7 Vocabulary Building Strategies that Work!

3 June 2021

It’s not a secret that you need to have a good command over vocabulary to master a language. This statement is not only true for learning English but also stands true for learning every single language in the world.

The stronger vocabulary you have, the better you can express your thoughts to others. After having a substantial vocabulary, you should focus on learning the grammar.

The plan seems quite straightforward!

However, there is an issue. While there is a structure or pattern to follow for learning grammar, you can’t follow any pre-designed learning path for vocabulary. Rather, you can only learn new words and build vocabulary as you go.

So, how can you work on your vocabulary building?

While many suggest following the flashcard method, it doesn’t bear fruit in the long run. It happens as you’re only memorizing the words for the sake of memorizing. And, your brain doesn’t store them in the long-term memory reservoir as you don’t need (or use) those words in your everyday life.

That means there are two major hurdles on our path to vocabulary building. We don’t have any structured learning path and our brains simply erase the (forced) memorized words after a while.

Today, we’d look into these issues and unravel how we could effectively work on our vocabulary building.


Vocabulary Building Strategies

You might be thinking about grabbing a dictionary and start memorizing words and their meaning from page one. After all, we already know that it takes about 50 seconds to memorize a word. By that logic, you can build a vocabulary of 1000 new words in under 14 hours!

Doesn’t it seem a bit too easy?

Yes! And sadly, this method will not work in real life, unless you have the brain-power of a prodigy.

As you memorize a word and its meaning, you’re storing the information in short-term memory or working memory. After a while, our brains throw most of these pieces of information into the trash!


Because we don’t need that information to serve any particular cause.

This is the science behind why cramming words from the dictionary is one of the least effective vocabulary building methods.

Hmm … It seems that we need to come up with some vocabulary building strategies!

Here are some good strategies that you can follow —


Diversify Your Reading Efforts

Despite being a tedious and passive approach to vocabulary building, reading is by far one of the most effective strategies. But you need to understand the impact of diversifying your reading patterns.

For example, the detective and spy stories will contain words that introduce the readers to words specific to the crime and crime-solving genre. A reader might stumble upon words like — espionage, homicide, vandalism, arsonist, bribery, embezzlement, etc.  

On the other hand, if you read a romantic novel, you’ll get exposed to words related to emotions and feelings. In this case, you might see words like — angelic, alluring, adore, cherish, passion, infatuation, etc.  

Even if you’re reading academic books, you’re getting exposed to words relevant to that particular subject or topic.

To have a stronger vocabulary, you should read books from different genres. Plus, your reading materials should contain both fiction and non-fiction plots or settings.

You need to diversify.

This strategy will introduce you to more words fitting to different scenarios and circumstances — creating an all-encompassing vocabulary building strategy.


Be More Aware of Words While Reading

Do you feel like having a poor vocabulary despite you read a lot? You’re not the only one — many of us face the same issue.

This is because we only focus on reading but not on the — quality of reading. If you become more aware while reading, you start to focus on every word that the writer has used.

For example, let’s consider this sentence — “Sarah’s callous remark on Phoebe’s struggle with depression astounded everyone in the room.”  Now, let’s assume that you don’t know the meaning of callous and astounded in this sentence.

But you are very clever and can understand the context without knowing the meaning of every word in a sentence. Here, the context suggests that — Sarah made “some kind of weird comment” and everyone is in shock.

Although you’ve successfully guessed the meaning of the sentence, you just missed an opportunity to learn the word callous and astounded.

As you’re reading, you should try to gather as many words as possible into your vocabulary. This is one of the best ways for vocabulary building. Plus, you’ll not have to actively memorize words but use the context in your favor. You’ll see more effective results in this way.


Use Visual Cues

The fundamental of this vocabulary building strategy is quite simple — associate mental images with words. This strategy shares core philosophy with the mind palace memorizing strategy.

For example, let’s consider the word callous from the previous section. Now that you know the meaning of the word to be heartless or cold-hearted, you can associate a movie villain with this word.

Here’s an idea — think of Thanos (the villain in the Avengers movies) when you read or hear the word callous.

You can use scenes from movies or TV shows, comic books, memes, or events in your life. The only limit is your imagination.

This technique will help you memorize words and recall their meanings with ease. So, from the next time, associate newly learned words with visual images.


Implement the Newly Learned Words in Different Cases

If you don’t use newly learned words, you’ll eventually forget them. It doesn’t matter which vocabulary building strategies you’ve used. You’ll forget the words that you don’t use.

So, whenever you learn a new word, try to use that word in different cases. You could use that in essays, exams, journals, or even while talking to others.

For example, let’s again think of the word callous. We don’t use that word very often while talking to others. Rather, we prefer using cold-blooded or heartless. But that doesn’t mean you can use it. Use callous instead of heartless from the next time.

It will diversify your speech and make you sound smarter! But most importantly, that word will store in your vocabulary permanently.


Have a Dictionary by Your Side

If you want to improve your skills and work on your vocabulary building, you must have a dictionary by your side. A good dictionary can be your best English teacher. You could either get a physical copy of a dictionary or rely on an online dictionary. Most of the popular dictionaries now have apps too.

The main idea is to have quick access to your dictionary. In this way, you can instantly look up an unknown word. Apart from the meaning of the word, you should also check the synonyms and check how that word is typically used in a sentence.

Some of the good dictionaries also offer historical evidence of the words. For example, the word Callous comes for the Latin word Callus.  And, it was added to the English language in the 1800s.

These pieces of information also help you remember the word in different ways. The more information you have about a word, the more sources you’ll have to associate the word.

However, make sure that your dictionary of choice is a good reputation and comes with a wide collection of words. A cheap dictionary (in terms of quality) will do more harm than good.


Use the Common Vocabulary Building Activities

Apart from the clever strategies and vocabulary building examples mentioned above, you can incorporate the common vocabulary building activities too.

For example, having a strong sense of prefix, suffix, and root words will help you add a cluster of words to your word collection. For example, the root word, depend changes its meaning with the addition of suffix (dependent, depended, depending) and prefix (independent).

Then, you can learn more about the language families and the words coming from different languages. This vocabulary building activity is better known as the study of etymology.

You can learn about more vocabulary activities in this article. Make sure to check it out.


Consider Participating in Vocabulary Building Exercises

Vocabulary building is a long and tedious process. You can’t have a wide collection of words within days — it takes years to build up a strong vocabulary.

That’s why you should participate in vocabulary building exercises. These exercises will help you with spaced repetition and frequent exposure to the words.

The spelling section of SpellQuiz uses dictation as the key vocabulary building activity. Dictation will help your listening and writing skills as well. So, you’re basically practicing four skills at the same time — listening, writing, spelling, and vocabulary building.

With SpellQuiz, you can also participate in vocabulary building games online. The SBO or Spelling Bee Online is an online multiplayer game that allows you to showcase your spelling prowess as you play against players from all around the world. By showing you spelling skills, you can have your name on the leaderboard too.

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