Build Vocabulary Words – use a Dictionary!
There is no way around it – you should own an English dictionary if you want to build your vocabulary. There are great online dictionaries, such as The Free Dictionary, and Merriam Webster’s online dictionary and there’s the old fashioned print and paper kind of dictionary. There’s nothing like being able to leaf through pages, and having a good dictionary always close at hand is like always having your best most practical friend close by!
How to Expand your Vocabulary with a Dictionary
- Read an article or book and identify words with which you are unfamiliar. Try to understand what these words mean by using the context in which they are used. Refer to your dictionary to compare the actual definition with the one you came up with. Make a note of the word, the definition and the sentence in which it is used.
For example, we are hearing the word ‘sectarian’ a lot in the news, as in ‘sectarian violence’ in Iraq. We hear this word a lot in the news. But what does it mean exactly?
Here is Merriam Webster Dictionary’s definition of ‘sectarian’ for English language learners:
sectarian /sɛkˈterijən/ adjective: relating to religious or political sects and the differences between them. e.g. “sectarian movements”, “sectarian violence” “The country was split along sectarian lines.”
The context of the word and knowing its meaning help us to understand more clearly what is the nature of the events in Iraq.
- Browse a page or two of a dictionary and mark unfamiliar words. Try to find those words in you daily reading of books, signage, in conversation. See if you can use those words effectively.
- Learn the origins of words. This is called etymology and it can be fascinating. Many English words derive from Latin and Greek, once you learn the meaning of a word part, you can apply that knowledge to new words. If you know the background behind a word or a word part, you will most likely remember that word.
Take for example the word:
‘endemic.’ (en dem’ ik) adj.
Anything endemic is characteristic of, or peculiar to, a particular place, race, nation or sect. This word is used, for example, to describe diseases that flourish regularly in certain parts of the world: “Dysentery is endemic to India, Egypt, and to much of the rest of the Third World.” Not only illnesses, but also customs and folkways can be said to be endemic to a particular place or sect: “Community singing is endemic to Wales” and “Vendettas are endemic to Sicily.” The word comes from the Latin endemicus, based on the Greek endemos. Also, note the root word demos (meaning people), is also root word from which we get democracy. SO INTERESTING! (The background to the word is described in a fascinating book: “1000 Most Important Words”)
Get yourself a good dictionary, and keep it at close range when you’re reading or studying!