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Improve Your Vocabulary August 19, 2006

Posted by LearningNerd in English, Language, Words.

A good vocabulary is, for lack of a better word, good to have. I’d like to think I have a decent vocabulary, but I’m often unable to find the word I’m looking for. Sure, I’ve seen lots of words – I’ve probably even looked up their definitions – but I hardly ever remember them. So, starting now, I’m going to gradually incorporate more words into my daily usage.

Let’s begin with an instructional video:

Vocabulary is timeless! For more about the video, see the Internet Archive.

Step 1: Find New Words

Read, read, read! Like the video suggests, search consciously for new words and keep a list of them. (See my list.) Now, here are some links they would’ve loved to bookmark in 1948:


I learn new words every time I write, because I’m always alt-tabbing between my document and a thesaurus.

  • Visual Thesaurus – presents an interactive web of words. I had fun with the free trial!

Word Lists

  • Learn a New Word – definitions, origins, and example sentences for a few hundred words.
  • My Favorite Word – a list of people’s favorite words (be sure to submit yours!).

Word of the Day

Note: if you want even more word lists, many of these sites have word-of-the-day archives.

Step 2: Learn New Words

I hate real-life dictionaries – probably because I don’t know the alphabet as well as I should. Luckily for me, the internet provides alternatives for the alphabetically challenged.

Meaning, Spelling, and Pronunciation

While you’re reading a challenging article online, paste the URL into VoyCabulary to transform every word on the page into a link to the word’s definition.

OneLook Dictionary Search indexes over 900 dictionaries on every subject imaginable — it even has a “reverse dictionary”, letting you find a word by searching for its definition. Now, if you’re looking to hear a word’s pronunciation, look it up on Merriam-Webster or TheFreeDictionary.com.

For spelling tips, lists, and quizzes, see my Improve Your Spelling post.

Vocabulary Podcasts

  • Very Vocabulary – teaches several words and includes some personal commentary.

Vocabulary Quizzes

Usage, Connotations, and Etymology

If you want to develop a superior command of the language, you’ll need to understand each word’s finer nuances, not just its definition.

Celebrity English is a fun way to get started. I don’t usually think of Hollywood when I think of improving my vocabulary, but this blog uses celebrity news to teach new words. Now, if you want to find more usage examples for a specific word, look it up on Google News or even Google Blog Search; just browse through the search results (without even clicking any links) and you’ll get a better feel for how and when to use the word.

For links about word origins and history (including etymology podcasts, web columns, and more), see English Etymology Resources. You can also learn about the historical and cultural significance of some words by looking them up on an encyclopedia like Wikipedia. For example, I never knew that defenestration, one of my favorite words, “has become popular as a term for switching from MS Windows to Linux or another operating system.”

Step 3: Remember New Words

Alright, you now know the meaning of every word in the English language. Now you just need to remember everything. For best results, use a combination of the following methods:

  • Straight memorization. Hey, it works for some people! Simply review your word lists, flash cards, podcasts, and quizzes over and over again. 
  • Conversation. Use a new word every day. If you don’t want to sound pretentious around your friends, join a chatroom as Anonymous and practice there.
  • Read. The more you come across your new words, the better you’ll remember them.
  • Write. Start a scholarly blog. Get into creative writing. Anything will work, as long as you make the effort to use your new vocabulary.
  • Sticky notes. Don’t like your wallpaper? Plaster your house with sticky notes, each with a new word. Make them pretty or place them strategically — stick “defenestration” on the window, for example.


1. sheri - September 3, 2006

I like this! I’ll pass your tips along to my ESL students!

2. Alex - September 12, 2006

Terrific list!

I’ll add another (shameless plug) to your list: the Word of the Day from WhatIs.com:

WhatIs.com’s version is one chosen from one of 5,000 definitions, including essential computer and technology terms. A new word is featured each day.

Great post – keep up the good work.

3. Mike Fischer - November 6, 2006

just a note to let you know that worthless word for the day has moved.


4. LearningNerd - November 7, 2006

Thanks, Mike! I’ll change the link right now. :)

5. MJ - February 4, 2007

Love what your’re doing.
I’ll share this site with my EFL students

Nice Job @^_^@

6. Robin - February 16, 2007

Great Job ! Keep going

7. blog do valdecir carvalho » Blog Archive » links for 2007-04-11 - April 11, 2007

[…] Improve Your Vocabulary « LearningNerd […]

8. Jan - April 22, 2008

Great summary on how to Improve your English! Thank you for mentioning my podcast (JustVocabulary – 2 words a day podcast).

I just want to add that we are building an online quiz now as well. We have now introduced over 800 words in audio format, listeners and visitors can now practice these words as well!

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