How to Improve Your Vocabulary

Some of my writing students want to improve their vocabulary this semester. That’s admirable, but they probably won’t like my suggestions:

1) Read more.

2) Not just Junie B. Jones and Archie comics (for Fifteen). Read progressively more challenging material. Or at least rotate in challenging stuff between the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and Harry Potter (for Eighteen).

3) When reading challenging material, take time to look up some of the words you don’t know. (A favorite i-Pad e-book feature, touch the word, touch the definition tab, five-ten seconds, genius. The plus side of an admitted trade-off).

4) Integrate newly learned words into your conversations and writing even if you don’t use them perfectly initially. I called Fifteen a sycophant the other day. She asked what that meant. I told her it was the first word on the aced vocab quiz adorning the frig. That brought a smile. Use em’ or lose em’.

5) The power of osmosis can’t be exaggerated. This is the “try to play tennis with people better than you” concept. Hang with people whose vocabularies are further along than yours. In addition to Modern Family, talk about ideas, what you’re reading, North African and Middle Eastern political unrest, and the Wisconsin state legislature. You become the company you keep.

The problem with my suggestions is most young people prefer multimedia to reading, spending hundreds of hours Facebooking and watching legions of movies for every substantive book they read. Apparently blog posts are even too long. Fifteen rarely chooses to read in her free time, gravitating to Facebook and SuperNanny instead. Interestingly though, whenever she’s required to read quality literature in her English class, she always enjoys it.

In the end, there are no shortcuts. Absent immersing oneself in vocab-rich reading material, dictionary work, time spent in literate small groups, and more vocab-rich reading, don’t expect to light the vocabulary world on fire.

3 thoughts on “How to Improve Your Vocabulary

  1. Terrific post. I appreciate the strategies very much. I find that many students don’t reveal their full compliment of vocab in their writing because they are unsure how to spell certain words. I tell them that it’s better to use the right word rather than the safe word (the word they can spell).

    Thanks for the post!

  2. Rather a strong word to call your daughter. Another great vocabulary builder is to listen to language. Kids don’t get stories read to them much past third grade. I learned German in college by listening to recordings of great plays on records at a professor’s house. Words have sounds too.

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