Between the Lines

Kathy Steffen

Make Words Your Superpower!

I’m always looking for ways to increase my vocabulary. My ongoing passion is because of my love of words and the English language and how it can be confusing and contradictory. One thing never changes: There are always more words to learn. Building your vocabulary has many positives. So how to expand your vocabulary? Read on …

First Off — Read!!! Reading not only naturally increases your vocabulary and communication skills but also improves your brain as it forges new connections. Your brain processes each word, recalls the meaning, and then translates what you read into visualization — the perfect brain workout. Reading also builds empathy, and studies show reading reduces stress and lowers your blood pressure. So join (or start) a book club, set a goal (one book a week? A month?) and get to the library! Read something completely different from your usual and expand the range of vocabulary in addition to learning something new. Win-win.

If you read on a kindle, you can hold your finger over a word and the definition will pop up from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. I love this feature as it doesn’t much interfere with the flow of reading. Plus, it’s another way to become aware of words straight from your favorite authors! If you are reading a physical book, read with a dictionary at hand so you can easily discover a word’s meaning.

Keep a Journal. (You knew I’d get to this, right?) I am a huge believer in the importance of journaling, no matter what your interests or what your journal is about (garden, dreams, food, gratitude, travel, reading, projects or a mash-up of all your interests). Journals build your communication skills and vocabulary, along with other benefits. Keep a thesaurus handy and look up words you over-use to find a new way to say something. Speaking of a thesaurus — it’s a terrific way to learn word origins, synonyms and antonyms.

Word Genius (wordgenius.com) will send you a word of the day. There are many “word of the day” feeds, but this is my favorite. The site gives you a sound file so you can hear the word, gives you the word’s origin and how to use it and a sentence to use it in. I admit, I don’t always use the word, but I love the way the new word expands my understanding of language and reading.

Word Games. You can go physical or online for these. Crossword puzzles, word search and games such as Scrabble, Balderdash, Bananagrams, Words with Friends … there are tons to choose from. Pick one or try them all, have a party, or explore them on your own.

Warning! Don’t start using large, unusual words to sound smart. That can be annoying and oftentimes laughable; I just read a book where one of the characters uses the larger words incorrectly. The best rule of thumb is if you can incorporate a word in your everyday language and use it fairly often, good for you. The worst that can happen is you increase your knowledge of our language, and nothing is wrong with that outcome!

Kathy Steffen is an award-winning author of “First, There Is a River,” “Jasper Mountain” and “Theater of Illusion.” She writes, creates art and gardens from her home in Spring Green that she shares with her husband and kitties.