Five Steps To Build A Great Vocabulary

The English language is ever evolving and as many as 500 new words are added to the Oxford Dictionary every quarter. The database rapidly expands as new terms are coined in the political, socio-economic, scientific, and literary sphere, not to mention the social media lingo that increasingly finds acceptance among mainstream readers. As you listen to the radio, watch TV, read newspapers and magazines, you come across new words on a daily basis. It is of cardinal importance that you keep enhancing your vocabulary since academic and professional success have come to be defined by your ability to use different words in a precise and correct manner. Most of the time, to prepare for exams like GRE, GMAT or CAT, we start mugging up complicated words randomly without paying attention to their history, context or usage. Building a super vocabulary needs a sustained effort from your part, and if you follow these five steps dedicatedly, you will gradually be able to improve your lexicon:


1. Know the history of the words

Studying etymology or the history of a word can be immensely helpful in accelerating your vocab-learning process. Etymologies trace the origin and development of words by showing their original language and form and other languages through which the word has developed over a period of time. English has many words that originally came from different languages, such as Latin, Greek, French, Spanish, Sanskrit and Arabic.

For example, take the word quarantine. It comes from the Italian word “quaranta giorni ” which stands for 40 days. This was during the time of the 14th century when cities were affected by plague epidemics. To prevent coastal cities from catching the infection, ships arriving in Venice had to forego all contact with the shore for a period of 40 days.

Another example is everyone’s favorite snack- the sandwich. The name comes from the 4th Earl of Sandwich, John Montagu, who was fond of eating meat during his card games, but didn’t like getting his hands all greasy. So he instructed his valet to bring the meat between two slices of bread. His friends soon started asking for the same snack as ‘Sandwich’ and hence the name was born. There are several other examples of different words which have fascinating origins that will not only help you recall the words better but also expand your learning horizons of the language

2. Find the roots

Many English words are built from different words or word parts that are combined to form a bigger word. A great way to remember new words is to do a detailed study of their base words and roots, and prefixes and suffixes. For example, consider the following words and their meanings:
inject- to force into a passage
abject- miserable, wretched
project- to plan, to throw out an idea
reject- to refuse to take, to throw away
eject- to throw out, to drive out
The root in all the words above is the Latin word ‘ject’ which means to throw. You can see almost all words have a meaning similar to the original, while some have taken on new meanings.
It is also important to make a note of the prefixes and suffixes that appear in a word. As we all know, prefixes are attached at the beginning of a word while suffixes are added at the end. E.g., look at the words contrary (opposed in nature, characters or purpose) and contradict (be resistant to). Contra means ‘against’ so the two words must have a meaning which means to be against or opposite something. Suffixes such as –s, -es, -ed, or –ing are usually used to turn singular nouns to plural or change tenses, and form verbs or adjectives.

3. Ignore heavy and complicated words

A major mistake that beginners make while embarking on the process to improve their vocab is to just lap up every word they come across, no matter how abstract, unpronounceable or rarely used they are. This frequently results in the inability to retain a compendium of recently studied words e.g. look at these following words- laterigrade (which means have sideways manner of moving), myrmidon (a person who obeys orders without question) and senectitude (the last stage of life/old age). It might sound cool to use these words at times but more often than not, you will be ridiculed for using too abstruse words that are rarely used in common parlance.

4. Read and write more

This has been oft repeated in many articles before, and still remains the most important part of any exercise or project to improve your English. Be a voracious reader, read anything that interests you- be it a novel or magazine, carefully go through the editorial section of any reputed newspaper on a daily basis, and force yourself to read articles that pertain to current affairs. Note down anything important that you come across, create short write-ups on relevant topics on politics, economy or entertainment- anything of your interest. Get these checked by your teachers, get peer feedback and reviews, be open to constructive criticism and go the extra length to constantly look for new ways to boost your English language skills.

5. Use new words in daily conversations

Finally, another important point that has been mentioned before several times. There is no point of learning new stuff unless you can use them in real life. Make sure most of your conversations with friends and family is in English and start using different words that you learn as part of those convos. Social media use, be it Facebook, Twitter or Whatsapp is on the rise like anything and there are different posts or statuses that we like to comment on. Why not sound more erudite by constructing a well-phrased sentence with an adequate amount of vocabulary thrown in? This will not only make people take notice of you, but they will also treat your opinion with respect and try to respond in a similar manner. This way you can learn various viewpoints, and also pick up different words used by people on different topics.

Keep visiting Pep Talk for more useful lessons.

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