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3 easy steps for a GREat vocabulary
Shivinder Kang, Top Careers & You
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February 25, 2008

The importance of vocabulary in setting a benchmark for reading achievement, and even more specifically for GRE, has long been established. Although growth in vocabulary knowledge occurs rapidly and almost effortlessly for some, the rate at which word meanings are acquired, varies greatly.

Surprisingly, in a country like India, where despite the fact that every second student you interact with has impeccable English, vocabulary is a hurdle faced by old and young alike! And it is not the run-of-the-mill vocabulary that we are talking about, but the vocabulary of the competitive examinations like GRE, GMAT, CAT, MAT etc.

Now, it is actually not a matter of just the numbers which provide a touchstone for measuring vocabulary level, but instead the quality of words learnt by the student and their retention by him/her.

Verbal experts from have a 3-pronged strategy that helps not only with the learning process but also with the retention of the given set of words, whether scrambled or in any order. The research begins with a simple exercise:

Empty your mind and don't think about anything for a moment. Now, concentrate and recall the first word that comes to your mind, when we mention 'A' for...?'. 'Apple?' (Without any doubt or variation).

Well if your answer was the same as mine, congratulations on having the vocabulary equal to that of a nursery going child! Okay jokes apart, why does the word 'apple' come to our minds despite the fact that we have other seemingly easier words like 'ant'? The answer is simple and unconsciously we all know it!

This is the basic thought behind the technique devised by for the readers of Here is the three-pronged strategy:

1. Imagination: What is the first word or a thing that comes to your mind when you hear a particular word? Now this process also has many ways through which the imagination can be triggered.

For instance, you could think of an image that you attach with the meaning of a word or maybe with its structure or remembering someone with the attitude similar to the meaning of the word can also be a trigger.

It could be pictorial or even otherwise. For instance, as a child I had a trouble learning the word 'schadenfreude' which means a person who takes malicious pleasure in the sufferings of others.

I always associated it with the face of my sworn enemy (of course I won't name him), but that helped me to retain the word and its meaning, especially when I had to refer to it. Try it, it works like a dream!

There are more words like these, which incidentally may or may not have a necessary root to depict their meaning. So, in the case of such words, use your imagination!

Try some imagination to remember these words and their meanings
Coxcomb, chicanery, pellucid, buss, habitue', factitious, profligate, bedaub, contumacious, bifurcate.

2. Association: Now a reader might ask whether there is a difference between association and imagination. Well, there is, and a major one at that!

Language has a very inexplicable ability to converge at some point so as to reach to its meaning. Let me ask you another question, can you describe rain or for that matter, fire? These words may be very simple in their outlook but they are very typically confusing in their definition.

To explain further, what words did you use when you defined rain? Evaporation? Condensation? Water droplets? All these words are far more tough and confusing than the word that they actually described, ie rain.

How did that happen? This is because you simply associate new words with more words from your knowledge while learning them for the first time.

And you should as well! Association is magical if used properly. For example, you can associate words by their structure (habitue' with habitual), usage (aglet, which is the tip of a shoelace, with anklet, which is an ornament worn on the ankle), meaning (agrarian, which means related to agriculture, with agro, which means the same) and pronunciation (agro, which is related to agriculture, with aggro, which leads to aggressive).

Can you associate these words?
Firmament, arcane, perfunctory, temerity, superannuated, egregious, tutelary, condign, lambent, confabulation

3. Vernaculisation: This technique is one of my most preferred when it comes to learning new words for which you cannot find any imaginary or associative source.

For example, kismet which means the same as kismet of Hindi. Then we have pari passu, libation... and the list continues!

Vernaculisation is simply the technique that our experts derived when they found out that an easy way to learn a particular word was to relate it to something that one could use in one's mother tongue.

It may be something that one could associate in the language using a full fledged definition or explanation of that word. For instance, when we come across the word aubade for the first time, immediately a Hindi song comes to the mind that signified that it was calling forth the dawn to break and spread its golden cover everywhere. Voila! We got something to attach to aubade and vernaculisation took birth.

Vernaculise these
Expiate, somniferous, cogitate, persiflage, obfuscate, calumny, ablution, libation, undulate, cosset.

Top Careers & You has been preparing national and international candidates for high-end tests viz. GRE, GMAT, SAT, NTSE and Class X Boards since 1998. Visit for FREE access thousands of tests.

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