Ways to Learn Vocabulary Words
Version Date: February 5, 2014
Learning vocabulary words for a foreign language or for personal
improvement in English can be a challenge simply because of the effort
needed to convert short term memory into long term memory.
Running through a list over and over is actually highly effective,
though not the most interesting way to learn. Flash cards are an
excellent way to learn vocabulary words. When I was in college, I
learned a lot of German vocabulary by repeating the words and their
definitions over and over while I took a shower. (I had a page of
vocabulay taped to the wall under the shower head. Yes, that worked,
are more fun, more exciting ways to learn.
Simple rote memorization is pretty passive on the learning scale.
Learning is faster and more sticky if the learner engages in active
learning techniques--doing something with the material while learning
it. Remember that active learning does not need to be physically
active. Mentally active learning that makes use of creativity and humor
can be a powerful learning method. Let’s look at a few ways to learn
vocabulary words while having fun
In their original form, Tom Swifties involve a
statement by Tom followed by an adverb or a verb that puns on the
- "The sign on the fence says, 'Beware of High Voltage,'" said Tom
- "After such a long trip, I'm just dead, " said Tom posthumously.
- "I just washed the dog," Tom said cleanly.
- "I sure like this turkey sandwich," Tom gobbled.
- "Three plus two is five," Tom added.
- "This is only Douglas fir, not the oak I wanted," Tom pined.
To use Tom Swifties for vocabulary
development, simply include the word's definition in the statement and
the word itself as the adverb. Here are some examples:
Some variety is also possible, of course:
- “Now that we’re here let’s look around,” Tom said
- "This dishwasher runs by itself," said Tom automatically.
- "I don't believe that," sad Tom incredulously.
- "This decision is fair to you both," said Tom equitably.
- "I'm in no shape at all," said Tom amorphously.
- "He acts like a know-it-all," Tom said omnisciently.
- "I'm broke again," Tom said impecuniously.
- "I could carry her books forever," Tom said in transport.
- "Now why did they throw me out of that nightclub?" Tom wondered,
- "That steak filled me up," Tom said, in a postprandial mood. [prandium = Latin for meal]
- "Please stop talking so I can give you a shot," Dr. Tom injected.
- "I'm going to cut the patient open here," Dr. Tom said,
- "I can hear you," Dr. Tom said audibly.
A reverse Swifty puts the vocabulary word in the sentence and the
definition in the attribution:
- "I will be happy to produce the evidence," Tom said, pulling it
- "I've given this contract a cursory look," said Tom, glancing
- "I hope you can disambiguate this passage," Tom said clearly.
- "Your performance was positively incandescent," Tom beamed
- "That fad for fried popcorn will be ephemeral," Tom said briefly.
A dog pile is a sentence made up of several words
using the same root word, prefix, or suffix. Creating dog piles is a
good way to learn roots and the meaning of several words at once.
- The porter reported that he transported the import
to the airport. [root: port, to carry]
- Jane induced Tom to produce the exercise that
would reduce his waist. [root: duct, duce: to pull]
- To determine whether the autograph on the lithograph was genuine,
James was given a polygraph test.
- The man was dejected that his project was rejected.
- The guard refused to admit the missionary until he got a permit
to transmit the missive.
- The auditioning singer was barely audible to the audience in the
auditorium. [audi: to hear]
- The dental surgeon made a precise incision near the incisor of
the homicide victim. [cis: to cut]
A root canal is made by including the meaning of
the word's prefix, root, and suffix (if any) in brackets in a sentence.
This is a good game to play with flash cards. The sentence goes on one
side and the vocabulary word goes on the other. Here are a few examples;
- Jane felt [down+throw] when she didn’t make the
cheerleading squad. [dejected]
- The [self+life+writing] of the mountain climber sold a million
- The man's [time+measurer] had stopped working at 12 noon.
- The barber was tempted to [against+speak] his customer, but kept
- The computer virus was called a [many+forms] type because it
could change as it spread. [polymorphic]
A neologism is a [neo + logos] new word, a word
you make up yourself. If you make up a word on your own that is
unrelated to the classical word roots, prefixes, and suffixes, your
hearer or reader will likely not know what you are talking about. For
example, if you say, "I have a blint at home," you won't convey much
information because no one else knows what you mean by a blint until
you tell them. But if you say, "I have an omnispect," then your
or reader (if they know word roots and prefixes) can understand
something about your
meaning. A few examples:
- "I feel like retroambulating," Jane said. [walking
- "I could fax or have my secretary call," Joe said, "but I think I
will autolog to my customers today." [talk myself]
- "We've seen an example, but what we need is an antiparison," the
professor said. [join against--a nonexample?]
Other Tools for Writers
About the author:
Harris is a writer
and educator with more than 25 years of teaching experience at the
and university level. RHarris at virtualsalt.com