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Expand Your Word Power at Vocabulary.com
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Link-Up Digital

Before there were acronyms such as LOL (laughing out loud) and BFF (best female friend), full-length words flourished. Before text messaging turned much of the language into abbreviations, short-cuts, and slang, people developed their language skills.

One website, Vocabulary.com (www.vocabulary.com), provides strategies to help people expand their vocabulary, build language know-how, and use the New York Times and novels to develop and master new words.

Its mission is to serve as “the most intelligent way to improve your vocabulary.” To achieve that goal, it employs an adaptive and proprietary learning system, referred to as The Challenge, and a rapid-fire dictionary to accelerate learning and reinforce it. If people devote a mere 15 minutes a day to the approach and take it seriously, their word power can skyrocket.

The implications of mastering new words can resonate in many areas of a person’s life. The site says that sharpening and expanding one’s vocabulary can contribute to the following: landing a new job, improving one’s writing, engendering more respect from peers, boosting confidence by enabling participants to state their thoughts better, and increase the chances of gaining acceptance to the school of choice.

Learning a new word out of context can be difficult. Without the ability to use it and have its meaning reinforced, most people forget what they learned and their progress is stalled. But Vocabulary.com has established a system where the word is learned, used in context, and then reinforced several times. The site says, “It’s like you have a personal trainer in the room, monitoring your work and suggesting new words and exercises to challenge you on your life.”

While anyone can turn to the site and start using it, it encourages people to enroll and establish a personal vocabulary list, tailored to their level. The system enables participants to track progress, create and save vocabulary lists, and study them to ensure mastery. All users need to do is find the “Sign Up” link and enroll. It also has a Facebook link, and users of that social media site can log in from there.

Vocabulary.com appeals to a wide range of people of all ages and backgrounds, but it can be especially useful for high school students who want to raise their SAT scores. Many of the words chosen to study are the same ones that appear regularly on the SAT. Words such as “ambiguous,” “alliteration,” and “diction,” for example, are vocabulary that can prove useful in the SAT on reading comprehension and other questions.

Readers learn at their own speed, depending on their knowledge and background. For example, when readers click on “Create a New List,” they are sent 100 pages of text in a field. The vocabulary words appear and the user can scroll the list and place the unfamiliar words in their vocabulary list. Once the word is clicked on, its definition and use appear.

One way to master new words is to study popular novels. Under the literature section on the site, users can read and study the vocabulary employed in the first six chapters of the popular novel The Kite Runner. Words such as “shard,” “pelt,” “affluent,” “disdain,” and “unscrupulous” appear in those first few chapters. In addition, participants can view Ten Words from the New York Times, examples from the National Spelling Bee, Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, or 100 SAT Words Beginning with A to Z to sharpen their vocabulary.

In Ten Words from the New York Times, for example, a user can view the word “confluence,” which means “flowing together. Or they can view the word “veneration,” defined as a feeling of respect. Word like these are offered and used in a sentence to further understanding. Once the reader practices these new words, the Vocabulary system asks questions, reinforces the knowledge, helps use the word, and reviews words that present any problem. In subsequent exercises, words learned are reintroduced to ensure mastery. 

For readers who want extra motivation, the site holds weekly contests, and winners’ names are posted. Moreover, the site is commercial free--no ads appear when people are learning new words.

Vocabulary.com claims to improve on traditional dictionaries. It says that most current dictionaries present definitions “that can be difficult to understand and not much fun to read.” The site has definitions that are snappier, crisper, clearer, and more fun to read. It also has a blog section, where it further reinforces use of the words.

As long as readers have no “antipathy” (a feeling of intense dislike) for learning new words, Vocabulary.com can offer the “antidote” (a remedy that controls the effect of a poison) to mastering new vocabulary.


 Gary M. Stern is a freelance writer based in New York City.


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