The way we learn vocabulary is in desperate need of an update. As eager intellectual explorers, human beings have always pushed the limits of the imagination, constantly striving to improve our abilities and expand our knowledge.
And we are pretty successful at it, too! Science and technology have been advancing at unprecedented rates; accelerating so fast, in fact, that some fields of knowledge were bound to be left in the dust! Until now, the study of vocabulary has been one such field, stuck in the past when it should be progressing toward the future. Language itself hasn’t changed – it’s as lively and expressive as ever. The problem is that our methodology for picking up and retaining new words is completely lifeless, uninspiring, and outdated. VocaTales’ innovative new approach to English-language education is designed to change that.
For vocabulary enthusiasts who aren’t enthused by rote memorization (and who is, really?) the best option up to this point has been the five-step system outlined in this blog post by Brett and Kate McKay. Their write-up is equal parts entertaining and informative (and we’ll reference it repeatedly moving forward) so we’d highly recommend checking it out. Side-note: although the blog is called “The Art of Manliness”, much of its content is relevant to anyone, so don’t be scared off by the title.
The McKays’ explanation of the five-step system is inspired by an instructional video from 1948. In the grand scheme of history that isn’t so long ago, but much has changed since then, to say the least – black and white television has given way to immersive virtual reality gaming, classrooms are equipped with tablets instead of chalkboards, and all the information held in a reference library can be accessed instantly on your personal pocket computer. But for some reason, the vocab-building method from 1948 is still widely considered a relevant resource for learning new words. Undoubtedly, this five-step method is a useful and effective approach, but it needs some major adjustments to bring it up to speed with modern technologies and learning strategies. This is where VocaTales comes in – with a re-imagination of that ages-old system which replaces 40’s era austerity with wordplay, creativity, and community. Here’s how we do it:
The Original Five Steps.
Okay, this step doesn’t require too much adjustment – it is absolutely true that the more you read, the more your vocabulary (and your imagination!) will grow. But VocaTales does bring something new to the table: as the McKay’s note, reading expands your vocabulary even when you aren’t specifically trying to study vocabulary – so, what can you read when you are specifically trying to study vocabulary? SAT-prep books? Randomly selected pages of the dictionary? Anything that looks impressive? Maybe in the past, but now you have a better option: dive into a treasure trove of short, engaging tales designed to introduce you to new words and help you remember them. The tales you discover might be funny, scary, zany, weird, or just plain wild, but they all have at least one thing in common – they’re way more fun to read than a dictionary.
Listening for unfamiliar words is another decent strategy for expanding your knowledge of the lexicon, but the AoM post hits on an important consideration for ambitious eavesdroppers: the effectiveness of this listen-to-learn method depends on who you surround yourself with. Meaning, you’ll learn much more if you immerse yourself in a community of word nerds! Admittedly, there might not be much auditory interaction between VocaTales users over the internet, but connecting vocab enthusiasts from around the world is one of the primary goals of the platform. Easy access to this kind of community will guarantee that you’re able to partake in social circles that benefit your learning goals.
3. Write Down Words You Don’t Know
If you’re serious about expanding your vocab, taking note of any unfamiliar words you encounter is a great idea. But again, VocaTales provides a way to streamline, modernize, and improve that process. See below.
4. Maintain a Vocabulary Notebook
In the original five-step method, the idea here is to take the unfamiliar words you’ve recorded, transfer them into a dedicated notebook, and record the definitions and pronunciations of the new words. VocaTales revolutionizes this process – app users can simply use the VocaTales word finder to search and save the new word in the VocaTales dictionary, instantly placing it into a personal vocabulary database. And unlike the usual, boring vocab lists (words in one column, definitions in the other… yawn…) this database is composed of unique and quirky tales published by other authors as well as any tales written/being written by the individual user. The process of reading and writing these tales makes it far easier to recall the meaning and usage of words than simply recording their definitions – this is because each tale is produced using VocaTales’ original wordplay process called Split and Spin. Split and Spin turns every new term into a wordplay-based writing prompt/tale title, based on the phonetic composition of the word in question. To learn more about Split and Spin, click here.
Why does Split and Spin work better than a vocab list? Well:
- It’s more fun
- It ensures that you learn how to use a word properly instead of just memorizing a definition.
- It relies on your own unique associations with the syllables of a word, which will make its definition more memorable. This is also a better way to remember the pronunciation of a word, which the AoM post also notes is an important aspect of vocab mastery.
- When you spend time building a short story around a specific word, you’ll find that word much easier to remember.
- It rewards both critical thinking and artistic innovation.
- It’s simply a more engaging and enjoyable process than studying lists in nearly every way imaginable!
5. Use New Words in Conversation
Once you’ve picked up a new word, using it in conversation will definitely help its meaning and usage stick in your mind. But many complex words simply won’t come up in conversation often enough to make this a viable strategy in all cases. The solution? Strike up some conversations within the VocaTales community, where using awesome new words is the name of the game! Make friends, extend other author’s tales, challenge them to expand your tales, or challenge yourself to create multiple split and spin tales from a single word. The possibilities for engagement are endless, and they all provide the opportunity to practice using the new words that you’ve added to your lexicon.
The Future of Studying Vocab
Reimagined by VocaTales, the process of studying vocabulary looks more like this:
Engage With Language
Keep an eye and an ear out for new words to be discovered in everyday life just like you normally would. In addition, explore the world of VocaTales to seek out the words which have inspired others.
Split Words and Spin Tales
Unleash your creativity by turning every new word into a memorable tale, weaving words seamlessly into your expanding imagination.
Engage With Community
Reinforce what you’ve learned by engaging with a community of others on the same quest of storytelling, word-seeking, and world-building.
By engaging a diverse array of cognitive abilities (wordplay, storytelling, socialization, imagination, etc.) VocaTales is able to integrate new words into your vocabulary while providing a learning experience that’s truly as enjoyable as it is effective. This is overdue progress from the black-and-white five-step mentality. So hopefully you aren’t too attached to that bulky old dictionary and notepad – a new, more colorful era of vocabulary learning has arrived.