Language Expert 101 – How to Boost your Vocabulary

brain scanNewborn babies are language geniuses.

Their brains are primed and ready for learning language and vocabulary, but do you see parents handing their children a list of 1,000 words to memorize? No. Because they don’t learn that way.

Fast forward 16 years and somehow your brain has been transformed into a robotic, Optimus-Prime replica where the best way to learn vocabulary is through flashcards.  Really?  Through research by the famous Dr. Paul Pimsleur and others, we now know better.  Whether you’re taking the ACT, SAT, or just like big words, here are the three, natural steps to learning your vocabulary for good!


1.  Go to the Root – Ever heard of the “Romantic” languages? No, it doesn’t mean they sound suave or cause people to like you more (from experience).  Romantic refers to the fact that they came from the “Roman” language – Latin.  So, rather than memorizing a list of 1,000 words, it would be far better to memorize a list of say 100 or 200 roots and use them as building blocks!  Much of the English language is constructed from Latin roots and the rest is from Greek roots.  Memorize these roots and think of different words that use them.  You’ll surprise yourself with how much you already know!

BONUS: Because Latin is connected to all the Romantic languages, that means it will not only help your understanding of English but any other Romantic language you choose to learn!

2.  Use the word –  “Use it” or “lose it” is the game of the brain.  Research has found that people with a higher vocabulary actually have deeper thoughts and a higher level of comprehension.  Just think of the example “It’s hot outside” or “It’s sweltering outside.”  Which sentence gives you a more accurate image?  Focus on 5-10 words to use at least 3-5 times in a day.  In this way, you’re solidifying those neural pathways in your brain, so you can remember that word later when you need it.

3.  Dissect new words – Get ready for some fun!  I was a strange kid when I was in middle school and would actually look up rather large words in the dictionary for fun – almost on a daily basis!  No, you don’t need to do this by any means.  But do explore new words!  Exercise your root-knowledge!  By practicing taking apart new words using the roots you know, it will become second-nature to you, and you’ll CRUSH the next vocab quiz.

 Example from the College Board: “Ray was ——- gambler who had seldom gone a day without indulging his expensive habit.”

(A) an inveterate

(B) a dubious

(C) an occasional

(D) a novice

(E) an obnoxious

First thing to do is cross out what it can NOT be.  Would an occasional gambler gamble as much as Ray (since he seldom goes a day without it)? No. Cross it out.  Would the fact that he’s a novice (nova – latin for “new”) gambler cause him to gamble nearly everyday? No.  Cross it out.  Would Ray being “obnoxious” (ob – latin for “to”, noxa- latin for “injury or hurt“) cause him to gamble every day? No. Cross it out.  

We’re then left with dubious or inveterate.  I may not know the roots of these two words but I do know that “in” usually implies something negative (injury, incapable, inaccessible) , so, because Ray’s gambling habit is also negative, I’m going to choose that.

And I’m right.  Does it take practice? YES! Is it worth it? YES!  The above example, after practice, could be reasoned out in 60 seconds or less.  Study smarter AND harder!

Stay Smart.

Dominick, Davinci Scholar and Director of Launch Academy

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