How to Build a Powerful Vocabulary
Of all the cognitive skills human possess, none is more important for clarity of thinking and academic success than vocabulary. How, then, can you build a more powerful vocabulary? The best way is to realize that almost all words belong to larger networks of meaning, and to understand that your mind is already geared toward organizing information in terms of meaning. Thus, with a little effort, you can greatly increase your vocabulary by supporting the kind of learning your brain is already trying to do. Here are a few techniques:
1. Learn to think analytically about words you already know and relate new words to them
What do the words "antiseptic" and "septic tank" have in common? You use antiseptic to prevent bacterial infection of a wound; a septic tank is used to remove harmful bacteria from water containing human waste. A logical conclusion would be that septic has something to do with bacteria. Knowing this, what do you think a doctor means when she says that a patient is suffering of sepsis? By linking sepsis to septic tank and antiseptic, you can guess that she is referring to some kind of bacterial infection.
2. Be aware of word connections that may be hidden by spelling differences
You may know that both Caesar and Czar refer to some kind of ruler or leader. But you may not know that they are exactly the same word, spoken and spelled somewhat differently in Ancient Rome (Caesar) and in Russia (Czar). Now, if you're taking a history class in which you learn about Kaiser Wilhelm, who lead Germany during World War I, thinking analytically about this may help you realize that is exactly the same word as Caesar and Czar, with a German spelling. Here's another example: Can you guess something about the location and climate of the nation of Ecuador by relating his name to a word that differs from it only slightly in spelling?
3. Use your knowledge of word parts to actively seek out new words
Don't learn new words one at a time. be on the lookout for "word families"-root words and prefixes and suffixes. Here is one important root word: Spect, which means "look," "look at," "watch," and "see." And spect appears in dozens of different words, such as inspect. What do you do when you inspect something? You look closely at it. Equipped with this knowledge, other spect words may start to come to mind, along with an entirely new way of thinking about their meanings: Spectacular, spectator, spectacle, spectacles, perspective, prospect, respect, disrespect, retrospect, suspect, and so on. The word "circumspect" may be new to you. Look it up in a dictionary, and think about how the literal meaning of the word ("look around") relates to the way this word is frequently used.
A strong vocabulary based on root words and prefixes and suffixes will yield the word power that will "literally" profit you in many ways. If you put this techniques into practice, you will be able to build a powerful vocabulary.
The World of Psychology p. 267
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