Why Vocabulary Development Counts
You have probably often heard it said, “Building vocabulary is important.” Maybe you’ve politely nodded in agreement and then forgotten the matter. But it would be fair for you to ask, “Why is vocabulary development important? Provide some evidence.” Here are four compelling kinds of evidence.
1 Common sense tells you what many research studies have shown as well: vocabulary is a basic part of reading comprehension. Simply put, if you don’t know enough words, you are going to have trouble understanding what you read. An occasional word may not stop you, but if there are too many words you don’t know, comprehension will suffer. The content of textbooks is often challenge enough; you don’t want to work as well on understanding the words that express that content.
2 Vocabulary is a major part of almost every standardized test, including reading achievement tests, college entrance exams, and Armed Forces and vocational placement tests. Test developers know that vocabulary is a key measure of both one’s learning and one’s ability to learn. It is for this reason that they include a separate vocabulary section as well as a reading comprehension section. The more words you know, then, the better you are likely to do on such important tests.
3 Studies have indicated that students with strong vocabularies are more successful in school. And one widely known study found that a good vocabulary, more than any other factor, was common to people enjoying successful careers in life. Words are in fact the tools not just of better reading, but of better writing, speaking, listening, and thinking as well. The more words you have at your command, the more effective your communication can be, and the more influence you can have on the people around you.
4 In today’s world, a good vocabulary counts more than ever. Far fewer people work on farms or in factories. Far more are in jobs that provide services or process information. More than ever, words are the tools of our trade: words we use in reading, writing, listening, and speaking. Furthermore, experts say that tomorrow’s workers will be called on to change jobs and learn new skills at an ever-increasing pace. The keys to survival and success will be the abilities to communicate skillfully and learn quickly. A solid vocabulary is essential for both of these skills.
Clearly, the evidence is overwhelming that building vocabulary is crucial. The question then becomes, “What is the best way of going about it?”
Words in Context: The Key to Vocabulary Development
Memorizing lists of words is a traditional method of vocabulary development. However, you are likely to forget such memorized lists quickly. Studies show that to master a word, you must see and use it in various contexts. By working actively and repeatedly with a word, you greatly increase the chance of really learning it. Building on this idea, the Learning Center provides a variety of activities and exercises to help you learn the 300 words in Improving Vocabulary Skills.
Inside the Learning Center
When you review the main menu for Improving Vocabulary Skills, you’ll see each chapter consists of seven activities:
● The first activity is called Vocabulary in Context. In this activity, you’ll be presented with ten new vocabulary words. Each word will be in boldface. If you click it, you will hear it spoken out loud (make sure your device’s volume is turned up). Next to the word, you will also be shown how to pronounce it (in parentheses). For example, the pronunciation of absolve (the first word in Chapter 1) is (ăb-zŏlv). You can find the full pronunciation guide here or refer to it anytime in the main menu right beneath the book’s introduction.
Along with the word’s pronunciation, you will also be given its part of speech. The part of speech shown for absolve is verb. The vocabulary words in this book are mostly nouns, adjectives, and verbs. Nouns are words used to name something—a person, place, thing, or idea. Familiar nouns include boyfriend, city, hat, and truth. Adjectives are words that describe nouns, as in the following word pairs: former boyfriend, large city, red hat, whole truth. All of the verbs in this book express an action of some sort. They tell what someone or something is doing. Common verbs include sing, separate, support, and imagine.
Beneath each word are two sentences and an occasional picture that will help you understand the word's meaning. In each sentence, the context—the other words in the sentence—provides clues you can use to figure out the definition. There are four common types of context clues: examples, synonyms, antonyms, and the general sense of the sentence. Each is briefly described below.
Common Context Clues
A sentence may include examples that reveal what an unfamiliar word means. For instance, take a look at the following sentence from Chapter 1 for the word eccentric:
Bruce is quite eccentric. For example, he lives in a circular house and rides to work on a motorcycle, in a three-piece suit.
The sentences provide two examples of what makes Bruce eccentric. The first is that he lives in a circular house. The second is that he rides to work on a motorcycle while wearing a three-piece suit. What do these two examples have in common? The answer to that question will tell you what eccentric means. Look at the answer choices below, and choose the one you think is correct.
___ Eccentric means
Both of the examples given in the sentences about Bruce tell us that he is unusual, or odd. So if you chose b, you chose the correct answer.
Synonyms are words that mean the same or almost the same as another word. For example, the words joyful, happy, and delighted are synonyms—they all mean about the same thing. Synonyms serve as context clues by providing the meaning of an unknown word that is nearby. The sentence below from Chapter 2 provides a synonym clue for irate.
