Grandma's Tales

January 10, 2007

Grammar – 24 Ma’am, how do I improve my vocab?

Filed under: Language — Geeta Padmanabhan @ 9:25 pm

They introduce themselves in various ways – “You taught me when I was in Grade 4”, “I was in your high school class”, “Remember I was the clown in your play”, “Your Law student”, “I gave that info about A-B-C”… but the question at the end of it is the same.
Ma’am, how do I collect words?”

Collecting words, they know, is no big deal. What is a dictionary all about? The rub is remembering them, remembering what they mean. To a group that remembers the names of a million songs, the 10-digit phone numbers of a million friends, the bios of a million stars and starlets, this should be a breeze. But I don’t have the heart to tell them the truth: Guys, you are not interested. You’re looking for a quick fix to pass an exam.

I tell them: anyone who is on a mission to add to his active/passive vocabulary is expected to read. Vikram Seth, for instance. When you come across a new word in his novel, guess its meaning in the context. If it fits, continue to read. If in doubt, check with a dictionary. Among the meanings given, pick one that is most appropriate. Read again and see how well it sits in the sentence. The next op you have, use the word in conversation or writing. Show off. Feel good about it. And keep reading.
Sadly, this looks like a long haul. READ? Ohhhhhh, yawn… Any tips, ma’am?

Here they are:
[1] Make a list of at least 10 unfamiliar words per day – you will come across these words in papers, books or in a dictionary.
Put them down on a piece of paper. Read once in the morning, with meanings. Tuck it in your sleeve or pocket. Every hour or so, peek into it. After about 5 times, recall the words with meanings.
[2] Write a set of words with meanings on a paper. Memorise. Get someone at home to ask you the meaning of randomly selected words.
[3] Memorise 5 words at a time. Put them in sentences of your own. This is the best way to remember them. Use them in your conversation. Put them in your writing.
I’ve been reading Sherlock Holmes. You know the number of words you will learn there?
[4] Take 20 words at a time. In two columns, write the words on one side and the jumbled meanings on the other. Match.
[5]Take 20 new words. Write the words and write a definition for each.
Ex: jibe – to make fun of someone in a friendly way. After writing, check with a dictionary.
[6] Play “ask-answer” with friends. Instead of names of film stars, use new words for this quiz.
[7] The plain old Indian method – just learn them by rote and trust your memory to recall when needed.
Hope this helps.


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