than be lame in failing to use my feet.
Contextualize the Word
Have you heard the expression, “Don’t take the word out of context”? Basically, contextualization is putting the word in its right perspective. Contextualization aids comprehension. For example, an arithmetic problem may not seem very practical until it is seen within a story problem. To contextualize the word means to find out about the events in which the word was first used, and to relate that word to the situation in which something happens.
You can also take a word from one context and apply it to another. Thus the crane, meaning lifting machine, got its name from the long-necked bird, and the computer mouse was named after the long-tailed animal. So, it’s essential to know the circumstances or conditions when the word was first used, the “context” of the word. This might seem tedious but really practical and could turn up to be a worthwhile habit for growing your vocabulary.
Read, Read, Read and make Google your friend…
English speakers are adding new words at the rate of around 1,000 a year. Recent dictionary debutants include a Brexit, blog, crowdfunding, hackathon, e-marketing, sudoku, and twerk. The Global Language Monitor reports that around 5,400 new words are created every year although only 1,000 makes it into print.
How do you expect to cope if that’s the case? Simply “get on the road”, or read any simple news on the Internet, get on forums where you can meet other language learners – English Forward, for one – and open your eyes with interest. Read.
By reading a lot of books, you are repeatedly exposed to irregularly spelled, highly frequent sight words, and as a result of this repetition, you can automatically learn sight words. Therefore, irregularly spelled sight words can be learned from wide, independent reading of books. However, if you struggle with decoding a word, you need to spend a lot of time practicing reading books, and thus, encounter irregularly spelled sight words as often.
A study revealed that one-third of beginning readers’ texts are mostly comprised of familiar, high-frequency words such as “the” and “of,” and almost half of the words in print are comprised of the 100 most common words. These words need to be learned to the point of automaticity so that smooth, fluent word recognition and reading can take place. This step comes as the fourth means of building your vocabulary if you decide to take these steps further.
Get the habit of noting down every new word you encounter in a compact notebook or your mobile note feature (if it has one). Make a friend of Google and ask questions about new words. There’s actually no fast way in building your vocabulary but to do it methodically, slowly at first, with the strategies suggested, and with constant usage in speech, writing and reading, in no time at all, you’d be “running with ease.”