Why do large vocabularies characterize executives and possibly outstanding men and women in other fields? The final answer seems to be that words are the instruments by means of which men and women grasp the thoughts of others and with which they do much of their own thinking. They are the “tools of thought.“
Attaining great vocabulary doesn’t mean you use the “highest” words all the time. Malcolm X knew how to shift his vocabulary for his different audiences.
They say that the Inuit peoples have seven different kinds of words for snow. Hey, if you are surviving in the Northern regions it’s helpful. Is it the soft powdery stuff or the crunchy hard, bite through your face stuff?. An increased vocabulary gives you the capability to have more pigeon holes to understand the world.
Malcolm X discovered that while he was in prison. Imprisoned in Norfolk County Prison, X decided to fill in the gaps of his education by first skimming through a dictionary then by copying out pages of the dictionary. He had discovered the Nation of Islam and found that he lacked the word power to express himself effectively. X flowed between this steady vocabulary study to his own highly motivated reading and writing, freeing his mind even though he was imprisoned:
I was so fascinated that I went on—I copied the dictionary’s next page. And the same experience came when I studied that. With every succeeding page, I also learned of people and places and events from history. Actually the dictionary is like a miniature encyclopedia. Finally the dictionary’s A section had filled a whole tablet — and I went on into the B’s. That was the way I started copying what eventually became the entire dictionary.
I suppose it was inevitable that as my word-base broadened, I could for the first time pick up a book and read and now begin to understand what the book was saying. Anyone who has read a great deal can imagine the new world that opened. Let me tell you something: from then until I left that prison, in every free moment I had, if I was not reading in the library, I was reading on my bunk. You couldn’t have gotten me out of books with a wedge. Between Mr. Muhammad’s teachings, my correspondence, my visitors — usually Ella and Reginald — and my reading of books, months passed without my even thinking about being imprisoned. In fact, up to then, I never had been so truly free in my life. —-The Autobiography of Malcolm X
Malcolm X became a word warrior and traveled the world because of his ability to learn.
You don’t have to go prison to become a word warrior. 🙂 . However, what X’s story reminds me of is the importance of moving between intentional word study and reading for joy, enlightenment, transformation, etc. Malcolm X started by being highly motivated to read and write texts that inspired and informed him. Frustrated by his word power he went all samurai by copying out the dictionary. (That’s not the only option for developing word power.) His increased word power allowed him to read more, which in turn increased his word power.
When I have a short amount of time, I study using the iPhone with Midori. I collect words from reading, listening to music, etc. There’s a flashcard program but it only focuses on single words rather than sentences.
As far as developing my Japanese vocabulary, I like to follow AJATT’s philosophy of “Let Go, But Don’t Let Go”:
In more concrete, Japanese/SRS terms, this means that you need to be:
- Adamant about learning a new word/words every day, but…
- Completely relaxed, laidback and lackadaisical with regard to specific words
Learn a word, but don’t bother learn that word. Learn new things, but don’t get hung up about anything in particular. Don’t get stuck on a specific word; don’t have one-itis for any specific word. Screw it. Pick an easier word. Pick a word that’s…I dunno…”giving it up” easier, as it were.
In the mornings, I do all kinds of word study through Surusu, Anki, Japanesepod101.com, and iKnow. Throughout the day, I do repetitions of the words I’ve studied–or not. But what is really important is that I have books and media that move me to be hungrier to play with words more–my Youtube music and drama lists, DVD’s from Netflix, my man-bag books, podcasts etc.
Push. Relax. Push again. Connect. Free your mind. Word up.