4 Steps to Building a Strong Vocabulary- Step 1: Learn New words Suman February 18, 2015

4 Steps to Building a Strong Vocabulary- Step 1: Learn New words

In the series so far, we  have already looked at: 

1. 6 reasons why vocabulary is important: A strong vocabulary is important to communicate effectively in any role in life. 

2. We next looked at the 4 step approach to building word power. The second post in the series takes you through the step wise process. Starting from the basics of learning the meaning of each word to how you could pile on synonyms to multiply your word power. 

Today I will take you through step one of the process. I thought of writing this post because you will need the most clarity in this step. And you will also find sustaining this phase the toughest. This is because you are training your mind to remember words, one at a time, which seems a long and tedious process. But let me assure you that it is going to be productive and well worth your time and effort.

As mentioned in the last post, I’d like to reiterate that you will need, above all else, a lot of passion and patience to go through the process. Before you start, be sure that you really want to improve and this resolve is supported by concrete reasons which can help you bounce back in times when you flounder along the way.

Also, a couple of more things before we start. The vocabulary building process has to be supplemented by reading. And for two important reasons. One, reading is the imperative fodder which will feed you new words. Two, reading will get you to bump into words you have already looked up further cementing them in your memory. So find time to read even if it is on the move. Note down – on paper, in your phone, on your tablet – the words whose meanings you don’t know. Don’t try to look up meanings right away. Though looking them up in your dictionary app is much easier now. But, trust me, a cursory glance at the dictionary will not help you retain the word nor will you remember the meaning the next time you come across it. As mentioned earlier, you need to spend some time with words to make them your friends.

Another thing – you may want to do fewer words in a day but do it with consistent frequency than sit on a weekend trying to deal with all the words of the entire week. It’s difficult to remember everyone in a room full of people. You will hardly recall anyone after having shaken hands once. You are better off meeting a few people at a time and committing them to memory so that you can recall them and what they do easily. So instead of looking at 15-20 words in a day, it’s alright to do 7-10. Remember that we are looking at quality and not quantity. Our aim is not to learn all the words in the language but to learn the words we come across well.

So let’s assume that you have done your reading for the day and have noted down words for today in your vocabulary book. If you look at the last post in the series, you will recall the details we will write about our word friends in the first meeting. We will do 5 words as a sample.

1. Encomium (n): Warm, glowing praise; a formal expression of praise

Eg: He ended the encomium with high sounding adjectives

His speech sounded like a perfunctory encomium (You may want to look up perfunctory from this sentence)

Pl: encomiums

2. Dour (adj): Sullen, gloomy, severe, stern

Eg: The captains’ dour look depressed us all

His dour criticism made us regret having taken up the job

Dourness (n); dourly (adv)

3. Pedantic (adj): a) Narrow, often tiresome display of knowledge, trying to prove one is so intelligent

Eg: The teacher was a pedant who believed in following rules

b) Overly concerned about detail

Eg: His pedantic attention to detail made him unpopular

Pedant (n); pedantry (n)

4. Pontificate (n): a) the office or term of office of a pontiff

Eg: a) Leo succeeded the pontificate after Hilarious

(v): b) to speak or behave in a pompous manner

Eg: Did he pontificate about the responsibilities of a good citizen?

Pontification (n)

5. Mortify (v): a) to humiliate or shame as by injury to one’s pride or self-respect.

Eg: These modern fables portray an anti hero whose faults always mortify him

b) to subjugate (the body, passions, etc.) by abstinence, ascetic discipline, or self-inflicted suffering.

Eg: The tribe practiced mortifying austerities on a regular basis.

c) Pathological meaning: to affect with gangrene or necrosis.

Eg: If so, his leg cannot be amputated, and will soon mortify in this climate.

Mortifier (n); mortifyingly (adv); mortifying (adj)

Writing down words and their details in this way helps you keep track of the words you came across. You may want to go back to the sentences where you read them and make sense of them in the light of what you just learnt about them. Initially, writing down words like this may seem meaningless. But as we go along the process, you will realize that as more words join in and you read more, you will bump into them and they’ll begin making more sense. Make sure that you revise these words on a regular basis. Only when you meet people often do you get to know them well and remember them forever beyond a point. 

I’d like to add a word about pronunciation. How words are pronounced is critical while speaking. You may want to watch out for the correct pronunciations as well. There are a lot of dictionary apps which also have voiceovers that pronounce the right word for you.

The credit for word meanings in this post goes to dictionary.com

Suggested activity: Read this brilliant piece and make a list of words you don’t know. You can use them to get yourself started on your brand new vocab book:

A Curious Case of Writer’s Block

Let me know how step one goes for you. Feel free to write to me about your experiences and questions. I’d love to hear from you.

Subsequent posts in the series:

The next post talks about making connections between words and the third one about developing word networks to make your learning more dynamic. Words that have similar meanings can be grouped together to make it easier to remember them.

The final post in the series is about learning the connotations of words and the different shades of meaning they have.