The acquisition of vocabulary is one of the most important tasks in language learning. If you have enough words, you can make sense of what you are reading or listening to and you can somehow express yourself.

In short, vocabulary acquisition is much more important than grammar. The grammar we have is acquired gradually as we become familiar with the language, with the words, but first of all, we need words.

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How Do We Learn Vocabulary?

“Because children with weaker vocabularies are less likely to learn new words from listening to stories than children with larger vocabularies, teachers need to provide more direct instruction for children with smaller vocabularies” – Robbins & Ehri, 1994.

VOCABULARY knowledge is not something that can ever be fully mastered; it is something that expands and deepens over the course of a lifetime. Instruction in vocabulary involves far more than looking up words in a dictionary and using the words in a sentence.

Vocabulary is acquired incidentally through indirect exposure to words and intentionally through explicit instruction in specific words and word-learning strategies.

There are two approaches I have implemented over the years:

  • One is the deliberate study of vocabulary by reading vocabulary lists or flash cards as well as keeping handwritten lists.
  • The other, is to learn through a lot of exposure – watching age-appropriate films, television documentaries or series;  reading novels, newspapers and magazines.

Now, the strategy that you adopt will depend on your personal preference and also, in my view, how much time you have.

One thing that has helped many of my students is learning more about synonyms, antonyms, and homonyms. Understanding these three phenomena leads to better comprehension, better spelling, and more expressive writing.

In each of the following groups, circle the item that means the same as the boldface word in the introductory phrase:

  1. a feckless assistant: a. dishonest   b. able   c. ineffective   d. meticulous
  2. substantiated his story: a. filed   b. validated   c. concocted   d. dismissed
  3. skillful temporizing: a. theorizing     b. miming   c. stalling   d. debating
  4. excessive verbiage: a. verbosity    b. coyness   c. silence     d. terseness
  5. utopian views: a. realistic    b. visionary     c. old-fashioned     d. scenic
  6. wrote a moving eulogy: a testimonial    b. sermon     c. account
  7. a devious manner: a. blunt   b. clumsy   c. shifty
  8. the invidious review: a. malicious    b. succinct      c. complimentary
  9. the distraught witness: a. impartial   b. agitated   c. unjust
  10. in the pejorative sense: a. favourable      b. disparaging       c. objective
  11. exhume the treasure: a. disinter      b. dig up       c. discover
  12. incarcerated the suspect: a. imprisoned      b. released          c. followed
  13. alcyon weather:  a. refreshing      b. turbulent        c. seasonable
  14. simply arrogated the role:   a. loathed      b. adored      c. usurped
  15. interrogate the suspect: a. imprisoned   b. released      c. question

ANSWERS: 1A  2B  3A  4B  5B  6A  7C  8A  9C  10B 11B 12A  13A  14C  15C

How did fair? Once again Dear Reader, with practice you will see your vocabulary improving so much: both written and spoken.

red heart on a old opened book

Lastly, . . . consider this:

Maths (British English) — Math (American English) 

In both countries, this is the abbreviation for “mathematics.” British people wonder why Americans don’t include the “s” and Americans wonder why British people do include the “s” It’s one of the mysteries of the universe and is another topic I shall pursue later.

Good luck in all your endeavours.

As of old: BE EMPOWERED and EXCEL!

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