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Friday, December 28, 2007

Build a rich vocabulary


Enriching your vocabulary will help a lot in enhancing your communication ability.
Photo: K. Pichumani

Word power:Dictionaries are a potent tool for vocabulary building.

One forgets words as one forgets names. One’s vocabulary needs constant fertilizing or it will die.
– Evelyn Waugh

If you want to excel in the use of any language, you have to enrich the strength of words in your command. All the words a person knows or uses form his vocabulary. However, there is a difference between the set of words he actually uses and the set of words he can recognise or understand. The two sets are known as expressive vocabulary and receptive vocabulary respectively. All those words a person recognises may not be in his command when he speaks or writes.

The edifice

Words are the bricks with which you build the edifice of your writings. If you are endowed with a rich vocabulary, you will be able to choose the most appropriate words for specific needs and thereby enhance the effectiveness of your communication. Your words can be precise and to the point. But a rich vocabulary is not a natural gift. It is something you have to build through your own effort. In simple words, the suggestion is ‘learn more words.’ We shall mention some of the methods for developing your vocabulary.

“Your boss has a better vocabulary than you; that is why he is your boss,” states Wilfred Funk in his bestseller ‘Thirty Days to a More Powerful Vocabulary.’ You would know that he wrote the renowned column “It Pays to Enrich Your Word Power” in the Reader’s Digest for nearly 37 years from 1962.

Tools of thought

Words are tools of thought. One advantage in learning new words is that you are exposed to new ideas. Suppose you happen to read the word symbiosis in an article and search for its meaning in a dictionary. You will read, ‘the relation between two living creatures that live close together and depend on each other.’

You will also read that the adjective is ‘symbiotic.’ There is a symbiotic relationship between termites (the white ants) and a particular kind of bacteria living in their intestines. The bacteria in turn help the termites digest food. This is a case of mutual help by the two living close together. With this in mind, you may say that India and Pakistan should have a symbiotic relationship for mutual benefit. This example illustrates how new words generate new ideas in your mind.

A great advantage of acquiring a rich vocabulary is that you will enjoy any kind of reading better, since your comprehension ability will be better. Faster reading will ensure higher reading achievement. If many of the words you read are strange, reading becomes strenuous. It is impossible to run to a dictionary every time you come across a new word.

Improving vocabulary

There is no magical shortcut. But if you work with dedication, you will find that building a rich vocabulary is an enjoyable activity. It is not dull or tedious. The first step is to develop the proper attitude for learning words. If you have a resolve to enjoy learning new words, half the battle is won.

Do not think that a rich vocabulary is needed only for students of language or literature. Even students learning technical subjects will be greatly benefited by developing their vocabulary. Those who are rich in words will appreciate technical concepts better, since they have a fine knowledge of the sharp meaning of words.

Let us take the case of a student of electrical engineering learning a lesson involving ‘resistance.’ If he knew the meaning of the word in general use, he will quickly learn the philosophy of Ohm’s Law. The technical meaning of any word is related to its meaning in common parlance.

The tools

Once you have decided to go for vocabulary enhancement, you should get proper tools, and start using them systematically. The essential tools are

•A good dictionary: It will have a large vocabulary; but may not have sample sentences showing the correct use of words in different contexts. Keep in mind that your parents or teachers, though they are greatly learned, cannot act as a substitute for a good dictionary. Read all the entries against the words you refer to, unless you are in a hurry.

•A learner’s dictionary: The number of words may not be as large as in ordinary dictionaries. But there will be sample sentences bringing out how a word can be used. A word having different meanings may have as many sentences that follow. For example the word ‘round’ may be followed by illustrative sentences like ‘The doctor is on his rounds,’ ‘Round your salary to the nearest thousand,’ ‘She called him roundly a liar,’ and ‘The wolf rounded on the sheep.’ Different learner’s dictionaries of quality are available in bookshops. The vital point is that by simply reading the meaning of a word in a dictionary, you will not be able to use them in sentences of your own.

“Words, so innocent and powerless as they are, standing in a dictionary; how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to choose and combine them.” —Nathaniel Hawthorne (American novelist, 1804 –1864))

If you keep a dictionary of your own, you may circle the word you have referred to. When you turn the pages of the dictionary later, you may nod at those words. We shall discuss further tools next week.

More articles in this series at
(The Hindu, 18:12:2007)



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