If Kate got angry only occasionally, I could take her more seriously, but she’s always irate about something or other.
Instead of using irate twice, the author used a synonym in the first part of the sentence. Find that synonym, and then choose the letter of the correct answer from the choices below.
___ Irate means
The author uses two words to discuss one of Kate’s qualities: angry and irate. This tells us that irate must be another way of saying “angry.” (The author could have written, “but she’s always angry about something or other.”) Since angry can also mean furious, the correct answer is c.
Antonyms are words with opposite meanings. For example, help and harm are antonyms, as are work and rest. Antonyms serve as context clues by providing the opposite meaning of an unknown word. For instance, the sentence below from Chapter 1 provides an antonym clue for the word antagonist.
In the ring, the two boxers were antagonists, but in their private lives, they were good friends.
The author is contrasting the boxers’ two different relationships, so we can assume that antagonists and good friends have opposite, or contrasting, meanings. Using that contrast as a clue, pick the answer that you think best defines antagonist.
___ Antagonist means
a. a supporter.
b. an enemy.
c. an example.
The correct answer is b. Because antagonist is the opposite of friend, it must mean “enemy.”
4 General Sense of the Sentence
Even when there is no example, synonym, or antonym clue in a sentence, most of the time you can still figure out the meaning of an unfamiliar word. For example, look at this sentence from Chapter 1 for the word malign.
That vicious Hollywood reporter often maligns movie stars, forever damaging their public images.
After studying the context carefully, you should be able to figure out what the reporter does to movie stars. That will be the meaning of malign. Which of the three answer choices below best expresses that meaning?
___ Malign means
a. to praise.
b. to recognize.
c. to speak ill of.
Since the sentence calls the reporter “vicious” and says she damages public images, it is logical to conclude that she says negative things about movie stars. Thus answer c is correct.
By looking closely at the sentences and the occasional image provided for each word, you should be able to decide on its meaning. As you figure out each meaning, you are working actively with the word. You are creating the groundwork you need to understand and to remember the word. Getting involved with the word and developing a feel for it, based upon its use in context, is the key to word mastery.
● The second activity in each chapter is called Matching Words with Definitions.
According to research, it is not enough to see a word in context. At a certain point, it is important to look at the actual meaning of a word. The matching activity provides that meaning, reinforcing what you learned in the previous activity.
Keep in mind that a word may have more than one meaning. In fact, some words have quite a few meanings. (If you doubt it, try looking up the word make or draw in a dictionary.) In the Learning Center, you will focus on one common meaning for each vocabulary word. However, many of the words have additional meanings. For example, in Chapter 13, you will learn that devastate means “to upset deeply,” as in the sentence “The parents were devastated when they learned that their son had been arrested.” If you then look up devastate in the dictionary, you will discover that it has another meaning—“to destroy,” as in “The hurricane devastated much of Florida.” After you learn one common meaning of a word, you will find yourself gradually learning its other meanings in the course of your school and personal reading.
● The third activity of the chapter is titled Sentence Check 1.
It consists of ten sentences that give you an opportunity to test your understanding of the ten words. As you complete each item, be sure to read the explanations for each answer. Doing so will help you to master the words and to prepare for the remaining chapter activities and the unit tests.
● The fourth and fifth activity of each chapter are titled Sentence Check 2 and Final Check. These practices test you on all ten words, giving you two more chances to deepen your mastery. In Final Check, you have the context of an entire passage in which you can practice applying the words.
● Depending on how your teacher or instructor uses the Learning Center, you may also see three additional activities in each chapter. The Writing Sentences activity allows you to compose sentences to show your understanding of newly learned words. And the other two optional tests, Online Test 1 and Online Test 2, provide still further opportunity for you to practice and master the words.
Word Parts Chapters
Word parts are building blocks used in many English words. Learning word parts can help you to spell and pronounce words, unlock the meanings of unfamiliar words, and remember new words.
This book covers forty word parts—prefixes, suffixes, and roots. Prefixes are word parts that are put at the beginning of words. When written separately, a prefix is followed by a hyphen to show that something follows it. For example, the prefix non is written like this: non-. One common meaning of non- is “not,” as in the words nontoxic and nonfiction.
Suffixes are word parts that are added to the end of words. To show that something always comes before a suffix, a hyphen is placed at the beginning. For instance, the suffix ly is written like this: -ly. A common meaning of -ly is “in a certain manner,” as in the words easily and proudly.
