Word up: how to improve and enlarge your vocabulary

V besedilu poišči besede (ali besedne zveze), ki ustrezajo spodnjim definicijam. Besede si v besedilu sledijo po vrsti od 1 do 10.

VocabularyThe most common question that people ask our team at Memrise is: can you help me learn a foreign language? A vocabulary rich in French or Chinese words is indispensable for speaking those languages fluently, and the quickest route to competence.

But we can be guilty of neglecting our own language. A large native vocabulary is a gift that doesn’t stop giving. It improves our powers of expression and comprehension, and opens the imagination.

Words define the shape and scope of our understanding. Learn a word such as “aglet”, the little plastic end to a shoelace, and you’ll be better able to recognise and enjoy something familiar and unremarkable. Learn the word “tarantism”, a disorder characterised by the uncontrollable urge to dance, and you’ll gain the ability to recognise and describe a trait in yourself or a friend. And, of course, words such as these are simply fun to know.

Learning vocab can, however, be tricky. If we don’t know the best way to retain new words, we can forget what we’ve learned.

I like to think of the mind as a garden. Each new word begins life as a seed. It needs to take root, and will die without attention early on. In this way, expanding your vocabulary is a long-term activity that depends on good habits and sensible practice.

Here are my tips on how to enlarge your vocabulary.

 Little and often

The first rule of learning is do it in small chunks. Brief bursts are better than one long blast. During a break of only an hour, the brain assimilates new connections, then is ready for more.

Three words a day is a good number to aim for in a busy life. It’s best to collect words from your reading, and add them to a wordbook or a list on an app such as Memrise.

 Make connections

Memories are connections. So when you’re learning a new word, you want to make sure it’s connected to those you already know. What does the word “tarantism” remind you of? Tarantula? Tarantino? Your friend Tara? The link doesn’t matter, it’s only important that there is one.

Take two other words you might not have heard before: nivial and callipygian. Before you know their meaning, ask yourself: what do these words make me think of? What do they resemble?

With a long word like callipygian, you might want to break it into parts.

 Visual association

The next step is to connect the sound to the meaning. This is best done with a vivid visual image. A strong image sticks in the mind for a long time. For example: to link “tarantism” to its meaning, imagine Quentin Tarantino dancing manically: this vivid image should lastingly connect the concept of manic dancing with the word.

Nivial might have reminded you of the brand Nivea. It means “growing among snow”. So to remember it, you could imagine a bottle of hand cream protruding from some snow.

Callipygian means having well-shaped buttocks, but sounds like “call a pigeon”. Imagining seeing a pert bird in Trafalgar Square.

 Active usage and recall

The more a memory is used, the more it will endure. So my fourth tip is to engage in active repetition and usage. This is where you get to play with your new words.

Next time you go dancing, for example, think of Quentin Tarantino there with you, going wild on the dance floor, and you’ll remember “tarantism”.

It’s absolutely fine, indeed recommended, to over-use the word, to abuse your new knowledge. What do you think of polar bears? “They’re nivial.” Of George Clooney? “Callipygian.” You look restless today? “Don’t worry, that’s just the tarantism coming on.” You see someone tying their shoelaces: “nice aglets”.

Words to learn

Try adding these to your vocabulary – how will you make them memorable?

twyndyllyngs (TWIN-dilingz): twins (obsolete, from the Welsh)

apricity (ah-PRI-ci-tee): the warmth of the sun in the cold winter

snollygoster (SNOL·ly·gos·ter): someone guided by personal advantage, esp politicians

princox (PRIN-koks): a self-confident young fellow (used in Romeo and Juliet)

novercal (NO–ver–cal): of, relating to, or characteristic of a stepmother

yclept (IH–klept): by the name of, as in “a man yclept Ed”

hodiernal (ho–di-ER–nal): relating to the present day (from the Latin)

snicket (SNICK–it): a narrow passage between houses, an alley

tresaiel (TRE–sayle) a great-great-grandfather (legal term)

syzygy (SIZ-uh–jee): the straight alignment of three celestial bodies

 Test yourself

Nivial, aglet, callipygian and tarantism were among 50 words suggested by the Memrise community as their favourites in the English language.

See if you can learn and remember them with this online course to help you learn and remember these 50 words for fun. Memrise is designed to assist you with all of the components of memory mentioned in this article, including repetition, testing, usage and associations. The 50 words will take you perhaps an hour of play to learn, and you’ll emerge with an invigorated sense of the beauty and fun of the world. Enjoy!


(Adapted from The Guardian on 14 September 2014)


1 paying too little attention to: ____________________

2 extent = range: ____________________

3 personal quality: ____________________

4 reasonable: ____________________

5 adapts: ____________________

6 be similar to: ____________________

7 in a way that seems too enthusiastic: ____________________

8 a sort of bird: ____________________

9 easily remembered: ____________________

10 relating to the sky: ____________________

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