The Power of Words: How to Build Your Vocabulary

The Johnson O’ Connor Research Foundation determined: “A person’s vocabulary level was the best single aptitude for predicting occupational success in every area. Furthermore, vocabulary is not innate, and can be acquired by everybody.”

Building your vocabulary starts with asking yourself this simple question: “Why do I want to increase my vocabulary?” Some people seek to impress when they speak by using $5 words when in fact a 5 cent word will suffice. As business professionals we recognize the value of being able to communicate effectively with diverse groups of individuals, ranging from our employees to our colleagues and to our customers. The more flexibility we have in expressing ourselves the greater the impact we make when interacting with others. This is the ideal motivation.

Once you’ve determined your motivation, the next question is: “What do you need to accomplish and by when? This will assist you in clarifying your goals, which may be learning a particular number of words per day, week, or month. Establishing realistic goals will help you stay focused and motivated, much like anything else you’ve set out to learn.

With motivation and goals clearly defined, you’re ready for vocabulary-   building techniques. Here are 7 to get you started:

1. Inquiring Minds Want to Know:

Strive to be curious about unfamiliar words that you hear and read. When you encounter new words, get in the habit of recording them (in a notebook or database) along with their pronunciation, meaning and a sentence that incorporates them.

2. Connections Count:

Develop mnemonic strategies to help you recall the meaning of a new word by creating associations. For example, if you were learning the word “mellifluous,” you could use a sound association by linking it with the more common word melody, which would help you remember sweet sounding.

The associations you establish can be related to how a word either looks or sounds; the more creative or unusual your association is, the better your chances of remembering it.

3. Analyze This:

Many words can be broken down into smaller parts (prefix, root, suffix).

Once you identify even a small part of a word, you’re closer to being able to figure out its meaning and remember it. For example, the prefix “audi” means hear and is found in words like: audience, auditorium and audible. You can do the same with suffixes that occur at the end of a word.

4. Name that Game:

Invest the time to play word games (e.g. Scrabble, Boggle) or try your hand at crossword puzzles. Interactive word games and quizzes are also available online (e.g. These are stimulating activities that provide excellent learning opportunities to build your vocabulary.

5. Word Du Jour:

Purchase a word-of-the-day calendar and keep it in plain sight on your desk. Another option is subscribing to an electronic word-of-the-day, via the Internet.

6. Write It Right:

Writing is an excellent way to expand your vocabulary. Using a thesaurus, look for words that you use frequently and replace them with synonyms (words that have the same meaning). Once you have a list of synonyms you can move on to antonyms (opposites).

7. Purposeful Practice Makes Perfect:

As you create your vocabulary list, set aside time for daily practice.

By transferring words to flash cards, you can keep them with you for easy access. Ensure that your practice includes using your new words in your daily speaking and writing activities.

Building your vocabulary is a lifelong endeavor so be patient with yourself and don’t expect instant results. As you strengthen your vocabulary you’ll be enhancing your communication skills and making it easier for others to understand you. That’s the power of words!

By: Dale G. Klein, M.A., Corporate Communication & Speech Specialist, © 2009, Profitable Speech, LLC A Sound Investment®. All rights reserved.