All of us grab for the right word and come up empty at times. Instead, we sputter and stutter to convey just the right meaning without much success.
- Read great books. In Great Britain, an organization devoted to preserving the Queen’s English is sponsoring a program to improve schoolchildren’s mastery of spoken English. For fifteen minutes at the close of the day, teachers will read aloud to their elementary-age students from classical works like The Wind in the Willows. Organizers hope that young students in the test classes will soon evidence a better vocabulary and grammar mastery. If successful, the program may be promoted to all school-age children. To improve your diction, pick up a classic book in print or an audiotape and read a few pages each day.
- Malcolm X essentially educated himself while in prison by copying a page of the dictionary each day on notebook paper. Look up words in the dictionary. Don’t gloss over a word you don’t know after hearing it in conversation or reading it in a book. Take a few moments to look up its meaning in the dictionary. Keep a college-level dictionary on hand for quick reference. When checking the word’s meaning, note its pronunciation so you can use it correctly in a speech. Also, look at its synonyms for an idea of new words that are interchangeable for use.
- Check your thesaurus. Use an online or print version that is reliable and readily accessible. You will be surprised at the number of verbal options that are available to choose from. Try out a new word in a note to a friend or in casual conversation. As you become more familiar with new vocabulary terms, you will enjoy their alternative sounds and meanings to spice up conversations. If you try one that doesn’t seem to fit, discard it for another the next time.
- What educational television. Although many programs use general vocabulary geared to high school-level students, program themes and associated terms may be more sophisticated. Listen for and learn new words that are unfamiliar. If their meanings are not quite clear in the program, look them up in the dictionary. You also can borrow free educational videos from the public library, and these also include special terms that will expand your vocabulary.
- Take an English class. You can enroll for a non-credit community-based creative writing class or sign up for a college-level reading or literature course. Higher education can strengthen a person’s critical thinking skills and help you develop more advanced levels of self-expression in both speech and writing. Talking with others about literature or communication is another way to become exposed to others’ views and vocabularies.
Don’t forget about Reader’s Digest columns on word usage, which often include short quizzes that are fun and educational. Stretching your lexicon by adding more words can stimulate brain cell function and performance, and possibly stave off dementia to keep your mind young and healthy.