Finding the Words

I rarely feel inarticulate. Though I used to struggle finding the words I wished to express aloud or on paper, that struggle is past tense. I can attribute part of it to devoting my academic life to literature written in English. The other attribution is a set of steps I abide by and defend as the sole builders of a vast lexicon.

In the past year or so, people have asked me how I speak so fluidly. They expressed a sincere wish to be more confident with language. This is what I tell them:

1. Read every chance you get. Don’t force it though—find something you really enjoy.  Nerd out! Even if it is a book or website intended for kids. Standing in a line somewhere? Waiting for your friend who is a classic lagasaurus? Squeeze in a blessed page. Here is the really important part: designate advanced vocabulary words with a symbol. If you cannot figure out a word’s meaning based on context, place the word in parentheses, star it, record it somewhere if reading an electronic source, etc. Then, when you can, look up the meaning(s) of the word. I will not deny that this is tedious, but one can’t expect to build a formidable vocabulary without learning the meaning of unknown words. One cannot expect to find the words that do not exist in their mental filing cabinet.

2. Write journal entries. This serves many purposes. It strengthens your memory, it allows you to destress through a productive outlet, and it builds your mental dictionary. ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL: as you write, do not edit. There are five steps to the writing process: 1) Prewriting, 2) Drafting, 3) Revising, 4) Editing, 5) Publishing. Writing about your day involves steps 1 and 2. Don’t stress about step 4. Pay no attention to capitalization, word choice (forcing it to “sound right”), spelling, grammar, punctuation. Why? If you get hung up on composing a masterpiece, you will stare at a blank page and stifle your growth. Here is the really important part: go through what you have written and circle, star, etc. words you wish to elevate. Use a thesaurus and revise your word choice.

No one taught me this method. It was a natural result of reading day and night and finding fascination in options. Have fun finding the words; experience language love along the way.