Steps to Better English Vocabulary (Article 17)

I’m a big fan of the Pomodoro Technique for getting things done. I’ve been using it for years and still find myself amazed at how much I accomplish when I set a timer and focus only on one task for 25 minutes.

But what about words? Words are the most important thing you’ll ever write. They can make or break your reputation, your career and your life. And while you can’t control the impact your words will have on others, you can control how they affect you.

This article is part of a series I wrote for the English Language Institute that takes a look at a few words that could be causing problems for you. This is the first in the series.

STEP 1: Look at your own vocabulary

Do you ever feel like you’re having conversations with yourself? If so, you’re probably using a lot of words that aren’t necessary.

When you read something, how many times do you go back and reread the sentence to make sure you’ve understood what was said? If you find yourself doing this more than once or twice, it’s likely you have a problem with your vocabulary.

The goal here is to not only be aware of your vocabulary but also use it appropriately. For example, if you’re writing an email, you don’t need to tell people about the great time you had at the restaurant. You can simply say “I had a great time.”

STEP 2: Take a word usage quiz

If you want to learn a new word, there are plenty of websites that will help you out. In this case, we’re going to use Wordnik as our source for a quiz.

You can take a quiz on your computer or download one of their apps to your phone. If you’d rather play on your phone, I recommend the app because it’s easier to read while driving.

The first thing you should do is read through the definitions and examples given in the quiz. Once you’ve done that, click “Next” and select “Words I Know.”

Then answer all the questions honestly. Don’t cheat by looking at your dictionary. The point of the quiz is to see how well you know the word, not how much you know about it.

STEP 3: Practice using the word

Once you have an idea of how the word is used in everyday life, practice using it. Try to use it in a sentence and see if it makes sense. If you’re having trouble with it, look it up in a dictionary and try again.

You don’t have to memorize the definition; you just want to be able to use the word correctly. If you can’t get it right the first time, don’t worry. It’s not a race, so take your time and be patient.

STEP 4: Use a different word for the same thing

If you find that you’re using the same words over and over again, stop doing that. If you’re repeating the same word more than once, try changing it up. For example, if you often say “I’m so tired,” you might try saying “I feel really tired.”

It’s okay to make your own word, but if you do, it should be something specific. You should also make sure you know how the new word is used. You can use a dictionary or Google to help with this.

STEP 5: Think of a few words to replace the old ones

If you’ve been using the same word for years, it may be time to switch up your vocabulary. If you’ve been using the word “excited” to describe a person’s mood, perhaps you should try “happy” instead.

You don’t need to change every single word in your life; just a few at a time will do. The more you use the new words, the more you’ll get used to them and they’ll become second nature.

STEP 6: Make sure you know the definitions of the words you’re using

It’s easy to think you know what you mean by a word, but that doesn’t always mean you’re using it correctly. Take some time to look up the definition of the word you’re using. You may find that the word you thought you knew is actually different from the word you should be using.

If you find yourself using the wrong word, don’t beat yourself up. Look it up again and make sure you’re using it correctly.

STEP 7: Use a thesaurus to look up new words

There are tons of online thesauri that will help you find new words to use. The first one I found was Wordnik.

When you’re looking for a specific word, start with your most common word. Then search for synonyms or antonyms. If you don’t know what those words mean, take a few moments to look them up. Thanks for reading!

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