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Pump It Up: 5 Ways to Boost Your Vocabulary

A strong vocabulary is necessary to succeed in life, but building it won’t happen unless you make an effort. Here are five (mostly) fun ways to pump up your word choices.

(1) READ! Then make a list of new words

Educators and writers all seem to agree that reading is the quickest way to building your vocabulary. That’s because reading is both a reason to build one’s vocabulary, as well as a strategy to do it.

Kara Krawiec, Site Coordinator at Seeds of Literacy tells her students to read everything – from things written with modern slang to pieces written with more antiquated language.

“I like to challenge students with new words,” she said. “I have them find the etymology of a word and explain how it has changed over the years.”

Digital Literacy Coordinator Billy Hallal says he reads a lot. “And I try to read new authors, or read in fields that I don’t normally read. This is a great way to encounter new vocabulary.” While some instructors suggest that a student look up a new word as soon as they encounter it, Hallal has a different approach.

“As a matter of personal preference, I don’t like to pause in the idle of reading. Unless I can’t understand the passage without understanding the word, I just make note of it, and look it up when I’m at a good stopping point,” he said.


(2) WRITE MORE! Use variety in your writing

“As a writer, you become more conscious of the words you use,” explained Hallal, who is also a freelance journalist. “You want to make sure that you don’t sound like a broken record.”

Hallal uses varying word choices to make his work more interesting to read.


(3) PLAY GAMES ! Challenge others or yourself

Games are certainly the most fun way to learn anything, and vocabulary words are no exception.

Challenge Others

Games such as Bananagrams and Scrabble require a large vocabulary to do well at the game. You can learn new words just by playing with a variety of people.

The only way to win at games such as Words with Friends is to play less frequently used words (which is even more difficult when 6.7 million users play daily!)

Word to Word is another online game available for both Android and Appel products. The game offers you a list of words and then challenges you to find the connections between them. For example, match the synonyms with the antonyms, pair the words that are related through common elements, or find the words that are connected through use in the definition.

Challenge Yourself

Skip the easy words. “Fine” can mean a lot of things and actually conveys very little meaning. For example, if you’ve tried a fancy new food, explaining it as “fine” won’t do it justice. Was it savory? Was it sweet? Was it dry? Was it mouth-watering? “Fine” could mean it was simply edible, but it doesn’t indicate if you actually liked it.

Get a Word a Day calendar or use’s “word of the day”. Challenge yourself to use the word at least once in a day. Share the word with others.

Carry a dictionary or thesaurus with you. Any time you hear or read a new word, look it up. Keep a list and challenge yourself to have a longer list each week by actively looking for words that you do not know.

Use flashcards. Short bursts of repetitive practice boosts memory. See how many cards you can flip through in a minute. Need some words to put on those flashcards? Start with these. 33 Middle School Vocabulary Words That Most Adults Still Get Wrong


(4) HAVE NEW EXPERIENCES! Start a new hobby, conduct research, follow the news

Hobbies, activities, and industries all have their own terminology. Simply by picking up a new hobby, you can learn many new vocabulary words. For example, someone who wants to set up a fish tank needs to learn about acclimation, will have to use an air pump and filter, and will have to watch out for their fish contracting ich. Additionally, they’ll need to learn a little chemistry to understand nitrates, ammonia, and reverse osmosis.

Conduct research. Like starting a new hobby, research allows us to learn words in context. Learning words within a subject area is often easier to do than learning a list of random, unassociated words.

Dr. Carmine Stewart, Program Director at Seeds, conducts a lot of research for work. Often, the articles she reads are full of new words, either educational terms, or research terms which are new to her.

“To comprehend the research, I have to know the meaning of the words,” she said.

Pay attention to the news. Dr. Stewart likes to keep abreast of national news. “Often, political commentators and experts on these shows use words I don’t know, or, appear to misuse the words that I do know. It’s not uncommon for me to look up a word, check it’s meaning, or confirm that it is an actual word being used in the proper manner.”


(5) WATCH MOVIES! Dual Coding

Yes, you read that correctly. Watch movies! Watch movies you wouldn’t normally watch, and make note of new words.

When you watch movies that are based on a book you read (or are reading), your brain is doing something called dual coding. This means your mind is pairing words and visuals together, making a strong imprint on your memory.


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