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How To Expand Your Vocabulary To Elevate Your Everyday Speech & Writing   

July 13, 2022

Girl Reading Book

“Without grammar very little can be conveyed, without vocabulary nothing can be conveyed.” 

D.A. Wilkins

Linguistics in Language Learning

Is it worth a child's time to work on new vocabulary? 

Emphatically, yes!

If you've ever wondered about how to expand your vocabulary or your child's, then this article will provide our recommendations on what to do.

But first, let's be frank.

As much as it is fun to know what pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis means (Actually, it was made up!), learning vocabulary can at times be tedious. Especially, if it's an assigned list. 

Sure, flashcards and lists are useful but they're akin to swallowing a spoonful of cod liver oil. We know it’s beneficial, but we’d rather avoid it if we can help it. 

But, if you want to learn how to acquire vocabulary in a way that balances the sweetness of fun with the nutrition of science and worldliness, look no further. We think you and your kids will be eager to play with these Beyond the Box techniques. 

1. Join Specific Communities to Learn Their Words  

Kid Talking to Adults
Photo by Askar Abayev from Pexels

If you performed with a circus of clowns you might use words like: pierrot, harlequin, auguste, frameworks, or entreés.

If you worked on a boat, then starboard, port, bow, gunwales, midships, jib, and jibe would be familiar words. 

If you do judo, as I did for 15 years, your coach might remind you about kuzushi, which is the act of pushing or pulling your opponent off balance before throwing them over your shoulder. 

Our personal lexicon depends on the specific study, work, sport, or obsession that we practice. 

By being part of a group, activity, or subculture, either in-person or even online, you will hear all the nuances and variations of a word and soon gain an understanding of how to use it in your own speech.

Words like reify (to make an idea real - usually with some faults because of its simplicity) often confused me in Art Theory class in college until I read, heard, and used it in my conversations. Soon, I was using the word all the time.

Our Beyond the Box Tip 

I suggest picking five words for the week agreed upon by the family. 

These words can be pulled from unfamiliar vocabulary that was overheard in a community or from a book they recently read. 

Practice saying these words whenever you meet.

For example, “Let’s make a plethora of drawings for Daddy to show him the kind of haircut he should have!” 

Its usage doesn’t need to be perfect as long as you try. 

Finally, make saying these vocabulary words as a running joke. For example, in our household we love saying, "That's perfectly cromulent (adequate)." By the way, this is a fake word popularized by the Simpsons, but frequently used by scientists for fun.  

Have fun, and soon both children AND parents will be able to internalize these extraordinary words!


2. Expand Your Vocabulary By Extensively Reading What You’re Curious About

boy reading

If you’re without a community to practice in, then the second-best option is to read extensively. 

Volume is the key here where your child will be able to pass hundreds of new vocabulary words sometimes repeatedly, especially if an author loves a particular word. Nabokov apparently loved the word “Mauve,” Agatha Christie loved “alibi,” and Jane Austen loved “imprudence.” 

Since the main goal is volume, then make it a priority to visit and support your local bookstore, like the Linden Tree, or your library. 

My guilty pleasure is to pull as many books as I wish to read. (Some libraries allow you to pull 100 books.) 

If I love the book or want to mark it up with notes or underline and define a vocabulary word, then I’ll buy it.

Does it matter which books your child reads? 

I would suggest having them read any book they want. This is their “chocolate candy” reading. It’s pure fiction chockful of fun and adventure. That said, I’m always surprised by the elevated vocabulary embedded these days!

Mixed with the sweetness of fiction, nonfiction can help to acquire words that your child might not normally experience. These days, there are many Young Reader Editions to some important topics without dumbing down the vocabulary. 

Our Beyond the Box Tip 

  • Make it a point of going to the Library once a week. 
  • Visit your local bookstores. 
  • Read both Fiction and Nonfiction Books. 
  • For Nonfiction, there are some amazing Young Reader Editions, and graphic novels. 
  • If you are a subscriber of magazines, you can share select (kid-friendly) articles with your child. I like ScienceNews, The Economist, The New Yorker, Atlantic, and other Long Form publications. 