Finally, roots are word parts that carry the basic meaning of a word. Roots cannot be used alone. To make a complete word, a root must be combined with at least one other word part. Roots are written without hyphens. One common root is cycl, which means “circle,” as in the words motorcycle and cyclone.
Each of the four chapters on word parts follows the same sequence as the chapters on vocabulary. Keep the following guidelines in mind as well. To find the meaning of a word part, you should do two things.
1 First decide on the meaning of each boldfaced word in “Ten Word Parts in Context.” If you don’t know a meaning, use context clues to find it. For example, consider the two sentences and the answer options for the word part quart or quadr- in Chapter 6.
Let’s cut the apple into quarters so all four of us can share it.
The ad said I would quadruple my money in two months. But instead of making four times as much money, I lost what I had invested.
___ The word part quart or quadr- means
You can conclude that if four people will be sharing one apple, quarters means “four parts.” You can also determine that quadruple means “to multiply by four.”
2 Then decide on the meaning that the two boldfaced words have in common. This will also be the meaning of the word part they share. In the case of the two sentences above, both words include the idea of something multiplied or divided by four. Thus quart or quadr- must mean four.
You now know, in a nutshell, how to proceed with the words in each chapter. Make sure that you do each item carefully. Remember that as you work through the activities, you are learning the words.
How many times in all will you use each word? If you look, you’ll see that each chapter gives you the opportunity to work with each word seven times. Additional opportunities appear in the crossword puzzle and tests that end each unit. Each “impression” adds to the likelihood that the word will become part of your active vocabulary.
Learning Center activities for Improving Vocabulary Skills also offer practice in word analogies, yet another way to deepen your understanding of words. An analogy is a similarity between two things that are otherwise different. Doing an analogy question is a two-step process. First you have to figure out the relationship in a pair of words. Those words are written like this:
LEAF : TREE
What is the relationship between the two words above? The answer can be stated like this: A leaf is a part of a tree.
Next, you must look for a similar relationship in a second pair of words. Here is how a complete analogy question looks:
LEAF : TREE ::
a. pond : river
b. foot : shoe
c. page : book
d. beach : sky
And here is how the question can be read:
___ LEAF is to TREE as
a. pond is to river.
b. foot is to shoe.
c. page is to book.
d. beach is to sky.
To answer the question, you have to decide which of the four choices has a relationship similar to the first one. Check your answer by seeing if it fits in the same wording as you used to show the relationship between leaf and tree: A ___ is part of a ___ . Which answer do you choose?
The correct answer is c. Just as a leaf is part of a tree, a page is part of a book. On the other hand, a pond is not part of a river, nor is a foot part of a shoe, nor is a beach part of the sky.
We can state the complete analogy this way: Leaf is to tree as page is to book.
Here’s another analogy question to try. Begin by figuring out the relationship between the first two words.
___ COWARD : HERO ::
a. soldier : military
b. infant : baby
c. actor : famous
d. boss : worker
Coward and hero are opposite types of people. So you need to look at the other four pairs to see which has a similar relationship. When you think you have found the answer, check to see that the two words you chose can be compared in the same way as coward and hero: ___ and ___ are opposite types of people.
In this case, the correct answer is d; boss and worker are opposite kinds of people. (In other words, coward is to hero as boss is to worker.)
By now you can see that there are basically two steps to doing analogy items:
1 Find out the relationship of the first two words.
2 Find the answer that expresses the same type of relationship as the first two words have.
Now try one more analogy question on your own. Which answer best expressed the relationship in the item below?
___ SWING : BAT ::
a. drive : car
b. run : broom
c. catch : bat
d. fly : butterfly
If you chose answer a, you were right. Swing is what we do with a bat, and drive is what we do with a car. Here are some other relationships often found in analogies:
● Synonyms: freedom : liberty (freedom and liberty mean the same thing)
● Item to category: baseball : sport (baseball is one kind of sport)
● Item to description: school bus : yellow (yellow is a word that describes a school bus)
● Producer to product: singer : song (a singer is the person who produces a song)
● Time sequence: January : March (January occurs two months before March)
The facts are in. A strong vocabulary is a source of power. Words can make you a better reader, writer, speaker, thinker, and learner. They can dramatically increase your chances of success in school and in your job.
But words will not come automatically. They must be learned in a program of regular study. If you commit yourself to learning words, and you work actively and honestly with the activities in the Learning Center, you will not only enrich your vocabulary—you will enrich your life as well.
Sherrie L. Nist