Building vocabulary is always an uphill task for most aspirants for competitive exams, especially CSS and PMS. The better your vocabulary, the more the chances of your success. However, a vast majority of aspirants either takes this challenge lightly or keeps groping in the dark; thus, often ends up in failure. But, if you work diligently – but smartly – adding more and more words to your lexicon can be as easy as pie. Here we present some highly-effective tips to build your vocabulary with a short time.
1. Read, read and read
Reading is the single biggest thing that would help you build a strong vocabulary – needless to mention the other whole host of benefits that it offers. Although it is always advisable to read novels and other literary works, you will be exposed to more words when you go through good English-language magazines and newspapers. You should read articles written by noted columnists, editorials of newspapers and magazines. While doing so, you will encounter tonnes of new words, the meanings of which can be easily gleaned from the context in which they have been used. The broader and more challenging the reading selections are, the beefier your vocabulary will become.
It is also the best way to check on words you have already learned. When you come across a word you have recently studied, and you understand it, that proves you have learned its meaning.
So, read high-calibre newspapers, journals and magazines. Read whatever interests you. For example, if you like sports, read the sports page of the newspapers. There is no point in trying to read something you simply are not able to understand or are not interested in. The important idea is to find things to read you can enjoy, and to read as often and as much as possible with the idea of learning new words always in mind.
2. Read in context
Vocabulary should always be learnt in context, not in isolation. Research shows that words are learned better when they are read in context. It may not be emphasized enough, as learning in context of situations and sentences has huge benefits for all three aspects of vocabulary acquisition: learning, recall and retention.There are many ways of introducing context into the vocabulary learning, the simplest being to learn vocabulary in sentences. This has additional benefits of introducing the readers to several words at a time, and clarifying their meaning which may not always be obvious from a simple dictionary translation.
Beyond sentences, one can experiment with learning words with stories, songs or just everyday situations.
For instance, rather than learning weather-related words on their own, look up a weather forecast online, and try to imagine a conversation about weather next week, and how it will affect the picnic one has been looking forward to so much.
In fine, try to guess at a word’s meaning from its context, that is, the sense of the passage in which it appears. If you have a dictionary on hand, look up the word’s meaning immediately. This may slow down your reading somewhat, but your improved understanding of each new word will eventually speed your learning of other words, making reading easier.
One can pick up new words from the people one talks with and listens to. This is, after all, exactly how we learned words back when we were toddlers. We try to figure out the context and try them out ourselves.
The effectiveness of this listen-to-learn method depends on who we surround ourselves with. One should keep challenging oneself by associating with well-educated people, watching interesting lectures and taking the harder classes even if doing so makes one uncomfortable. Iron sharpens iron, and vocabulary of those with keen minds will rub off on us.
4. Write down unfamiliar words
Reading and listening are effective ways to get exposed to new words. Note down the unfamiliar word encountered while listening or speaking so as to retain the word in your memory better.
Make a daily practice of noting words of interest to you for further study whenever you are reading, listening to the radio, talking to friends, or watching television.
5. Use dictionary and thesaurus
A word can have multiple meanings and shades of meaning, the author or speaker could possibly have used the word in a different context and even if one guesses the right meaning, there are chances of misinterpreting. Whenever you hear an unfamiliar word, do look it up in the dictionary to get both its pronunciation and its meaning(s). Use whatever versions you prefer – in print, software, or online.
Next, go to the thesaurus and check the word’s synonyms and antonyms to understand what the word signified better and if the situation demands, even draw a picture that can help you remember its meaning.
Keep the definitions short, put it in your own words and immediately record it in your vocabulary notebook. One cannot really understand and remember the word if one can’t explain it oneself.
6. Use the new word
Once you have begun looking up words and you know which ones to study, vocabulary building is simply a matter of reviewing the words regularly until you fix them in your memory. This is best done by setting aside a specific amount of time each day for vocabulary study. In addition, use the new word several times in communication (spoken/written) as much as you can. This will really help sear the word into your mind.
7. Go back to roots
One of the most powerful tools for learning new words, and for deciphering the meaning of other new words, is studying Latin and Greek roots. Latin and Greek elements (prefixes, roots, and suffixes) are a significant part of the English language and a great tool for learning new words. For instance, see the following:
Demos (Latin) means people like in democracy, epidemic, demographics
Ambi (Latin) means both like in ambiguous, ambidextrous, ambivalence
Aqua (Greek) means water like in aquatics, aquarium, aqueduct, aqueous
Mira (Greek) means strange like in miracle, miraculous, mirage
8. Play games
Word games that challenge you and help you discover new meanings and new words are a great and fun tool in your quest for expanding your vocabulary. Examples include crossword puzzles, anagrams, word jumble, Scrabble, and so on.
9. Associate words
Try to associate words to something or someone that is a part of your life. It should be done after the pattern of similes. For instance, supercilious is a person who shows arrogant superiority to others. Many such people will be around you. Associate this word to that person like: As supercilious as Shahid.
10. Little and often
The first rule of learning is: do it in small chunks. Brief bursts are better than one long blast. During a break of only an hour, the brain assimilates new connections, and is ready for more.