1) Read! Reading is one of the best ways to ameliorate your vocabulary. Processing words contextually will give yourself a chance to figure out the meaning of a word before looking it up. This sort of guess work will create associations in your mind for new words that will help with recollection. The necessary contextual scale is small to glean value. Just one sentence can provide enough valuable context, so if you are not up for starting a new novel, look to magazine and newspaper articles, get a subscription to Time of Newsweek, or read articles online.
2) Cure your “word blindness.” Often times, the specificity of a definition may differ slightly from the one you perceive and you may be missing subtleties and underlying meaning. I call this “word blindness” and would recommend looking up words even if you think you know their meanings. There were a number of words I had never looked up with which I had formulated my own definitions that turned out to have totally different meanings. An example that comes to mind is the word ‘noisome.’ Prior to discovering its true meaning, I just associated it with loudness and other ambiguously negative connotations, totally unaware of its “morally hurtful or noxious” implications.
3) Engage in word games such as Scrabble and Boggle. These kinds of games will help you practice words you have learned and aid you in discovering new vocabulary. Yahoo games has a great multi-player version of Scrabble that can be played online called Literati. They also have a licensed version of Boggle that is very fun and other word games that are helpful as well. These games are all free and can be found in the Yahoo Word Games section here.
4) Keep a list of words you come across that you don’t know. WordStash.com has a great tool for this (shameless plug). The key to remembering words is repetition, so having a list of words that you are learning is useful in that you can periodically review it. Which leads to…
5) Periodically review words that you are learning. The key here is periodic. It’s best to allow time for the definitions to sink in before reviewing them again. A nights sleep is a great spacer. Your brain handles a lot of it’s upkeep during your sleeping hours, which includes filing away new word definitions. A good time to review your word list right before you go to bed. That way, the words are fresh in your mind, which will allow easier filing access for your subconscious.
6) Use flash cards. Flash cards are a great tool for learning words in that they provide easy access to word definitions. Put them in places that will remind you to review, such as next to your bed. You can also create flash cards using post-it notes for more placement options.
7) Do crossword puzzles. Crossword puzzles challenge your word skills in ways like no other. It is truly rewarding to solve a clue with a word you have just learned. A great source for crossword puzzles online is at BestCrosswords.com. It has an intuitive interface and you can save your puzzles. The free version can be found in the Casual Interactive section here.
8) Watch Jeopardy. Jeopardy always has a number of word related clues. It can be great practice to showcase words that you have learned and also find new and interesting words. I have started a list of vocabulary from Jeopardy on WordStash that covers about a week of so of episodes here.
9) Utilize a dictionary search plugin. Whatever your go to dictionary may be, make sure you have a search plugin that will allow simple and fast definition access. It is important to be able to retrieve definitions as fast as possible so you do not get lazy and go on without correcting your word blindness.
10) Use mnemonics. According to Wikipedia “A mnemonic device is a mind memory and/or learning aid. Commonly, mnemonics are verbal—such as a very short poem or a special word used to help a person remember something—but may be visual, kinesthetic or auditory.” Mnemonic devices are perfect for remembering vocab. Some examples: for the word ‘tenacious’, picture a house of cards with ‘ten aces’ holding together, or for ‘fortuitous’ picture two lost cowboys trying to find ‘Fort Uitous’. They flip a coin to choose their direction and find it, fortuitously…