How to Improve Your Vocabulary and Language Skills

2 min read

When it comes to the ways in which we learn, relate, and communicate, one thing is for sure: Words matter. There are more than 171,000 words in the English language (not including nearly 50,000 obsolete ones), so we have our work cut out for us in building and using a robust vocabulary. The good news is, there are many ways to build language skills day in and day out, ensuring you’ll always be ready with a new, well-informed remark. From synonym searches to Scrabble, here are some of the best ways to level up your language skills.

Start a Word-of-the-Day Subscription

One surefire way to prioritize all things vocab? Kick off every day with word-of-the-day emails. Pretty much every major dictionary selects a word of the day, and you can also subscribe to the Word Genius emails (where recent highlights include “viand,” “descant,” and “olivaceous”). Challenge yourself to include the word of the day in your regular conversations. The best way to cement your knowledge is to use it in context.

Grab Some Games

Games like Scrabble, crossword puzzles, or Codenames are some of the most fun ways to encounter and internalize new words and phrases — and they may offer longer staying power for some. Since games have the ability to engage us fully, our minds may be quicker to latch on to the entertaining experience. If you’re playing online, you might even gain a new language accountability buddy.

Maintain Word Lists

Carry a small notepad (or that handy smartphone), and, upon hearing new words and terms, jot them down right away. The act of recording alone helps to activate information processing in the brain (key for memory recall). Add the definitions and revisit your lists when you’re sitting in a waiting room or waiting for the bus.

Tap Into Your Thesaurus

Though the dictionary is a primary resource, when it comes to language learning, the thesaurus should be close at hand. Brimming with synonyms and antonyms, this source is most helpful for determining the best use of a word — especially for the occasional homonym (words that sound the same but have different meanings; e.g., “fair”) or homograph (words that are spelled the same but have different meanings; e.g., “wind”).

Become an Active Reader

Reading (and more reading) is the best way to contextualize new vocabulary words. Oftentimes, it’s only through full sentences and fleshed-out dialogue that we can fully understand a word’s meaning.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Regardless of how you meet a new word, the critical next step is to exercise it immediately, and often. Studies have found that it may take up to 17 exposures for a new term or expression to be adopted — giving you carte blanche among your peers to be a word-wielding broken record.

Featured image credit: Cecilie_Arcurs/ iStock

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