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Building a powerful vocabulary

Words are the building blocks of language and increasing the number of words you can understand and use enables you to communicate with ease, precision and effectiveness. In a world where communication skills can make the difference between a successful and a mediocre career, acquiring a powerful vocabulary can be of immense benefit. Despite this, most neglect this skill or feel daunted by the effort involved. MBA aspirants however, find that they can no longer ignore this skill. Questions based on vocabulary are a staple on Management entrance tests, Aptitude tests and Banking and Government exams. Even the other questions on the Verbal section require proficiency with vocabulary. Achieving this in a short span of time may seem intimidating, but all it takes is discipline and the correct approach. This article will give you a 7 step method to a more powerful vocabulary.

‘Find a ‘why’ and the ‘how’ will follow’. To be able to put in the sustained effort required to enhance your vocabulary you have to know why you want to do it. Here are some reasons that can help you begin this journey and stay on course.
  • A better vocabulary helps you express your ideas with clarity and dramatically improve your public speaking skills. In turn, it also helps your listening comprehension.
  • Let’s admit it; it can help make an impression. People do make assumptions about your intelligence, your education and your capabilities by the words you use.
  • It helps your reading comprehension and enables you to assimilate ideas with ease. Books or articles that you put down earlier as unreadable will now become accessible.
  • Words are keys to concepts and ideas, and learning new words opens new avenues of thought and broadens your intellectual horizon.
  • Since words are tools for communication and thought, mastering them gives you a greater chance of success in your professional life.
  • Reading comprehension, verbal reasoning and grammar questions all use words. In order to solve them better you must understand all of the harder vocabulary words used.
  • If words are used in intelligence tests as measures of intelligence, conversely, increasing your vocabulary actually leads to an increase in your verbal intelligence.
  • And most importantly, you will crack the Entrance test to embark on your dream career!

The road to a powerful vocabulary is not about hard work, as many believe. And no, it is not about mugging up endless word lists. Though memorizing may help in the short term, most words are forgotten as soon as you try to cram more. The way to an effective vocabulary can be effortless and quite fun, as long as you are willing to incorporate certain activities into your daily life. Besides this, the key is to become more alive to words, when you read, watch a movie, or in everyday conversation. Here is a list of methods that you can use to enhance your vocabulary.
  1. Guessing meaning
    Studies suggest that 80% of unknown words can be guessed from context. In addition, Xiaolong's research (1988) suggests learners who are good at inferring meaning from context are more likely to retain meaning. This suggests that time teaching learners to guess meaning from context is well spent.
    Context clues include (Clarke and Silberstein 1977, p145):
    • Synonym in apposition: Our uncle was a nomad, an incurable wanderer who could never stay in one place.
    • Antonym: While the aunt loved Marty deeply, she absolutely despised his twin brother Smarty.
    • Cause and effect: By surrounding the protesters with armed policemen, and by arresting the leaders of the movement, the rebellion was effectively quashed.
    • Association between object and its purpose or use: The scientist removed the treatise from the shelf and began to read.
    • Description: Tom received a new roadster for his birthday. It is a sports model, red with white interior and bucket seats, capable of reaching speeds of more than 150mph.
    • Example: Mary can be quite gauche; yesterday she blew her nose on the new linen tablecloth.
  2. Mnemonics
    Mnemonics are aids to memory. For example, the mnemonic VIBGYOR helps you remember the colors of the rainbow. There are two kinds of mnemonics that help acquire words much faster.
    • Roots and Prefixes: More than half the words in the English language are based on a Latin and Greek roots and prefixes. Learning one root can help you learn up to 20 words much faster. For example, learning that the root ‘mal’ means bad, helps you learn words like malignant, malice, malaise and malevolent easily. Learning that the prefix ‘eu’ means good helps you remember the meaning of words like euphonic, eulogy or euphoria. If you know both the roots, you can work out the meaning of the words: phil = love, and biblio = books, the roots tell you that a bibliophile is a lover of books. Further, you can also learn the meanings of words like pedophile, philanthropy or necrophilia if you know the other roots.
      When taught in a systematic manner, this method can help you learn a lot of words incredibly faster. The training program at Erudite teaches vocabulary through this system and a list of about 100 easy-to-learn roots and prefixes opens the door to 10 times as many difficult words.
    • Word Clusters: Though the earlier method is quite effective, it is not sufficient. Some amount of memorizing is essential to acquire a lot of words in a short time. Word clusters help do this with much better retention. The method is to group words of the same meaning together and to memorize those 10 at a time. This way, you don’t have to remember separate meanings for each word and the retention is better as all the words have a common association. An example would be memorizing this list: Abecedarian, Amateur, Apprentice, Callow, Fledgling, Greenhorn, Inchoate, Novice, Rookie and Tyro. Since all of them mean ‘beginner in some field or activity’ it is much easier to remember them. Erudite’s 52 deck flashcards help you to learn 1000 words in a very short span using the Word Clusters method.
  3. Reading
    Students who have a well formed reading habit usually have a much better vocabulary than students who don’t, and hence find the verbal section much easier to deal with. If you have bibliophobia or quite simply hate books, it may be time to give them a second chance. Improving your reading habits is the most effective way of acquiring vocabulary. Because you see the word used in a meaningful context, you absorb it much better, and reading also improves your grammar as the English used will be structured unlike in spoken English. It doesn’t have to be drudgery as you can choose what you want to read according to your interests. It is essential; however, that you choose from a variety of fields, and keep challenging yourself. Keep a small notepad handy to jot down new words as you read. As you read, you will also find a lot of words that you learnt using the earlier two methods. This reinforces the meaning of those words and become part of your vocabulary.
    What to read?
    The best reading material is newspapers as they are easily available and can supply you with many new words every day. Devote more time to them and try to read through all the sections and not just your favorites. Magazines and periodicals of your interest are also a great place to start. Non- fiction books can greatly enhance your general awareness besides building your vocabulary. Biographies, History, Travel and Art can be quite interesting subject areas. Besides this, inspirational and motivational books are good to begin with.
    Fiction offers a wide range from thrillers and romance to more serious literature including classics. A good place to start would be an entertaining author like Chetan Bhagat or Jeffrey Archer or Short stories. Later, you can try Booker or Nobel Prize winning books or the Classics. You may even find a passion for Poetry. The point is to keep it fun, and there is a wonderful world to discover in fiction.
  4. The Internet
    The internet is an amazing source of reading material from newspapers to copyright free classics, at your fingertips. Besides this a new word can be instantly looked up in online dictionaries like and
    Another handy tool is sites like Word of the Day from that send you a word everyday in your email. A few of these are listed below.
  5. Dictionaries and Thesaurus
    It’s a good idea to invest in a good dictionary like the Oxford dictionary and a thesaurus. Besides the word’s meanings it will also give you a list of synonyms, antonyms and the usage of the word.
  6. Word games
    Word games like crossword puzzles or Bull’s eye in your local newspaper or board games like Scrabble help to increase your affinity for words.
  7. Personalizing
    The most important step in acquiring words is when you can not only understand it but also use it in your speech or writing. So remember to incorporate every new word you learn into your speech as soon as possible to make it part of your vocabulary.
  8. While all these methods are useful in learning words, the first two help you to acquire a lot of words in a short span, which is required when you are preparing for an entrance exam. These methods, like reading or using flashcards while you are travelling, do not take a lot of time and the essential thing is to do them on a daily basis. And it’s well worth it, for a powerful vocabulary will not only help you to crack your entrance test but also prove an invaluable tool in your career.

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