Make it a habit to learn a few new words a day.
It isn’t really difficult if you look at it. Just five new words a day for example. Multiply that by seven (for a week), or by thirty (one month), or by 365 (a year) and what have you got? More words than Mr. Webster can spew out of his latest edition!
I must admit, though, that it will require a lot of discipline, so I might as well give you the tip to make vocabulary building a habit. Make it fun for yourself. During recess in school, you can come up with a little quiz show for your school buddies, and add some prizes too for the lucky winner! Call it Who Wants to be a Word Millionaire if you want!
Another way to make vocabulary building a habit is to read the Reader’s Digest regularly. You don’t have to read the stories or articles in there. Look for Word Power Made Easy, which comes with every issue. If your dad happens to be a collector like mine, you can even run after past issues and try to find some words new to you there! Be creative. Make the word learning process fun for you and even for the rest of your household. Over dinner, for example, you can throw in some unfamiliar words in the conversation. Who knows? Your dad might get so impressed with you for being serious with your English vocabulary–he might end up increasing your allowance!
The key to maintaining this word building habit is perseverance or sticktoitivness (this one’s not in the dictionary yet). That means, you have to keep going and never miss a day! For if you happen to miss a day you know what happens? It gets harder and harder to catch up! In the words of William James, touted as the father of Modern Psychology, “Do not suffer an exception until the habit is well-ingrained.”
So just keep at it. When you read the newspaper in the morning, pick out at least five words there that you don’t understand. Then pick up Mr. Webster (which pretty soon should become as omnipresent in your household as your dog). If it isn’t in you to read the newspaper at all, try the technique on your favorite Romance pocketbook or sci-fi novel. Even these reading materials contain enough words, which are new to you to keep you at your newfound habit.
There would be times, though; when you don’t have any access to a dictionary so what do you do in that crowded bus? Well, there’s a way out of this. Mark the word with your pen, pencil or highlighter. What if you don’t have any? Well, just repeat the word to yourself a number of times (for memory’s sake) and try to guess the meaning. Then, back home; reward yourself if you get the meaning right. As I said earlier, the germ of the word’s meaning is found in the root.
The trick of repeating the word to yourself and guessing its possible meaning is designed to help you pay attention to the word. As a matter of fact, it should help a lot if you also bothered to pronounce the word orally so that you become truly familiar with it. The more familiar you are with the word, the more the chances that you will keep it for the rest of your life. Of course, it does not hurt to use your newfound friend whenever appropriate in your daily conversations. By all means, do not relegate new words within the confines of your school term paper or speech class. Doing that, you will not only be shortchanging Mr. Webster. You will be shortchanging yourself!
When pronouncing that newfound word to yourself, try to discover the right way of articulating it. Just as there are spelling demons in Vocabulary Land, there are also pronunciation demons. Pay special attention to words like vignette, or naivete, or misantrophe, among many others. They are pronounced in special ways. This might slow you down a little bit in your vocabulary building habit, or even your daily reading for that matter, but I can assure you it will be worth it!
Avoid making the same mistake I did when I was new to this habit. I would use the word confidently in a conversation with a friend, only to be advised that I did not pronounce it right. I learned this tip the hard way. So avoid embarrassment; find out in advance how some difficult words are pronounced before you use them. An understanding of phonetics helps, but a surefire help is a dictionary with a simplified pronunciation guide. Having this kind of dictionary is a definite plus in your vocabulary expansion experience.
What I mean by a dictionary with a simplified pronunciation guide is the one that gives you examples such as that the “pe” in the word experience sounds like the “pe” in the word “pear.” I never liked those dictionaries that mark the syllables with all those tildes and dots, which serve to confuse you more than help you! To be honest, these dictionary types are an absolute waste of time. So don’t fall for that trap, unless you really have an uncanny taste for scholarly phonetics.
To summarize, let me reiterate that all words have roots. Words can have a Greek, Latin, German, etc. origin. The word boondocks for example, came from the Philippines, probably coined by National Geographic explorers to the islands who heard their native guides refer to mountains as such. Of course, in the native vernacular, the word boondocks was not spelled that way. Indeed, when foreign words are adopted they do undergo some form of change.
I paused to discuss this particular word for a purpose. This is the kind of process that I’d like you to go through when learning your daily words. The more thoughtful you are about them, the more they will become part of your brain. I can promise you that you will reap the rewards in no time, especially if you get a job someday that will enable you to capitalize on your treasure trove of words, such as a writing, research, or advertising vocation.
New words are born everyday, as English is alive and well and spoken by millions worldwide. Don’t let the bandwagon leave you behind, jump in and corner the steering wheel!New words