6 Ways to Expand Your Vocabulary
Do you struggle to find the right words? If so, you're not alone. Many people understand more than they can express.
Instead of getting frustrated, you can take action by learning new words as often as possible. Expanding your vocabulary will make your oral and written communications clearer and more precise, which in turn will make your work more engaging for readers.
With that in mind, here are six proven ways to expand your lexicon - and have fun while doing it!
Read, read, and read some more.
Read the classics, newspapers, blogs, books of every genre, poetry, gossip magazines...everything! Put down the remote, pick up your reading glasses, and let your brain absorb and mull over as much varied vocabulary as possible. When you come across a word you don’t know or rarely use, write it down in a notebook with an accompanying definition. You could even have someone quiz you later. Be on the lookout for interesting or unknown words.
For writers, reading is professional development. Just as exercise improves your physical health, reading improves your lexical health. By reading widely, you’ll be exposed to a diverse vocabulary and learn how to use it. Over time, you'll assimilate what you learn and enhance your writing.
Appreciate and critique what you read
You wouldn't devour your food without thinking about the flavour and texture, would you? It's the same with reading. Savour the appearance, sound, and meaning of words. If you find a word that pleases you, luxuriate in it. Say it aloud. Think about why it works. What images and emotions does it evoke? Does it appeal to your senses? If a word irritates you, ask yourself why it doesn't sit right.
Document your learnings
Post on your blog. Get a penpal. Write short stories, poetry, articles, essays, or anything that interests you.
Then put it away, do something else, and come back to it. When you read it again you'll see it with fresh eyes. You'll notice repetitions, mundane language, and jarring words. Challenge yourself to sharpen your writing. If you aren't interested and entertained, your readers won’t be either.
Better yet: start journaling, even if it’s only to keep track of all the new words you discover. Try to work them into your writing and everyday vocabulary, and amaze yourself by looking back on all that you’ve learned.
Consult your dictionary
If you encounter a word you don't understand, try to get clues about the meaning from the context. Then look it up in your dictionary, and write it down. If you’re reading online, remember that virtually all Internet browsers and operating systems have dictionaries built into them, allowing you to look up a word by highlighting it and clicking ‘Define’. It’s a great way to learn without disrupting the flow of your reading experience.
Refer to your thesaurus
Rather than repeating yourself, use a thesaurus to find synonyms. Be aware, however, that there are subtle and not-so-subtle differences in meaning amongst synonyms. For example, if you type “beautiful” into an online thesaurus, the results range from “cute” to “gorgeous”. Make sure you keep shades of meaning in mind.
Play word games and solve puzzles
General knowledge crosswords, word finders, cryptic crosswords, word builders, and many other puzzles are plentiful online and in newspapers and magazines. They're a fantastic and fun way to stretch your vocabulary by wandering into the recesses of your mental stockroom, where words were stuffed years ago, and left forgotten until now.
Keep in mind, though, that the point of expanding your vocabulary is not to astound readers with sesquipedalian loquaciousness, but simply to know how to use the right word at the right time. In other words: clarity, not complexity.
In the end, expanding your vocabulary should be fun. There's no point agonising over lists or memorising the dictionary. Find words you love and learn how to use them. If you enjoy yourself, you're more likely to succeed on your mission to become a better writer.