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2.5 Expanding your vocabulary exponentially


A counter-intuitive growth 

Blog 2.51 briefly addresses the issue of building a relevant and extensive vocabulary in a foreign language. This article meets the needs of all levels except those of complete beginners.


Expanding vocabulary at a reasonably fast speed requires competences and techniques rather than a gift.  We can all multiply the number of words available to us so long as we understand and respect basic limitations as well as deploy an efficient, potent and effective approach.


Many learners treating themselves to the latest products on the language market believe that the technology now available addresses such an issue. It does not. Consequently, after a few months, they realise that they are unable to achieve substantial growth beyond their initial push. There are good reasons for such shortcomings. 


Is their motivation not strong enough? Is their engagement and commitment at fault? Although learners may believe so, the reason is often much simpler. They lack a proper set of tools to acquire and build their language efficiently. 


Such skills call for a different look at words. For purpose of simplicity, I will focus here on one critical   reali    s    ation  , one key success element.

Selecting the right vocabulary       


This part is highly counter-intuitive. When seeking to acquire new words, we need to ask ourselves a critical question which differs vastly from our instinctive request.  The question we would naturally ask ourselves is: do I know this word?


With such an overriding scanning process on the front of our mind, the answer literally jumps to our eyes or ears. “Yes, I have come across it before”. “No, I have not yet”. The operating system running our mind offers a straight forward answer. Such black and white response leads to a clear cut call for action: dealing with the words we don’t know. Unfortunately, this efficiency, rather than helping us, hinders our improvements.   Blog 1.3 points towards a solution.  


As surprising as this may seem, we need to focus on words that we already know but do not use actively enough. As surprising as this may seem, the words we don’t know… will look after themselves.


If this perception challenge seems easy, it is not; the mind naturally wanders away from searching for words to reinforce actively and is instead instinctively and relentlessly drawn towards the vocabulary it does not know.


Mastering attention is the first step. Once we shift our focus to the underused or underperforming items of speech, the all-important issue we must now concentrate on is: What can I do with the terms that I just identified, selected and retained for hardwiring?   How can I deploy them more adequately and regularly when I communicate in my normal speech or when I write? Which words would this one be embedded with? Which ones would it sometimes replace?


Learners need to insert these target words into their active speech. Such hardwiring process calls for a set of competences and this theme will be the subject of a future blog.


As we control and shift our natural focus, as we concentrate on the words we recognise as underutilised and increase their usage, vocabulary expansion speeds up. Learning engages a new gear.


In summary, in order to progress quickly, learners need simple techniques to identify and prioritise the words they must commit to memory as well as sheer ruthlessness to refuse to pay attention to unknown words.


All the issues discussed above are covered extensively in The Language Talent book – soon to be published.


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