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Building Vocabulary

10 Apr 2019
Building Vocabulary

A wide and varied vocabulary not only helps you to read more effectively, but also makes you more interesting, respected and regarded as being highly intelligent. It doesn’t matter whether you had a classical education or went to university. Everyone can develop their vocabulary with the right tools and attitude.
Little and Often
You don’t have to spend hours and hours poring over the dictionary or thesaurus. Just make a note of unfamiliar words you come across in your everyday reading. Don’t let this break your reading rhythm, just jot down a list or make a little Mind Map at the end of a section. Aim to learn one new word a day. If you run out of new words, ‘Merriam Webster’ and other websites have a word-of-the-day feature.
The keys to memorising any new vocabulary, be that foreign words, technical terms or English words are Imagination and Association. Think of an object that sounds similar to the new word and represent this in your mind by a picture. Create a second image that represents the meaning of the word. Link these two together in a single scene or situation. For example:
Pogonophobia – Fear of beards.
Associate a bearded man on a pogo stick.
Coelacanth – An African sea fish previously thought to be extinct.
Associate a ‘sealer can’ with a fish in it.
Terrarium – A place for keeping small land animals.
Associate a terrapin in a tank.
The more fun you have creating memorable imaginary pictures the easier they will be to recall. You can also increase your recall by capturing your images in Mind Map form.
Successful spellers generally ‘see’ words rather than ‘hearing’ them in their head. English is often taught using phonics such as ‘d - o - g’. This is a good strategy for learning to read, but the most commonly misspelled words are those that don’t follow phonetic rules.
The position of a person’s eyes when thinking can reveal whether they are seeing a mental picture, hearing a sound or experiencing a feeling. They will generally look up and to their left to recall pictures. This position in space is where most people naturally ‘file’ images. So it makes sense to put mental images of words that you want to learn in the same place.
To remember the spelling of a word, write the word clearly on a piece of card and hold it up to the top left of your field of view. Carefully look at the word, noticing its shape. Then put down the card and ‘see’ the word in your imagination. Try varying aspects of the mental image to make it more memorable. Change colours, brightness, perhaps even make it flash.
When you need to recall a word’s spelling just look up and to your left. With practice you can simply ‘read’ off the spelling in your mind’s eye.
The brain is synergetic (the whole is greater than the sum of the parts). Language is similar. When you break words apart, the components can recombine in many combinations to make lots of new words.
Most scientific or medical terms have Latin or Greek origins. Once you know a root, prefix or suffix you can easily associate a number of similarly derived words, making it easier to rapidly build vocabulary.
You learned ‘Terrarium’. ‘Terra’ is Latin for ‘earth’ so can you guess the meaning of: Terrestrial, Terraform, Extra-terrestrial or Terra Firma?
My name, PHILIP means ‘fond of horses’ in Greek.
Phil gives rise to:
Francophile – Someone who is fond of all things French
Sinophile – A person with a love for Chinese culture or its people
Philanthropist – A lover of humanity who seeks to promote the welfare of others
Hip can be found in:
Hippopotamus – River Horse
Hippocampus – Sea Horse
Spinning Plates and Spaced Review
In his book, ‘You Can Have an Amazing Memory’ Dominic O’Brien writes, “Knowing when and how many times to review the data you need to remember (whether that's decks of cards or a shopping list or information for a meeting or exam) will make the difference between success and failure in your attempts at recall.
A good analogy is the circus act of plate spinning. The performer spins plates on the ends of upright sticks, one at a time. After about ten or so of these plates have been set up to spin, the first two or three start to wobble. The performer checks these first few plates, gives the sticks a bit of a spin to keep the plates going, and then continues to spin more and more plates until there are 30 or more whirling away at the same time”
The forgetting curve, originally proposed by Hermann Ebbinghaus, shows how rapidly memories decay (and thus when to review). Five reviews is usually enough to transfer information into long term memory. The optimum review process is to do a first review 10 minutes after learning, then one day later, after a week, one month and finally three to six months.
If you regularly select new words, memorise them using imagination and association, use spelling strategies, make use of synergy to learn related words and review appropriately, you can have a huge vocabulary. Reading becomes easier and your writing, conversation and reputation will improve too. Best of Luck!