A recent report carried out by Oxford University Press has shed light on a growing problem among primary and secondary school pupils in the UK. Research suggests that a high proportion of students have such a limited vocabulary that it’s affecting their overall academic performance and learning. This worrying #wordgap is also thought to result in lower self-esteem and fewer opportunities later in life.
Unsurprisingly, the greater number of words we have at our disposal, the greater choice we have in how we communicate. It’s not about using big words for the sake of it (unless you’re playing Scrabble) but about choosing the right ones to ensure contextual accuracy – as well as textual variety.
By adding to our lexicon we can become better writers and better conversationalists. We also open up new avenues of thinking and increase our ability to interpret the world around us.
While the acquisition of new words often happens subconsciously, it sometimes helps to take a more proactive approach to giving your vocabulary a boost.
Here are a few things you can do:
Read widely: novels, non-fiction, poetry, leaflets, magazines, newspapers, journals… the back of a cereal pack… it all counts. Venture outside your comfort zone in terms of topic and you’ll soon pick up some new terminology. The same goes for audio books and radio programmes.
Take note: one of the best ways of remembering a new word is to a) look up the definition and then b) write it down. Try making a list that you can refer back to, either on a notepad or on your computer/phone. If you’re reading something online you can also take a screenshot of the text to look up later.
Find alternatives: using a thesaurus can be a quick and easy way of discovering interesting synonyms. Just don’t forget: clarity trumps verboseness.
Keep it regular: before Twitter there was ‘word of the day’ loo roll. Now you can get your daily dose by following any number of accounts that feed you new words each day. You can even sign up to receive Word of the Day emails from the Oxford English Dictionary.
Test yourself: playing a game like knoword or taking some time to sit with a crossword turns the challenge into a fun activity.