Why Expand Your Vocabulary? (And Tips For Learning New Words)

Key Takeaways:

  • Developing an advanced vocabulary can enhance intelligence by improving information processing and making meaningful connections between ideas.
  • Acquiring new words can save time and energy, especially during learning tasks, and lead to better understanding and fluency.
  • Building a college-level vocabulary can benefit academic success, career advancement, job offers, promotions, and raises in professional fields.

Improving your vocabulary may not be the biggest priority on your college “to-do” list, especially if you’re majoring in a field outside of the humanities. Still, there are benefits to be enjoyed from adding new words to your lexicon. Some of these benefits can yield long-lasting rewards. Specifically, building a college vocabulary can help you succeed academically. It can also poise you for even more accomplishments in your professional career. This could include job offers, promotions, and raises. In this article, we’ll explore how an advanced vocabulary (i.e., one that includes college-level words) can build intelligence and foster success in the classroom and in the workplace. We’ll also present some specific vocabulary-building exercises you can use to fill in any gaps in your English language lexicon. This way, you can take full advantage of all the rewards and benefits of speaking and writing eloquently.

Don’t Just Sound Smarter—Be Smarter!

Do you know someone who is always using broader vocabulary words to sound more sophisticated or intelligent? Everyone knows that college-level words can make a person appear more intelligent—so long as the individual uses the right words correctly! (As Mark Twain once said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”)

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But did you know that expanding your vocabulary can actually increase your intelligence? It may sound far-fetched, but from a neurolinguistic perspective, it makes perfect sense. Language is directly tied to brain function, and each new word represents another of the essential building blocks of language. Thus, the more new words you know, the better you can process information. And the more efficient your brain is at making meaningful connections between objects, ideas, and concepts. This, of course, is the essence of intelligence.

Acquiring new words to improve your vocabulary can also free up your time and energy. This could be the case as you’re attempting to learn new content, especially if you become fluent in using these new word lists rather than simply acknowledging the definitions of certain college words. For illustrative purposes, imagine you’re studying for a philosophy exam, and you come across a new word you aren’t familiar with. Suddenly, your chore of learning philosophical theory just became twice as difficult. You have to stop what you’re doing to look up the definition of the new word and then try to apply it to the context of your course material. You’ve wasted precious time and effort that could have been better spent preparing for your upcoming test. Building up your knowledge of college vocabulary words before university enrollment is advised. This will give you the best chance of success in your classes and in future career success.

Higher Grades Across the Board

We’ve established that learning college words beforehand can help you learn the course material. This isn’t the only way that a college vocabulary can yield success in school, though. You’ve likely been forewarned that college coursework requires a ton of writing, and it’s true. Instead of reports being limited to your English classes, as may have been the case in high school, your college courses will be full of research papers, reflective essays, and lab reports, no matter what your major. Even general education classes like introductory psychology and even mathematics require you to write essays as part of your academic requirements. In order to succeed in these classes, you’ll need to be proficient at written communication. This includes using college vocabulary words appropriately and fluently. And this isn’t just a matter of form, either. Communicating clearly is essential for discussing the kinds of higher-level concepts you’ll be required to explore and explain in your college classes. The more college-level words you have in your vocabulary, the better equipped you’ll be to do just that.

Having more words in your vocabulary doesn’t only benefit you regarding written expression, though. It also helps you with oral communication (i.e., speaking skills). You may not be required to do as much public speaking in college as you will write. Still, oral communication is vital in higher education settings. For instance, in some classes, part of your grade may depend on your contribution to class discussions. The extent to which you participate in these verbal exchanges and the quality of your contribution could very well mean the difference between a mediocre grade and a stellar one. Having a working college vocabulary can position you for successful banter with your peers.

Better Job Prospects

Employers have long-cited communication skills among some of the most desirable traits in new recruits. According to a 2010 survey of employers conducted by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, 89% of respondents said postsecondary institutions should better prepare graduates in the areas of written and oral communication skills. This implies that these particular soft skills are not only valued by employers but also rare. That’s good news for graduates with strong college vocabulary skills. It means they’ll very likely stand out to hiring managers when applying for jobs.

Speaking of the application process, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to show off your knowledge of new words while vying for open positions. From the initial step of filling out the official job application to submitting your resume and cover letter, your knowledge of college words will be on full display. The cover letter, in particular, presents an opportunity to show off your advanced writing skills. While hiring managers may scan your application and even your resume, the cover letter is usually read from top to bottom. Using new words here can’t hurt your plight as long as you use them correctly.

