The other day a French Canadian woman I’m working with asked me to help improve her vocabulary by giving her a list of words she could memorize. I admired her determination, but the thought of handing over a page of words for her to memorize, without any kind of context, struck me as a form of punishment rather than a good learning experience.
But I understand where she’s coming from. (You may too, if you’ve ever found yourself in a dentist’s office mulling over the Reader’s Digest vocabulary quizzes, like Word Power. Although English is my first language, I know that having a good range of vocabulary is invaluable when it comes to making presentations or writing any kind of business document. It’s not about acquiring complicated words with many syllables; it’s about finding new and striking ways to make a point.
So instead of giving my client a laundry list of words, I suggested the following ways she could expand her written and spoken vocabulary to help both in business and everyday life:
- Read publications that interest you, jotting down words you don’t understand. This has the added benefit of increasing your vocabulary in a subject matter you already care about.
- Podcasts and Web Streaming: Just Vocabulary is one example of a website that works on vocabulary through podcasts (and web streaming, where you can just listen at your computer). They focus on words that are rich with meaning, many of them used in more formal business communications, such as contracts.
- The Visual Thesaurus lets you create a kind of word map. You plug in a word and other words conveying all shades of meaning of your word choice jump onto the screen. There’s also an audio component so that you can hear the words spoken.
By the way, if you are reading this blog post and English is your second language, I’d also suggest listening to radio or television news. Why the news? News announcers tend to speak slowly and clearly, which gives you time to write down any unfamiliar vocabulary. Then you can look it up in your dictionary, or online at dictionary.reference.com.
Expanding vocabulary can be fun. It’s only when it’s just a matter of dry and dusty memorization that it becomes overwhelming. This is why at the end of a long day sometimes I improve my vocabulary in yet another way. Scrabble or boggle, anyone?