  • 3. Keep A Vocabulary Journal To Note The Juiciest Words You Want To Remember

    how to expand your vocabulary

    Girl Journaling

    According to the Journal of International Students, a publication focused on supporting English as a Second Language students, buying a notebook specifically for vocabulary is an essential tool for internalizing new words.

    There, students can experiment with new words through stories, draw pictures, or create fun mnemonics to help them memorize the word.

    One way to design your page is to draw Freyer Vocabulary Boxes. Here’s our version, where you can download and print it. Add the page to a 3 Ring binder and you can make your own vocabulary book!

    Vocabulary Box Dowloadable PDF
    Vocabulary - Stay Tuned

    Our Beyond the Box Tip 

    • Parents, let your kids choose a notebook that they think they'll enjoy writing on.
    • Let them decorate it with stickers, or whatever makes them feel excited about using it.

    Writing Coach Royd Hatta's favorite is this beautiful, faux-leather notebook that can open flat. When shelved with dozens of its exact type, it has a uniform, professional look. 

    Eccolo World Traveler Simply Black Lined Journal, 8 x 10-Inch

    (Note that this is an Amazon affiliate link. By buying this product, we will receive a small commission to support this site and our free Meetups. Thank you in advance!)

    Eccolo Flexi Journal

    Writing Coach Shu-Hsien Ho loves the Michael Roger illustrated, 100% post-consumer-waste spiral bound notebooks. There are several gorgeous designs.  

    Michael Roger, Decomposition Books

    (Note that this is an Amazon affiliate link. By buying this product, we will receive a small commission to support this site and our free Meetups. Thank you in advance!)

    Decomposition Book

    The Fairy Forest Cover

    4. Listen To How A Word Is Used 17 times, and you are likely to remember it…through this site.

    Youglish - Plethora

    If you're still wondering how to expand your vocabulary, then let me introduce you to Youglish

    Youglish.com is a website where you can enter a vocabulary word and the site will show you the YouTube clip where the word is said. It's excellent at screening and choosing fascinating university lectures and TedTalks by pulling from the video’s transcripts.  

    Most conveniently, you can cycle through all the videos that have the word, and hear how it is used by the lecturer in the video.  

    Push the forward video button, and you may see a PBS discussion about the “profusion” of diamonds and rubies on an ancient royal box, or a Harvard Law lecture on the concerning “profusion” of fake news that we must sift through.

    The beauty is that you can hear how various occupations and professional fields use the word, and at times catch how they say it differently. 

    One US Dept. of Education study mentions that on average a person needs to hear and experience a new word 17 times in a variety of contexts, and  over a period of time

    Would watching 17 videos from various disciplines and lectures lead to retention of a word? I believe it can for some words. Especially ones that we have heard of on occasion.

    For words that may be completely foreign to us, it may take some more practice and time. 

    But from my experience using this technique entertains (I mean we're talking about studying with YouTube!) AND keeps my focus as I learn both new vocabulary and cutting-edge ideas from university professors and Google Talks lecturers. 

    Check it out!

    Our Beyond the Box Tip 

    You Be The Judge: Experiment and See For Yourself

    If you are working with your child or student, try pairing the vocabulary journal writing with YouGlish and see if it is as effective as it has been for me.

     My students love an excuse to watch YouTube videos, only this time they are deepening their understanding of words they normally would not hear on a daily basis. 

    Have fun practicing and learning new vocabulary!

    Royd Signature Big

    Royd Hatta

    Writing Coach


    • Bennett, C. (2017, March 31). Top 17 exposures needed to learn new words. ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/vocabulary-reps-4135612
    • Min, Y.-K. (2013). Vocabulary acquisition: Practical strategies for ESL students. Journal of International Students, 3(1), 64–69. https://doi.org/10.32674/jis.v3i1.520
    • U.S. Department of Education. (n.d.). Explicit vocabulary instruction. AdLit. Retrieved July 12, 2022, from https://www.adlit.org/topics/vocabulary/explicit-vocabulary-instruction

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