i‑Learner Education Centre

Steps to Success » Vocabulary

Learning Vocabulary through Reading

I have always loved reading. As a child, I would devour one book after another. Gradually, I realised that my vocabulary was expanding without me consciously making an effort to grow it.

Reading is a fantastic way to expose ourselves to a wide variety of vocabulary. Through reading fantasy novels like The Lord of the Rings, we can learn words such as ‘kingdom,’ ‘curse’ and ‘sorcerer.’ Detective stories like Sherlock Holmes introduce us to the words ‘evidence’ and ‘suspect.’ And I first came across the words ‘orbit’ and ‘catastrophe’ when I read science fiction books. Students will rarely study these words in their English textbooks, which focus mainly on vocabulary related to daily life.

Reading teaches us how to infer the meaning of words. We often will encounter unfamiliar words when we read books. Instead of relying on a dictionary every time, we can deduce the word’s meaning by looking at the whole sentence. Take the sentence, ‘Artists exaggerated the king’s features by painting him with a large face, big eyes and a long nose.’ From other words in the sentence, we might guess that ‘exaggerate’ means ‘to make something look bigger than it really is.’ That’s very close to the dictionary definition, and encountering the word a few more times will help us really grasp its full meaning. Reading equips us with the important skill of inference, thus helping us to learn new words.

Reading also helps us to remember words through repetition. Children’s books in particular will use the same words or sentence patterns repeatedly. This helps us to remember new words and how they are used. In Yertle the Turtle, Dr Seuss writes, ‘I’m king of the trees! I’m king of the birds! And I’m king of the bees! I’m king of the butterflies!’ I’m sure that every reader will firmly remember the word ‘king.’

Every book opens the door to a new world of words. The more we read, the more our vocabulary will grow. So pick up a book and start reading!