Vocabulary refers to the words we must understand to communicate effectively. Educators often consider four types of vocabulary: listening, speaking, reading, and writing.   The average teenager has about 3,000 words in his vocabulary. However, in 2016 researchers determined native English-speaking Americans know an average of at least 42,000 words by the time they turn 20 years old . . The test doesn’t ask participants to define words, but to simply identify whether or not a sequence of letters is a word in the dictionary. 

The current emphasis for vocabulary appears to be reading comprehension rather than written or spoken communication.  One of the reasons may be the change in college admissions  tests. Over the last couple of years, the SAT and the ACT have forsaken their multiple choice vocabulary sections in favor of a few “vocabulary in context” questions in the reading sections. According to a recent study :”The reading of fiction specifically is as important as reading generally . . . because a wider range of vocabulary is typically used in fiction than in non-fiction writing”.  Thus, recognizing an unfamiliar word and extrapolating its meaning is important. However, being able to recall that word for later use requires a different skill.   According to psychologists, “Recognition is easier than recall. Multiple-choice tests are generally easier than fill-in-the-blanks tests or essays because it is easier to recognize the correct answer out of a group of possibilities than it is to have to dredge up the answer out of one’s own head.”  

.Command of the language enhances the ability to communicate spoken and written words precisely.  For example, consider the following sentence: Chris walked into the room. The underlined word doesn’t provide enough detail to form an image. Replace that word with each of the following to provide a more precise image of the action and even the subject’s state of mind: bounded, lumbered, strolled, sauntered, toddled, trudged.  

Learn new words to actively engage a higher cognitive skill.