I’ve always had this idea of keeping track of every word that I come across but don’t know the definition of. But it’s kind of a challenge, ya know? You have to stop what you’re reading, mark down the word, and then jump back into the reading. Then you have to actually study the list!
Well, I recently decided that I was going to do this for real — I have made it a full-scale personal initiative to keep track of every word that I don’t know and add it to my memory to improve my vocabulary. And, well…
This Journey of Improving My Vocabulary Has Been Awesome
I’ve been doing this process for about 30 days and for the past 2 weeks I’ve started to notice some tangible positive benefits of this practice.
Not only have I learned the definitions of 150 words that I didn’t know before, it also seems to have stimulated the part of my brain that processes and recalls vocabulary (sorry neurologists, I don’t actually know what part of the brain that is!).
I notice myself using bigger words in conversations and in my writing.
I notice myself trying to think of words that better represent my thoughts and ideas than the words I typically use.
I will be reading and come across any of those 150 words and realize that I know the definition and don’t have to resort to guessing the meaning. I’ve come across indelible and cacophony and myopic multiple times already!
Plus, I’ve learned the definitions of some really cool words! Some of my favorites are:
Frisson — A sudden shiver of excitement or pleasurable fear (some call it a skin orgasm)
Recalcitrant — An uncooperative attitude, especially toward authority
Epiphyte — A living thing (usually plant) that grows on another living thing but is not parasitic.
I’ve come up with a pretty good process to make this exercise easily fit into your life without being too much of a hassle. I think that’s the main thing here — simplifying the process so it’s easily sustainable.
So, without further ado, here is my process. If you’re hoping to improve your vocabulary, I can tell you that this really works!
My Vocabulary Improvement Process
So I’m not actually sure if other people employ this technique. I’m sure some people do, but I’m not sure if it’s widely used or talked about. I often prefer to do my own thing and gauge results myself.
So here’s what my vocabulary improvement process looks like:
Adjusting Your Reading Style
The first thing you have to do is to slightly adjust the way you read things. You’re going to have to keep an eye out for words that you don’t know. I’m not just talking about completely foreign words though, I’m also talking about words that you can’t definitively define or want to know more about.
You’ll have to get used to the idea of grabbing words out of whatever you’re reading and adding them to your master list. Begin to make a habit out of realizing you don’t know a word and immediately adding it to your list.
Creating The Master List
This entire exercise would be for naught if we don’t have a centralized, always-accessible master list of your anti-vocabulary. This list has to be instantly accessible at all times. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this means most of us have to use digital tools.
Maybe you’re the type of person who actually does carry around a field book, journal, moleskin, or notepad of some sort at all times. If you are, that’s awesome! For the rest of us, we want to pick whatever note taking app we use in our daily lives. For me, that’s Evernote. Evernote is the way that I capture every thought, idea, notion, reminder, or really anything that needs writing down. Others use the Notes app on the iPhone or some other tool. But it has to be something you have access to on your phone and desktop.
From there, you simply create a note, add it to your shortcuts, and start adding words to it! The main takeaways here should be that this list has to be so accessible you can open it or navigate to it in your sleep.
Adding the Vocabulary
The process of adding words to your “don’t know” vocabulary list will differ depending on the medium you are reading on. If you’re reading an analog book (real book) than you will have to put the book down, pull out your phone, and add the word to it. Kind of annoying, but if you just keep your phone out near you, it could take less than 10 seconds.
If you read on Kindle there is a truly incredible way to keep track of every word. You just highlight it! This is cool because you can see the definition of the word and highlight it at the same time. Then, occasionally, you can go through your highlights and add all the words you highlighted to your master list in batches. This is also great because you can keep the flow of your reading going without having to pull out your phone or open other apps/windows.
If you’re reading anything that isn’t a book on your phone or browser, you just want to have your master list ready for when you come across any words you don’t know!
The real idea here is simply to get in the habit of adding words to the list no matter what or where you’re reading. I’ve added 150 words to mine so far and at this point I add words to the list without even thinking about it.
Creating Study Tools
If you’re like me, you might be a bit of a digital hoarder. I bookmark things willy-nilly, save every article with a semi-interesting headline onto Pocket or Instapaper, and mark way too many books as “Want to Read” on GoodReads. Of course I don’t get to all of these things and often I simply ignore my bookmarks or Pocket or GoodReads because I’ve simply added too many things and don’t want to deal with it. You can’t let this happen with your vocabulary list!
If you simply add words to the list without doing anything with them, you’re just saying, “Oh hey, here’s a list of things I don’t know.” There are far easier ways to do that than by adding words to a list!
So we have to be diligent about studying our list and not letting it get too out of hand. And what’s the best way to study and improve vocabulary?
For me, I hate actually writing. So I’m not going to go out and buy 3×5 notecards and hand write the words and definitions. If you want to do that and it helps you remember, awesome!
- Every 50 words or so, I take the list of words and throw it into the Easy Define tool. It’s a really cool tool that takes a list of words and spits out a spreadsheet with definitions. It’s really nice because you don’t have to go and Google every definition.
- Take the CSV file that it gives you and go through it to fix words that have subpar definitions (sometimes different dictionaries just have better definitions for words, pick the one that best describes each word) or that the tool couldn’t find a definition for.
- Now from here you can either manually take each vocabulary word and definition from the spreadsheet and put them onto Quizlet flashcards or, if you know your way around Excel, you can separate the vocabulary words from the definitions into two separate columns and then simply upload that file to Quizlet to make your deck of flashcards!
Don’t Forget — To Improve Your Vocabulary You Have to Actually Study!
Use the different modes that Quizlet offers (their app is truly awesome) and study your words. Start by guessing the word from the definition, then try the other way around.
You’re probably going to want to create new decks every 100 words or so. My current flashcard deck is 150 and it’s a little too long for my taste.
Alright, that’s all I have for right now! I’ve been really excited about this daily practice and thought it could help those who want to add cool, interesting and useful words to their vocabulary! If you have a different method, be sure to let me know in the comments!