Flip on the TV news shows or pop open your laptop and there will always be someone telling you how to improve your chances for promotion, a new job or expanding your network of friends and business associates. You’ll see advice on everything from creating a better resume to how your hair should be combed, but one thing that’s often ignored is how your vocabulary affects your success at work and in life.
Back in grade school, we were sent home weekly with lists of vocabulary and spelling words to memorize, usually out of context. It’s not the number of words we have at our disposal that matters, but how we use them. Without context, an advanced vocabulary is meaningless.
The idea isn’t to sound smarter, but to actually improve your cognitive and communication skills by expanding your knowledge of words. Better language skills can set you apart from those around you in many ways.
Reading exposes us to more words and ideas within a context that provides meaning and proper usage. Simultaneously, this helps us to better understand the root of similar words, thus further expanding the vocabulary and our language usage.
In my experience, most people with an advanced vocabulary and above average language skills tend to listen more and talk less. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, people who read more tend to have a better vocabulary with a greater understanding of the usage of those words.
Employing a wider vocabulary will help you in many respects. At home, it will make you savvier about understanding service agreements, billing statements and advertising. At work, a better vocabulary will make it easier for you to communicate with customers, coworkers and supervisors, create better documentation and even earn raises and promotions.
Whether you read for entertainment or education and whatever method you choose, print, digital, or audio, well-written books will improve your vocabulary and enhance your language skills. Of course there are countless self-help books focused on building a vocabulary, but I generally recommend people start with novels or classics to provide a more conversational context. Here are a few recommendations for books that will help your vocabulary.
First, and these are in no particular order, read anything by William Shakespeare. Yes, Shakespeare can be long, boring and heavy-handed but there is no question his plays offer a level of unparalleled linguistics. I’d start with “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
Again, we’re here in the classics section of what was, in its day, popular fiction – the stories of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. While there are several modern cinematic and TV versions of Conan Doyle’s detective but there is no substitute for the original told through the eyes of his companion Dr. Watson. The first-hand, but third eye view offers a different kind of language use as well.
Alexander Dumas’ great work, “The Count of Monte Cristo,” is another classic that has some fantastic vocabulary and is a fairly easy read. During my research, I noticed a number of people recommended this book for the same reasons.
Of course, you don’t have to limit your reading to classic pieces. For a more modern read, I can always recommend anything by crime and mystery author Lawrence Block and political thriller scribe, David Baldacci.
In addition to a wider vocabulary, reading also offers a number of other benefits. Reading helps improve analytical thinking while building knowledge and supports better memory.
Reading also helps to lower stress. Unlike television or other media, reading forces you to slow down a bit. A 2009 study reported by the University of Sussex demonstrated that subjects who read silently for just six minutes reduced stress levels by as much as 68 percent.
Books are readily available as well, without the need for Internet access or batteries. A great many of the classics mentioned above are available free of charge for e-readers and, contrary to popular belief, your local public library is still open for business.
You might have to mark an appointment in your calendar to make the time to read but you should do it regularly. It will serve to improve your work, life and health.