Your oral communication skills, too, won’t go unnoticed during your job hunt. This is particularly true should you land an interview with a company’s hiring manager. According to the online job board Indeed, the typical job interview lasts anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and a half. During this time, the interviewer will hang onto your every word, listening to clues showing what kind of employee you would be if you were hired. No pressure, right? Depending on the job you’re interviewing for, your knowledge of new words could make or break your chances for employment. Being well-spoken is a leg-up for any type of professional role. But it may be even more crucial if you’re an aspiring teacher, manager, or public figure.

Career Advancement Opportunities

Even after you’ve graduated from your degree program and snagged a job, your college vocabulary will continue to prove valuable. In fact, it could put you first in line for promotions and advancements. This may lead to more job satisfaction, prestige, and, yes—higher wages. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) lists good communication skills among the top ten skills managers need in the workplace, citing the results of a survey of more than 15,000 managers worldwide. SHRM cites the “7 C’s of Communication,” one of which is conciseness. Essentially, this means that using one word instead of several to communicate an idea is preferable. Conciseness is often dependent upon vocabulary knowledge, however. That is, you’ll need to know the right word to use. Thus, having a good grasp of college-level words can help you communicate concisely. This can add to your effectiveness as a manager.

If you can leverage your college vocabulary to earn a managerial position, you can expect to start reaping monetary rewards. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), managers make more on average than employees of any other occupational group. In 2020, the median annual wage for professionals in management positions was well over six figures—$109,760 to be exact.

How to Expand Your Vocabulary to Include College Words

At this point, you may be wondering what you should do if you can’t define all of the words every college student should know. Good question! Acknowledging the importance of a good college vocabulary is one thing, but acquiring one is another thing entirely. If you feel like your knowledge of new words is subpar, don’t fret. There are some things you can do to expand your vocabulary. This will ensure you’re verbally prepared for your postsecondary journey and beyond.

Reading to Learn New Words

If the idea of curling up with a good book and a hot beverage appeals to you, then you’re in luck. Reading is widely accepted as one of the very best ways to improve one’s vocabulary by learning new words. Just ensure the book you’re reading is on par with college-level words and diction. After all, reading a book full of rudimentary words you know might be enjoyable, but it won’t do anything to build a college vocabulary. Your reading habit should include challenging literature full of unfamiliar words. Exposing yourself to college words used in context can help you absorb these words into your own vocabulary. The more you’re exposed to them, the more likely it is that they’ll make their way into your own speech and writing. This is why well-read people also tend to have better writing and speaking skills.

Expand Your Vocabulary by Listening

If you’re not an avid reader, know there are other ways to learn new words. This includes listening to these words as they’re spoken aloud. That means listening to an audiobook is a perfectly acceptable way to expand your vocabulary. Grammarly suggests that even movies and television shows can be instructive when it comes to learning new vocabulary words. This experience is like reading visual books with the added perk of hearing the words pronounced. This technique may be more effective for second-language learners. Still, it can be beneficial to native speakers as well. Just be selective about the types of media you consume.

Writing for Practice with College-Level Words

Writing is often thought of as an assignment or chore. But it can also be a tool for learning, particularly when it comes to adding more words to your vocabulary. Simply writing down a word and its definition in a vocabulary journal can help you commit the term to memory. Of course, becoming comfortable with the word in formal writing or speech may require a bit more practice. For this, we recommend making an intentional effort to use the word in casual writing. This could be in a personal journal, an email to a friend, or a low-stakes classroom assignment. As you find opportunities to use new vocabulary words more frequently, you’ll become more confident applying them to other contexts, such as public speaking and essay writing.

Technology for Exposure to College Vocabulary Words

For decades now, technology and learning have been intertwined. Thus, it’s no surprise that there are high-tech ways to build a college vocabulary today. It’s simple–play word games! Test-prep company Magoosh offers a word game/vocabulary-building app featuring 1200 different words for daily practice. If the idea of having an educational app on your phone is off-putting, there are plenty of other options to play word games. This includes word association games. Word games have become strangely popular and highly addictive, so much so that people forget that they’re also good for the brain. Completing online crossword puzzles, playing Scrabble Go with a friend across the globe, or even challenging a stranger to a round of Words with Friends are all good ways to learn English words (and they’re fun too).

If learning new words to improve your vocabulary wasn’t already on your radar, we trust it is now. Building a college vocabulary is a simple and often overlooked strategy to gain a competitive advantage in academia and on the job. It’s also a technique that can be improved over time. When you decide to expand your vocabulary, you might wonder how many words to learn. English vocabulary is so vast. There’s virtually an infinite number of college-level words one can learn. With these boundless opportunities for growth, the sky is the limit regarding what you can accomplish. All you need is a little ambition and an extensive vocabulary.


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