If you live and work or study in an English-speaking country, chances are that you’ll find vocabulary building necessary at some point. Whether you’re in the sciences or engineering, whether you’re in sales or only deal with numbers, communication is a phenomenon that transcends all domains. Vocabulary is a key part of communication, and often shows a person’s level of experience and competence in your chosen language.
Just imagine having a big presentation where you have to pitch your idea to potential investors, or you are to speak to a group of people in school or at work. You have the confidence, but then you find it difficult to speak effectively because you can’t find the right words!
A rich vocabulary gives a person room to flow freely while communicating, whether to their peers, colleagues, business partners, employers or acquaintances. It gives you the confidence to put yourself out there and explore new opportunities or optimise new ones!
So, now that we’ve established the advantages of building your vocabulary, an organic way to improve your vocabulary is through reading good books. Therefore, let’s take a look at seven books that can help you in this.
This one should be pretty obvious, shouldn’t it? I mean, if we’re trying to build up our vocabulary, we should probably start with the book that contains entries for literally all words in English, right?
The Oxford English Dictionary, for example, is perhaps the world’s oldest and most authoritative English dictionary. It includes numerous varieties of words such as formal, slang, British, American, South American, South African, Nigerian, etc., with real-life sample sentences selected to help you understand the context in which each word is commonly used.
In case you’re thinking it’d be boring and tedious to browse the dictionary, think again. The Oxford Dictionary takes a riveting approach, supplying meanings of words as well as many fascinating ‘usage’ boxes that enlighten the reader on several areas such as frequency in real life usage, appropriateness relative to other words, collocation, native expressions, dos and don’ts, grammatical patterns, etc. It is very engaging and exciting to browse through.
In case you have a thing against Oxford, or it just doesn’t cut it for you, there are a lot of other dictionaries that pack the same kind of engaging content. You could weigh them up and find out which one is the best choice for you.
For better utilisation, you could get a note to record fascinating words, their pronunciations, meanings and usage.
The Harry Potter series
The Harry Potter books are a British series with over half a billion copies sold worldwide. But it’s not the fame or popularity that has caught our eye. It’s the fact that they can help you build your vocabulary by letting you immerse yourself into a world that is just as educating as it is fun. Now those half a billion copies weren’t sold simply because people loved Rowling’s glittering eyes, were they?
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
To Kill a Mockingbird is read as a literature text in many American high schools. The book adopts such a rich use of language that is guaranteed to improve your mental word bank by the time you’re done turning those 284 pages.
Ulysses by James Joyce
In this book, the writer makes use of at least 30,000 unique words. The rich usage of so many different words will ensure that you benefit so much just from reading one book. Plus, Ulysses packs so much pun, parody and humour into an exciting storyline, so that the last thing on your mind will be dropping the book before you’re done!
Ake: The Years of Childhood by Wole Soyinka
It is Soyinka, and he knows his words. Need we say more? But Ake is slightly different from other works from arguably Africa’s foremost wordsmith. The story is an interesting narrative told from the perspective of a child (a pre-adolescent Soyinka), complete with child-like innocence. Hence, apart from being fresh and exciting, it uses a, shall we say, ‘medium’ diction – in comparison to some of Soyinka’s famed challenging works – making Ake: The Years of Childhood a perfect choice for anyone seeking to improve their vocabulary.
Yes, you heard that right – Shakespeare. Now before you turn away, hear us out. Shakespeare’s plays contain a prodigious amount of words; and furthermore, many English phrases which are still in use today. “Lend me your ears”, “the evil that men do”, “wear your heart on your sleeve”, “foregone conclusion”, “method to my madness” and many other phrases all originated from Shakespeare.
So get a play of Shakespeare’s, give it a read, and go forth to show off what you’ve acquired! For optimum enjoyment and understanding, get a version with meanings of difficult words and phrases.
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
Surely you must have read this one. But even if you haven’t, surely you must have heard the famous expression, “Oliver Twist asked for more”. Well, apart from being a classic, this book is a solution if you are looking to enrich your vocabulary. So while you build up your word bank, you also catch up on the famous story of the famous boy who asked for more.