“Quick-Fix Workshop”
Communications Centre
“Why do large vocabularies characterize
executives and possibly outstanding men and
women in other fields? The final answer
seems to be that words are the instruments
by means of which men and women grasp
the thoughts of others and with which they
do much of their own thinking. They are the
“tools of thought.”
- Johnson O’Connor
• Everyone – from those just learning
English to journalism veterans – knows
the frustration of not having the right
word immediately available in that lexicon
(vocabulary) one carries between one’s
• Whether you’re reading a newspaper,
billboard sign, cereal box, or textbook, it can
be extremely frustrating to encounter words
whose meanings elude us
• Not knowing the meaning of certain words
may hinder your success academically and in
your daily life activities
A Few Interesting Facts
• According to David Orr’s 2000 article,
“In the past 50 years…the working
vocabulary of the average 14 year-old has
declined from some 25,000 words to
10,000 words. This is not merely a decline
in numbers of words but in the capacity to
• “The problem of
language, however,
is a global problem.
Of the roughly 6500
languages now
spoken on Earth,
half are on the brink
of extinction and
only 150 or so are
expected to survive
to the year 2100.”
• “Language everywhere is being whittled down
to conform to the limited objectives of the
global economy and homogenized to accord
with the shallow imperatives of the
‘information age’.”
So, what can we do to preserve
and improve our crucial knowledge
of words?
Learning New Words
• One of the best ways of learning new words
is to meet them in context
• In such situations it is very often possible, by
reading a sentence carefully and by
recognizing certain clues, to guess with
reasonable accuracy the meaning of an
unfamiliar word
• Sentences or paragraphs frequently
offer the following clues to the
meanings of unfamiliar words:
 The general sense or meaning of the sentence or
 Tone and point of view of the writer
 Connectives such as and and or, which can signal
a likeness, or but, yet and conversely can indicate
a contrast
 Punctuation marks such as a colon indicating a
list, a dash indicating additional information, or an
exclamation mark indicating intensity
Using Context Clues
• Try to determine the meaning of each of the
following italicized words from its context in
the sentence. Check a good dictionary to
evaluate how close you have come
1. Many doctors today
endorse a holistic
view of medicine –
one that includes
attention to
nutrition, exercise,
and psychological
needs as well as to
drugs and surgery.
Dictionary meaning?
2. In spite of the fact
that the clouds
scudded across the
sky overhead, there
Dictionary meaning?
was not the
suggestion of a
breeze, much less a
wind, in the harbour.
3. I enjoyed meeting
the affable owner of
the shop; her easygoing and cheerful Dictionary meaning?
manner endeared
her to me.
Strategies for Remembering
New Words
• Say the word aloud several times:
• Saying the word aloud, especially along
with a short phrase, will help you
remember it
• Learn how to use the pronunciation
guide in your dictionary, and if you are
an ESL learner, ask a native speaker to
pronounce new words into your tape
• Tie new words to old:
• When you encounter a new word, think
of a method for recalling the meaning
• This will often involve using a word that
you already know
• Use visualization:
• For example, to recall that draconian
measures are harsh and extreme,
visualize Dracula biting someone’s neck
for missing class!
• Write vocabulary cards:
• This technique DOES work
• Keep a stack of cards in your pocket or
bag and whenever you hear a new
word, write it on a card
• Set aside a few minutes each day to
look up the words in a dictionary
• On one side of the card write the word
and its pronunciation cue
• On the reverse side, write the definition
(in your own words) and also a sentence
for the word
• Make use of your new words
– Share your new-found words with
friends and family
– Drop new words into a conversation
– Teach your friends and family the
meaning of your new words
• Review, review , review:
• You can’t expect to learn a new word
and never forget it
• Periodically go back over the words
you’ve learned and quiz yourself
• Flag the words you missed and review
them again
Using All the Resources
• There are many books about vocabulary
building available in bookstores
• Look for one that includes helpful exercises
and the kinds of words that you would like to
• Read more and keep a
dictionary nearby:
– Reading widely is the most effective and
natural way to improve your vocabulary
– When you come upon an unfamiliar word,
don’t ignore it but rather write it down and
find its meaning in the dictionary
• Dictionaries and Thesauruses:
– Buy two dictionaries; keep a quality
dictionary at home (Oxford is best) and
carry a small portable dictionary with you
– Check online dictionaries, too – the online
Merriam Webster’s WWWebster Dictionary
– Consult a thesaurus for synonyms but
make sure you understand the meaning of
each word by looking it up in the dictionary
• Word puzzles
– Try “Madlibs” – online or in book form
• Crosswords
– Make it a daily activity to complete one
crossword from a book of crosswords or
from a newspaper
• Magnetic Poetry
• The Internet:
– You can use the Internet as an aid to
vocabulary development by exploring the
abundant opportunities for reading
– Read online newspapers:
• The Globe and Mail
• The Hamilton Spectator
• Choose online magazines such as Atlantic and
Mother Jones that challenge your mind and
vocabulary with full-text articles
• Atlantic has a language section – select from
“Word Court, “Word Fugitive”, and “Word
Police” www.theatlantic.com/language/
• Read the New York Times Book Review
– www.nytimes.com
(one-time registration is FREE!)
• Subscribe to a service that will provide you
with a new word each day:
– www.wordsmith.org
– www.vocabvitamins.com
– www.merriam-webster.com
• Word of the Day from OED (Oxford English
• The New York Times Word of the Day
– www.nytimes.com/learning/students/word
• Check out the word archive
Have fun building those
vocabulary muscles!

The Power Of Words