Using good vocabulary while speaking is one of the basic tenets of the English language. This indicates that you are well-versed with the language, and also that you can use the right words at the right time and place. This may seem like a chore, but you have to remember: vocabulary is just another fancy term for words!
Words are tools used in a language to convey meaning, and hence should be used carefully. A fun fact: the words bandit, dwindle and critic all were invented by Shakespeare!
The first step towards improving your vocabulary is to understand active and passive vocabulary.
What is active and passive vocabulary?
Your active vocabulary is made up of words that you may use both orally and in writing (also called functional vocabulary). Of course, you comprehend these terms both when reading and hearing. Consider the phrases “eat,” “sell,” “drink,” “see,” and “cook.”
What about terms like savagery, skinny, salvage, outsmart, and munch? Do you frequently use these terms in your writing and speaking? Unlikely.
When reading and hearing, do you comprehend the meaning of these words? Very likely. These phrases make up your vocabulary (also called recognition vocabulary). These words can be understood when reading and listening but not when speaking or writing.
Many people wrongly think that because they can understand the majority of words while reading and listening, they have a strong vocabulary. But, when you utilise words in conversation and writing, that’s when vocabulary really shines and becomes useful. You’ll be misjudging your vocabulary if you do it using the active vs. passive standard.
Why to build your vocabulary?
You would be all too familiar with instances where people constantly hesitate during speeches because they are having trouble coming up with the right things to say. Let’s look at this with an example.
Consider the sentence: She walked away with anger and closed the door harshly behind her.
Does this seem very plain yet drawn out to you?
Now consider a slight modification of the sentence: She stormed off and slammed the door behind her.
Does this feel very specific and to the point, describing exactly what happened?
Though the length of the two sentences is almost the same, the second sentence stands out more because of the usage of specific words in it. Sometimes, the specificity of language is what makes it stand out more to the on-looker.
How to build vocabulary that you can use daily?
1) Get more inputs:
Reading and listening to build your vocabulary helps, but it might be short-term. Instead, try picking up words and phrases from movies, TV shows, video games, or even music. This is how you enlarge your scope of learning vocabulary, without just watching news, reading newspapers or listening to people around you speak the language.
2) Gather words from your passive vocabulary:
Your passive vocabulary expands over the course of months and years as a result of the reading and listening you undertake. To some extent, you already know what they signify and how to use them. That is similar to picking low hanging fruit, to use a phrase we have previously overused.
Write down terms that you already know but don’t use while speaking or writing (i.e., those that are in your passive vocabulary). Earlier in the text, we discussed a few examples of these phrases, like pluck, dump, salvage, munch, etc.
Don’t know which words to take note of exactly?
You may use the following two questions to choose which words to write down for future reference.
- Do you understand the word’s meaning given the reading or listening situation?
- Do you speak and write using this word?
You can write down the term if the answer to the first question is “yes” and the second question is “no.”
3) Explore an online dictionary:
It is time to move past just interpreting words in context.
You should look up each term you’ve noted in a dictionary in more detail. Understand their exact meaning (s). Pronounce words aloud while paying attention to how they sound, first as single words and then as phrases. In order to practise spaced repetition and remember the meaning(s) for a long time, it is good to write down the meaning(s) and a few sample sentences.
For those who are unfamiliar with spaced repetition, it is the most effective method for retaining information in your long-term memory. Today, there are several alternatives for taking notes on words and other information about them, including note-taking applications and the trusted word document.
But why go through the tedious process of writing down – and likely going over – sample sentences? Why not just create sentences after learning the word’s definition?
The more words you know, the more you’ll know how to create sentences.
Here are some pointers to using words you learnt in sentences:
1. Describe everything around you: Use the vocabulary you have gathered and use it for describing what you see, hear or taste.
2. Form sentences for words you write down: Every word you see and note down, form sentences for them to help you integrate the meaning of the word.
3. Create thematic webs: Consider a word and all the words that are similar to it. Briefly, form a web of words about a certain subject, and review all the words you have noted within it.
These practices will definitely help you with integrating good words in your English language, but remember- CONSISTENCY. In order to move the word from your passive to active vocabulary, you’ll have to implement all that you learnt continuously.