How to Improve Your Vocabulary

By KJ Hutchings

Did you know that, according to the Global Language Monitor, there are 1,013,913 words in the English language? That's a lot of words, and this number will continue to grow as new words are introduced, but do you know how many you use? Most people use far less than they think and many more use just enough words to get by in life. This is a shame, because a good grasp of vocabulary, especially of a language as rich as English, is about more than just communication.

Vocabulary helps us to form our thoughts and ambitions. Words are far more than about making ourselves understood. A limited vocabulary really can affect your life and your self-esteem. In certain situations, such as job interviews, people without a wide vocabulary are often prejudiced against and treated in a dismissive way. So, whether you are at a job interview, writing or speaking, your vocabulary really does matter. This applies whether or not English is your first language. But how do we build up and expand the number of words in our repertoire?
The average native English-speaker knows around 50,000 words, which seems a fraction of the number of words that exist in English. However, 50,000 is obviously a sizeable number and, contrary to what many believe, usage and level of vocabulary is not worse compared to previous generations, despite texting, emailing and television. Recent research has revealed, in fact, that texting can actually improve literacy scores as it encourages people to read and write, and only around ten per cent of words are abbreviated in text messaging.
How you can learn new words

So, if you wish to improve your vocabulary, what is the best way to do this? Well, one thing you should definitely not do is sit down and start reading the dictionary!
The best way to build up your vocabulary is simply to read and write as much as you can. You don't have to just read "high-brow" or academic books either - any sort of reading material will help and the internet is full of text that can improve your wealth of words.
Online newspapers and articles are extremely valuable - there is a plethora of news stories and entries on the internet to pick and choose from. If you come across a word you are unfamiliar with, always look it up in a dictionary.
Another good exercise is to change your synonyms. For example, you can challenge yourself by swapping commonplace words in favour of other, lesser-used adjectives. If you know 50,000 words, you may find that you regularly use rather dull words such as "nice" and "good". Try to use terms that are more exciting and descriptive. There are many online thesauruses that can be very useful in this. And remember that the use of swear words for emphasis is a bad habit that should be broken. Expletives do not indicate an expansive vocabulary, so it is best to find alternatives.
It is no secret that the earlier you improve your vocabulary, the better, but it is never too late to widen the number of words you use. If you have children, it's important to read to them when they are very young. Raising your children to love reading and see it as an enjoyable experience rather than a chore linked to school work is a valuable gift. It will certainly help them become confident and articulate adults.
KJ Hutchings is the owner of KJ Language Services, providing proofreading, editing and writing services to businesses and students, in particular those who use English as a second language. For more information, visit her site at:

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