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Ten Tips to Build Your Vocabulary

Vocabulary building is a consistent, inevitable activity for all people, from schoolchildren to businesspersons. Most people follow the simple step of a word a day and fail later on to keep it going.

Have you ever felt a complete lack of words to express your ideas? Have you been unsuccessful in something just due to the lack of vocabulary? Have you lost an interview or university selection due to not being able to express your opinions properly? Then a vocabulary building campaign will transform you entirely. Here are some tips to enrich you lexically.

Each Trade Has Its Own Terminology

A schoolchild most probably would not know what a ‘stock’ or ‘share’ is; a stockbroker may not know what ‘anthropocentricism’ means; and a politician may not know what ‘Phishing’ means. All these terms belong to specialized terminology, which only the professionals in those respective fields may know. If you are into any specialism, you will be able to handle your profession’s terminology easily. People working outside your profession may not know enough of these words.

Students aiming at specific fields should first work on the field-specific terminology. It is a very important primary step to take. However, writers may need to amass vocabulary from all fields, dependent on the professions of his characters.

Students should also read professional publications on the field, just to familiarize with new words. Here are some websites from which you can get some field-specific terminology.

Terminology Collection
Special Dictionaries

Vocabulary outside Your Realm

Stocking some new words (maybe some slang expressions as well) for normal tete-a-tete with your pals or your boss is as equally important as mastering your specialist terminology. Your fluency and diversity are determined by this stock (though knowing too much may foil your speech). When you move out of your place to a different county or a foreign country, you will realize the importance of a richer vocabulary. Here are sites from which you can learn some slang expressions:

A Dictionary of Slang
Urban Dictionary
British Slang Dictionary

Here are the tips to gradually build a better vocabulary...

1. Read and Analyze Words

Reading voraciously is not always the best way to enrich your vocabulary. I used to read a lot but now for a few days, reduced my intake to less than half as much. The trick to learn more words is not reading fiction; you may easily get absorbed into the story and your aim will sink into oblivion. Instead of fiction, read a lot of nonfiction—articles from newspapers, blogs, magazines, etc. You will encounter several new words. Reading on specialized topics and general articles one hour or even half-an-hour a day will secure you some cool new words.

The mistake casual readers make is they do not look up the confusing new words in a dictionary. They try to assess the meaning from the context. This is not an appropriate way to enrich your vocabulary. People dedicated to vocabulary buildup should keep a dictionary handy when they read. Check all those new words for their correct meaning.

2. Form Your Sentences

Keep a diary also handy. Jot down new words and their meaning. Now, form a couple of new sentences using each new word. This will help embed each of these words into your Grey matter. Usage of a word is more important than anything else; you should not invent new usages to a word. Here is my article on semantics of words, which explains this better.

3. Use a Thesaurus

As an addition to the above tip, always keep a thesaurus handy. A thesaurus is a reference that gives you words approximate in meaning to the original. When online, you can check the Encarta Dictionary and Thesaurus or the Merriam Webster.

However, the synonyms given by the thesaurus may not always be apt to the context. Thesaurus only gives you words approximate in meaning. You should look up the synonyms also in the dictionary and form appropriate sentences. This will greatly increase your vocabulary.

4. Wordlists

Some professional publishers provide you the ‘word of the day’ This is a good read at the start of the day. Five of your minutes will fetch you five new words. Here are some of these sites; subscribe to their feeds and keep them ready for reading in the morning. Wordlist Word of the day
Merriam Webster
The New York Times Word of the Day
Oxford English Dictionary

5. Vocabulary Games

What are the games you play to kill time? Why not include crossword to the list? You can also invent some new word games and play them occasionally with your friends or spouse. These activities will greatly help you gain new words. Many people (I included) kill their spare time with Flash games. Vocabulary games are fun as well as enriching and can be great replacement for any other type of games. Here are some places for you to play and learn: Learning vocabulary fun
Daily Crossword Puzzle
Vocabulary Games

6. Prioritize Your Vocabulary Building

The most important of all these tips is this: prioritize your vocabulary buildup. This is not exactly a tip, but a word of caution. If you don’t give it importance, it can easily be secondary to you, leading to inactivity after a month. So, make sure you do it every day. Vocabulary building is like bodybuilding—something to be done every day unless you want to get right back to the starting point. In your daily schedule, allot one hour in the early morning for new words, and that’s it!

