In the middle of a good read, no one wants to be disrupted by an unfamiliar word. I don’t mind a new word now and then, but too many will make me shut the book and go to the next. It’s good for my brain to add something that I can turn around and use, but again, too often and the whole read will be abandoned.
For the most part, words can be figured out by how the author uses them. If a main character wears a green jacket than any other word that refers to its color would mean some kind of green, like emerald, pastoral or verdant.
Our individual vocabulary is made up of the words each of us use. We each have four kinds of vocabulary:
- Reading--a word we can understand while into a book
- Listening--the words we understand when someone speaks
- Speaking--words we use when talking to someone
- Writing--the words we use when writing a letter, office work or homework
As I mentioned earlier, you may understand a word while reading because a good author has guided you to its meaning.
When listening to someone talking, words fly past quickly but we have the advantage of body language. If I heard ‘plummet’ for the first time and a friend demonstrated it with a hand coming down quickly, I’d understand. This may mean we understand more words than if we were reading them.
What words we choose when speaking to someone depends a great deal on who that someone is to us. If we’re looking at the weather with a 3-year-old, you might say, “It looks like it’s going to rain a lot today.” When speaking to Grandpa, you might say, “It looks like a thunderstorm.”
Our writing vocabulary can demonstrate a different range of words than when we’re speaking. Though there may be many words we use when talking that we’d never write down. Some we may never have seen in print. Kitty-corner is a word like that for me. I’d used it all my life and only recently saw it in print.
These vocabularies can be surprisingly different. Consider how you speak to your closest friends compared to how you speak to co-workers, Grandma or a flight attendant. There may be favorite words shared or some less favorable. All these vocabularies combine to make your personnel collection of words.
There are authors I read to challenge my vocabulary. I know I’ll have to take my time and focus. Other books, I fly through, knowing there will be no challenge.
If you’d like to learn a few new words from good authors, how about trying The Doctors Black by Janice P. Nimura. The book is casual and yet a fascinating account of the first 2 female medical doctors. Nonfiction is good at teaching new words, but so is fiction. The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells is told from a robot’s point of view. I loved how its techy language was like a casual conversation about what’s for dinner. The author who always challenged me the most was Umberto Eco. If you like words, try his books.
An important part of learning how to read is learning new words, written and spoken. When I was young, I had no experience with pomegranates. I couldn’t have recognized one until I was an adult. A great book to share with kids is Grena and the Magic Pomegranate by Melvin Leavitt. Not only will the reader learn what a pomegranate is, but will also enjoy a great story and possibly learn a new word.