As I was debating whether my vocabulary was dwindling, I ran across research that shows that our vocabularies are shrinking due to our dependence on digital communication, and what some believe is the dumbing down of communication. We are absorbing information through phones, tablets and computers and spending less time hearing each other speak. Verbal communication is what enables us to maintain or expand our vocabulary. I also read that, as we age, our verbal fluency typically declines.
I found this all unsettling and set out on a quest to find the best ways to build a vocabulary and — here’s the trick — use those words in everyday conversations. At the same time, I wanted it to be fun and easy. Reading the dictionary was out. Here’s what I found to keep our vocabularies robust.
Dictionary.com App and Website
This handy tool is awesome, or should I say invaluable? The app and website are both a dictionary and a thesaurus. The app is available for iPhone, iPad and Android devices and offers word-of-the-day (complete with an audio pronunciation), word games and even flashcards. It’s also a handy tool for looking up words that are unfamiliar to you. There are two versions, one free (Lite) and a premium version for $3.99. I highly recommend the premium version because it comes with added tools and no ads.
Yesterday’s word of the day was pangram (noun; pan-gruh-m), meaning a sentence that includes all the letters of the alphabet. (For example, the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.) To learn a word, it’s amusing to attempt to use the word throughout the day. Pangram was a challenge.
My grandmother was a pro at crosswords and her vocabulary was impressive. I’ve never been skilled at crossword puzzles and found them frustrating because I would abide by the rule of not looking up the answers in the back. In the spirit of improving vocabulary, I hereby declare that such cheating is acceptable and is a great way to improve vocabulary, spelling and memory.
I dug out my old crossword puzzle books (some dated 1999) and am starting to enjoy them now. I have a new appreciation of these puzzles that have existed since 1913 (they were called word-cross and published in the New York World).
“All my life I’ve looked at words as though I were seeing them for the first time.”
Two Good Books
I perused through the vocabulary builder books and discovered two that are worthy of purchase. Barron’s 1100 Words You Need to Know offers daily 15-minute learning sessions that focus on five words. On the fifth day of each week, it’s a review of the words for the week. Some words you’ll know, others may be new. I love this book and apparently I’m not alone. It’s been a best seller for four decades and earns 4 1/2 stars on Amazon.
The second book is 30 Days to a More Powerful Vocabulary. This portable paperback contains exercises and self-tests, and is organized around themes. For example, Words About Your Feelings or Verbs Give You Power. This also earns 4 1/2 stars on Amazon. The font is pretty tiny, so your reading glasses and an ultra-sharp pencil will be required.
Alexa’s Vocabulary Builder
Amazon Echo devices are hands-free speakers you control with your voice. Echo connects to the Alexa voice service to play music, ask questions, check the weather, and more. If you have an Echo, there are Alexa Skills you can access. For example, you can tell her (yes, she feels alive): “Alexa, play Jeopardy” or “Alexa, open Vocabulary Builder.”
Once enabled, the Magoosh Vocabulary Builder plays a five-question game with you. She gives you a word and then asks you to name the synonym out of a list of possibilities. It’s a fun way to study more advanced vocabulary.
There’s a phenomenom referred to as losing one’s nouns and I’m guessing all of us want to avoid saying “hand me that thing.” There are some nouns we don’t use all that often, but we ought to remember them. Google Images is a valuable resource to build our noun vocabulary. Search parts of a table, parts of a house, or parts of most nouns and then click on images. Up comes an illustration or photo with labels indicating the various parts (nouns).
So, you knock your knee on the apron of the table, not the thingy underneath the table. Or, the fascia fell off the house, not the thingamajig below the gutter.
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