7. List Your Words and Use Them Regularly

Surveys indicate that a person is most prone to forget the newly learned words within the first 24 hours. So, you should find ways to retain the new words learned for that time. Come back to your list more often during the time of the day. If possible, create some stickers with new words and put them on your room wall.

Another nifty tip: if you are using computer on a daily basis, save the new words into an image file and put it as your desktop background. You can create images using professional image editors, but for this purpose, your normal Windows Paint is enough. Familiarize the words again and again during the week, and the word will gradually permeate into your permanent word stock.

8. Power of Writing

Never underestimate writing as a way of vocabulary building. When you actually sit down to write a paragraph, you will know the difficulty. More than words, their coherence and usage matter. You can put down a few words in any order and be unprofessional, but there is only one way to be a better writer—write regularly. It doesn’t matter how many words, but be regular.

When you write, expressing your ideas in the most appropriate way is a tiring job. Sometimes you may not find the appropriate word for the context; sometimes you may just hate the word you used; sometimes the sentence constructed may not be satisfactory to you.

To avoid these issues, you will naturally look up new words, usages, and constructions in the dictionary. These efforts, if regular, will readily influence your speech, command of language, and professionalism.

9. Don’t Ignore Those Casual Words

Here is something people completely miss—the casual words. How many times have you found a bright new advertisement with a brand new word in a TV program and were puzzled what the word meant? How many times have you overheard a conversation with a word that confused you? These are normal daily life occasions, and people tend to ignore those new words instantly. Sometimes the words may be familiar but you may not be able to place their meaning at the time.

These casual occasions can contribute well toward your vocabulary. The nifty tip is to use your cell phone or pocket diary to jot down the new word instantly. You can refer for it at the end of the day. Alternatively, just take a shot of the ad with your cell phone camera if you have one.

10. Listening and Watching

Audio and video content can greatly influence your vocabulary building. When you can’t find time to read the news articles or blog content, you can watch related videos. Video sites like YouTube contain many popular short videos on many topics. You can search for any specific topic and find the corresponding videos. News websites like CNN, Reuters, FoxNews, etc., provide streaming video content of popular news stories. Alternatively, search within Google Videos for any topic.

There are a million videos available there on any subject. Audio content is a great substitute for videos. You can listen to the podcasts from popular news websites. Online radio websites are also there (BBC Radio for instance), which stream audio 24 hours a day. You can listen to them in your spare time and jot down the new words as you encounter.


The most important aspect of vocabulary building is continuity. It is quite easy to discontinue interesting things or even very lightweight things you do in your spare time. If you don’t generate interest, anything can bore you and make you discontinue. So, start to love learning words; at least start to love learning new things (if not words). From your reading and watching, you are learning new things and beside them, new words. Only interest will keep you going; hence never lose it.

Copyright © Lenin Nair 2008


  1. I think one can master vocabulary indeed if one follows all the ten tips prescribed by you. The most important aspect is to understand, analyse and use those words which you learned. is also a very good website for building quick vocabulary. Remember building vocabulary is a life-time process!!!

  2. Hi there, thanks for the comments


  3. Great post.
    These tips are really helpful as I have learned these tips applied them too and I found tremendous changes. there are some online resources to building vocabulary but I don't think none of them would cover the things what you have cover in a single blogs the links are useful too. Keep Going!

  4. Hi,

    Thanks for the comment. That was very encouraging indeed.


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