The most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.
~ Ronald Reagan
How to learn new vocabulary? I’m going to offer some tips on how to do that. Some methods I have used to develop a personal catalogue of over 100,000 words in my own vocabulary. I joke, I have no idea what the size of my vocabulary is. Way less than 100k I’m sure 🙂
Nevertheless, learning another language or even improving your understanding of your own language can be fun and useful.
I have heard it said that in order to fully learn a new word we need to see it anywhere from 5 to 10 times in use before it cements and becomes a part of our vocabulary. So how can we do that?
I think one of the first things we need to do is learn how to study vocabulary and to do that we need to have access to new words that we can add to our vocabulary. Here are the key strategies that I have used to help learn new words over time.
Find new words
In order to expand your vocabulary you need to find new words to study.
The first step to learning new words is finding those new words. There are a few places that I have found especially helpful to find these new words.
Firstly and my best recommendation is to sign up for A Word A Day. Anu Garg has been offering this word a day service for over 15 years. Each weekday he sends out a short and very welcomed email of a new word that you might not have found before. I’ve been using his service for many years.
There are other places to find new words too. Dictionary.com offers a new word every day too. As does Merriam Webster and Oxford Online Dictionaries amongst others. Find a service you like and sign up for it.
I’d suggest you only sign up to one service. Getting inundated with many services will just give you too many words to try and learn. One new word a day is enough. That’s over 300 new words in your vocabulary each year.
Listen and learn
Most of these services that give you access to new words you probably don’t know yet give you an audio file with them so you can hear how the word is pronounced.
Whether or not you know how to pronounce the word I find it very useful to listen to the audio file at least 2 or 3 times. After you’ve heard it, repeat it out loud to yourself. Do this 2 or 3 times as mentioned.
We’re trying to use as many of our senses as possible to hardwire this word into our brains.
Feel the texture of the word
The next step in learning new vocabulary is to “feel” the word. How do we do this? Simple, use the word in a sentence and write it down 5 or more times.
Here’s an example from A Word A Day from January 27. The word is gascon which means a braggart or boastful person. Don’t use the usage or sentence that comes with A Word A Day, rather make up your own sentence.
I might write something like this: I found him to be a bore and a gascon always going on about how well he did in his exams and studies.
So you write down your sentence and then you say it out loud. Then you write it down again and say it out loud again. Do this 5 or more times. It is helpful to also pause after orally reciting each sentence and repeat verbally the meaning of the new word you are learning.
Share the word
The last step that I have found helpful is to try if you can to use the word in a sentence during your day in conversation with a colleague or loved one.
If you can’t do that, just share the word with someone who might have a similar love and interest in vocabulary as you do. You can also add it to your email signature for the day which will remind you each time you send an email.
Become a word flasher
Use flashcards if they help you. I really like this one too. I have a deck of blank flashcards that I keep at hand. With each of the new vocabulary words I get each day, after I’ve done the exercises above I write down the word, its meaning and my sentence on a blank flashcard.
I put that flashcard in my pocket before heading to work and every so often throughout the day I take it out and look at it.
I say the word (out loud if I can) as well as the meaning and the sentence that I wrote. This really helps in cementing the word and its meaning in my mind and I find that if I can do that throughout the day that if I come back to that word at some point later I remember it.
These are the methods I use to learn English vocabulary but I am certain the same methods will be just as helpful if you are trying to learn Spanish or German or any new language. Hope it helps. Language is a joy and a fun experience to get better at.