Learning a new language is well-known to improve cognitive ability, but what about expanding vocabulary in your own native language? Many of us fall out of the habit of learning new words as it’s often synonymous with our school years meaning we don’t always actively seek out new words to improve our range of vocabulary in adult life. However, developing the habit of learning new words can be beneficial (and enjoyable) in many areas of your life.
How Learning New Words Can Make You Smarter
A recent study looked at the impact that learning new vocabulary has on different areas of the brain. The correlation between vocabulary, intelligence and real-world ability has been found to exist from a very early age right through to adulthood. It primarily stretches our working memory as well as our ability to communicate more efficiently with the world around us, subtly opening up our perspectives and ways of communication.
Our working memory can only hold so much information so learning new words actually helps our brain to create more ways of retaining information. Each new word we learn gets placed into our long-term memory. While this may seem to be counterproductive, it actually allows us to associate much more information with each word, meaning our brain doesn’t need to dredge through and reach for information in order to express ourselves better. In other words, we are able to express more easily.
The concept of increasing vocabulary can be applied to whole spheres of knowledge and experience. So in effect, a large vocabulary is a powerful coping strategy that enhances our general cognitive ability and increases intelligence.
Ways To Make Learning New Words A Habit
We may think our vocabulary range is pretty wide, but it can always be widened even further. Making a habit of finding new words and putting them into practice will go a long way to increasing your brain capacity and expanding your mind to the world around you.
1. Really notice new words: We come across new words daily whether through reading, watching TV or talking with others; it may surprise you how often we skim over the new word or just second guess what it means through context.
Alternatively, there may be many words we think we know but when asked to give a true definition we may struggle. Making a conscious effort to look up any words we’re unsure of and understand their meaning will go towards making sure we will always use those words in the right way with confidence.
2. Read more: Reading is a great way to increase vocabulary if done in the right way. Make sure you read something interesting to you with the intent of questioning which words you don’t fully understand. Reading on a regular basis will expose you to many more words.
3. Use a dictionary: An obvious one, but more often than not a dictionary is only pulled out once in a blue moon to check a word. One habit is to pick a random word to learn each day, write it down and find ways to use it in conversation. Circle words you’ve learned and flick back through it every so often to refresh and test yourself on the highlighted words.
There are many apps and online resources to help you to develop a habit of learning a new word every day.
- Vocabulary.com is a combined learning tool and game that helps you find new words and remember them.
- Word A Day Widget can be downloaded on any device and gives you a new random word to learn each day.
- Words With Friends is a great game that forces you to find unusual words to win and gets your mind reaching for those forgotten words.
- Magoosh is great for differing levels of vocabulary and uses strategies to help you remember the new words you’ve learned.
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