When I glance over my blog posts and other types of content I’ve written during the past six years, I can’t help but marvel at how much my vocabulary has improved with time. Like every writer, I once struggled to write coherently. And it was frustrating because each time I had an idea I badly wanted to write about, I always struggled to find the right words to express the idea.
Time and again, I’ve had several people — writers and bloggers who want to improve the quality of their writing — ask me how I managed to develop my vocabulary to the level it’s at today. And so I’ve decided to share the secrets of my vocabulary success in this blog post.
This may sound too good to be true, but if you diligently employ these effective methods, you’ll develop your vocabulary and learn to write with clarity in no time.
Seven Things I Did to Improve My Vocabulary
1. I read extensively and avidly.
I used to read novels purely for the purpose of entertainment. But when I discovered other benefits of reading extensively and regularly, one of which was that it developed my vocabulary, I adopted a different approach to reading.
First, I broadened my scope of content and started reading more than just novels: I began to read interesting nonfiction content (newspaper articles, movie and book reviews, blog posts, essays, etc) under a wide range of genres. And I didn’t just read these forms of content; I studied them, too. I observed how each sentence was constructed, noted the writer’s tone, and studied how that tone affected their choice of words.
I also formed the habit of annotating whenever I was reading and highlighting words that I wasn’t yet familiar with. And as I consistently introduced myself to new words and diverse writing styles, my vocabulary improved significantly with time.
2. I studied the dictionary intensively.
The dictionary is an indispensable tool for anyone who wants to increase their vocabulary, and it has been a part of my arsenal for as long as I can remember. With a detailed dictionary, you can easily learn the correct spellings and pronunciations of various words. You can also use it to learn the alternate meanings and correct usage of words that you don’t fully understand.
My favourite dictionary for handy use is Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary. I used (and still use) this dictionary to learn more about collocations, connotations, idioms, phrasal verbs, figures and parts of speech, and other grammatical nuances.
The dictionary is also useful for finding words that are nearest in meaning to the quality, state of being, or manner of action that you want to describe. For example, did you know that while ‘chubby’, ‘plump’, ‘obese’ and ‘overweight’ are synonyms of ‘fat’, they can’t always be used interchangeably?
3. I increased my active vocabulary.
Your passive vocabulary comprises words that you understand but don’t use when speaking or writing. Conversely, your active vocabulary comprises words that you understand and use in your everyday speech and writing.
Naturally, our passive vocabulary is much larger than our active one. So when people say they want to increase their vocabulary, what they mean is that they want to transfer the words in their passive vocabulary to their active vocabulary while consistently adding new words to their passive vocabulary.
The truth is, the more new words you come across, the larger your passive vocabulary will grow. But before you can increase your active vocabulary, you must first practise writing and speaking using the words in your passive vocabulary.
To achieve this, I incorporated newly learnt words in my conversations and writing. And since I hardly forgot about anything whenever I discussed it with people, anytime I learnt a new word, I always made sure to discuss its usage with other people.
4. I practised visual vocabulary building.
One advantage of having a wide vocabulary is that it rids your writing of those excess words that aren’t needed to express an idea. Simply put, it rids your writing of verbiage. (And, in case you didn’t notice, my use of ‘verbiage’ perfectly illustrates this point).
Verbiage is the disease of writing, and the only way to overcome it is by learning to write using words with more precise meanings. Fortunately for me, my Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary features a “Visual Vocabulary Builder” section that lists the specific names of various activities, objects, parts of objects, etc.; thereby teaching me to write with more precision.
So now I call it a corkscrew, not that instrument that is used to open wine bottles. And I also know the difference between a stiletto, a slingback and a wedge shoe, no thanks to my mum.
The next time you find yourself stuck in a traffic jam, taking a stroll in the park or waiting in line at the ATM, try to name every object you can find around you as I always do. And if you see an object whose name you don’t know or remember, simply take a picture of it and search the Internet for its specific name. This will ultimately increase your vocabulary and rid your writing of verbiage.
5. I freewrote every day.
Another thing I did to improve my written vocabulary was to freewrite in my journal every day. Freewriting simply means writing continuously without paying attention to spelling, grammar or topic.
And it doesn’t matter if your target is a set period of time (such as ‘write for thirty minutes every day’), a set number of words (such as ‘write 500 words every day’), or a combination of both (such as ‘write 500 words in thirty minutes every day’). What matters is that you practise freewriting regularly and consistently using those words that are in your passive vocabulary.
6. I took vocabulary tests frequently.
The vocabulary tests I took served more as a way for me to test my vocabulary than as a way for me to develop it. They were how I measured my progress over time to determine whether or not my strategies were working effectively. And, thankfully, they were working.
If you’re looking for a fun way to enhance or grade your vocabulary, then Merriam-Webster is a great place to start. This dictionary app features two interesting word games that are useful for vocabulary development.
The first game, How Strong Is Your Vocabulary, tests your knowledge of words and their synonyms. The second game, however, is a visual vocabulary builder which tests you on how well you know the specific names of various objects. These word games, coupled with several English proficiency tests I took regularly, improved my vocabulary beyond measure.
7. I watched TV with keen attention.
The TV programmes you frequently watch will largely influence the way you speak. And since people usually write the way they normally speak, your favourite TV programmes will either make or break your written vocabulary.
I first realized this when I newly started watching Nickelodeon. Before then, my written vocabulary was sprinkled with many Nigerian slang words which I had no idea was improper English. Fortunately for me, though, watching Nickelodeon helped polish my oral vocabulary, which in turn enhanced my written vocabulary.
Now, I’m not suggesting that you can improve your vocabulary solely by watching Nickelodeon (if only it were that easy). All I’m saying is that watching TV, especially sitcoms and even the news, can go a long way in improving your vocabulary. I recommend sitcoms because their conversations are usually natural, witty and realistic, which makes them so easy to learn from.
The best way to improve your vocabulary using TV programmes is to study characters who speak eloquently and try to emulate the way they speak. You’ll learn much faster when you memorise your characters’ lines and practise talking like them. And what’s more, you’ll increase your passive vocabulary and become more adept at using the new words and phrases you’ll definitely learn.
There are several ways other than the ones listed here to expand your written vocabulary. And while some of these methods might work effectively for you, others might not work just as well. In the end, simply do what works for you.
If you try your hand at a learning technique for a while and it doesn’t improve your vocabulary, don’t hesitate to try out another technique. But when you finally find the techniques that work effectively for you, make an effort to practise them regularly, and you’ll clear the hurdle of incoherent writing before long.
If you enjoyed reading this blog post, you may be interested in some of my other blog posts, like:
- How to Find Topics to Write About
- Nine Reasons You’re Not Getting Comments on Your Blog Posts
- How to Beat Writer’s Block: 5 Tips That Help
So what are your tips for increasing one’s written vocabulary? And what techniques did you use to increase your own? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below!