learning with steve: vocabulary and success


I know you feel that the size of a person’s vocabulary is very important. Can you explain why?

Studies have shown that literacy is the best indicator of academic and professional success in a modern society. Literacy means more than just deciphering letters or symbols. There are degrees of literacy.  Generally speaking the more words we can recognize when we read or listen, the more literate we are. As a rule, the more words we know, the better we do at school and in the workplace.

Is this just true mostly for Arts, the Humanities, Law, and jobs that involve a lot of communication?

The Lexile Framework is a measure of the difficulty of a text. Surprisingly the lexile index for mathematical and scientific textbooks is usually higher then for humanities texts. Many job manuals are written in very dense language, and also have a high lexile index. In a modern society, most of us cannot escape the need for a high degree of literacy as a condition for success.

But are there not other factors that can make a text difficult to read?

Certainly, the length of the sentences, the reader’s familiarity with the subject matter, and other factors also influence the difficulty of a text. However, the size of one’s vocabulary is still the most important indicator. Usually, if we have a large vocabulary, we have read a lot. Furthermore, a large vocabulary means that we have read on a wide variety of subjects and are familiar with a variety of writing styles. This means that a large vocabulary prepares us to deal with writing styles that are complex, with long sentences, or texts that deal with unfamiliar subjects .

How can one acquire a large vocabulary?

It is important to read a lot. Children who grow up in a family where there is frequent discussion, on a wide variety of subjects, will naturally acquire a large vocabulary even before they start school. These children will become better readers because they are already familiar with many of the words that they will meet in their reading at school. Children who start school with smaller vocabularies, have a tough time catching up. However, in either case, a lot of reading and listening, on a wide variety of subjects, is the best way to increase one’s vocabulary.

Does the same hold true for foreign language acquisition?

Absolutely. This is increasingly being recognized. Vocabulary is more important than grammar. My number one goal in language learning is to acquire a large vocabulary and to achieve a high level of reading and listening comprehension. This is the base from which my speaking and writing skills will develop. This exposure to the language makes it much easier to understand and remember grammar rules. That is why the measurement of the words we know is such an important part of our LingQ system.

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