How many words do you think you know?
Do you wish you knew more?
I do. I know plenty of words, but I am aware that there are many words I don’t know. I hated looking words up when I was a kid. I had a teacher that wouldn’t tell me how to spell something. She’d give me the first three letters and tell me to look it up in the dictionary. More often than not, however, I’d find another word I already knew.
I wish I hadn’t done that. I wish I had looked words up. Now, when I come across a word I don’t know, I proudly look it up. I’m excited to learn what it means. I want to know it so that I can use it.
It only takes 10,000 words to be fluent in a language, but you probably know 20,000 to 35,000 words in your native tongue. Yet there are over 200,000 words in an English dictionary.
The better your vocabulary, the better your writing will be.
You will have a bigger repertoire of words to choose from. You will have a vast understanding of what word best fits the meaning you are trying to convey. This will help you communicate better with your readers. Your writing will be more interesting, or more informative, or more powerful or emotional if you have a vocabulary big enough to be precise in your meaning. The more words you know, the more will be at your ready, easily available. Have you ever sat there, your cursor blinking trying to think of the right word? You know the word, but it’s just not coming to mind? The bigger your vocabulary, the more words you’ll have on the tip of your tongue. Which will help you find the right word in less time.
Another benefit to a bigger vocabulary is reducing redundant wording. If you are confident with a large variety of words you won’t feel limited to just the few you feel most comfortable with.
A bigger vocabulary will also help you understand and experience more of the world around you, thus giving you more to write about. For example, you can’t write a story about a centenarian if you don’t know what that is. Expanding your vocabulary will expand your world. And the more you know about, the more you can write about.
So, how can you expand your vocabulary?
3 Ways to Expand Your Vocabulary
Expand Your Vocabulary by Keeping a List of Words You Don’t Know
As I’m reading, I look up words I don’t know. If I’m listening to a podcast or an audiobook, I do the same thing. Whenever I come across a word I am unfamiliar with, I try to look it up. Often, I write them down. I have a section in my writer’s notebook for words I like and words I don’t know. This reminds me to look them up later if I don’t want to while reading or listening to something. It also helps me remember them for future use.
If you want reading material that will help you add words to your list, read above your reading level. Just a little bit. Challenge yourself, but don’t set yourself up for failure. Sometimes we need some easy reading where our minds can wander, and that is fine. Heck, that’s how I feel most of the time. 😉 But if you are in the mood to read something that will stretch you a bit, you will find lots of new words to learn.
Expand Your Vocabulary by Reading a Dictionary or Encyclopedia
You don’t have to wait until you are reading a book to look for words you don’t know. A dictionary or encyclopedia will also teach you words that some books just won’t have. An encyclopedia is also a great way to increase your vocabulary while learning about the world, or a topic that interests you. The knowledge you gain from reading an encyclopedia will help you have more to write about and it will help you have the precise words to convey your meaning.
When my husband was a little boy he was gifted an encyclopedia, and he read it. He has an incredible vocabulary, and occasionally uses words I don’t know. And I’m the writer!
When I was little, there was a summer when my mom had us learn a new word from the dictionary every day. We picked the word together and throughout the day tried to use it in sentences. Picking words from a dictionary to learn and use throughout the day helped me increase my vocabulary.
Reading a dictionary or an encyclopedia may sound like boring reading. So don’t feel obligated to read every single word or every single topic. Read what is interesting or useful. There are plenty of words in the dictionary that I know I will never use. So I don’t bother with those. But I am trying to read a little bit in the dictionary each night, focusing on words that I do want to know.
Expand Your Vocabulary by Learning Another Language
Not only is this an amazing way to learn the structure and grammar of your native tongue, but it will help you expand your vocabulary too. As you come across words in another language that you do not know, you might realize you don’t know the word in your native tongue either. I lived in Spain for a year and had a friend who would try and stump native Spanish speakers in their own language. In return, they would try and find words in English that he did not know. He learned a lot of interesting Spanish words when he stumped the natives, and they were able to teach him a few new words in English too. It was a fun way for everyone to expand language skills in English and Spanish.
Every foreign language also has words that simply do not exist in your native tongue. Learning these words will encourage you to be creative as you search for different words that come as close as possible to conveying the same thing. For example, in Spanish, the word ganas would be translated into English as desire. But Spanish also has the word deseo which means desire. Ganas is something so much more than desire. It’s a furious passion and motivation to do something. I’ve been trying to think of a better word than desire. I’ve come up with urge, compulsion, and yearning. To me, these words are so much stronger than desire. My ability to speak Spanish has helped me expand my vocabulary as I learn new words and try to find the best words in English to convey the meaning of words in Spanish.
What have you done to increase your vocabulary? How do you find the right word to convey what you are trying to say?