My adult students often ask how they can build their vocabulary without buying an expensive set of GRE prep books or something equally boring.
I always give them the same main advice: read, read and read some more. Read slowly enough that you notice new words and then look them up. No skimming. If you are reading online, you can easily access an online dictionary and read the definitions.
Then, keep a list of new words and their meanings. Besides copying the original sentence where you found them, create your own sentences. By using the word in a different context, you will better understand its meaning. Work to integrate the word into your writing and speech. Look over the list when you add to it and remind yourself of the new words that you’ve learned.
If you read industry-specific texts, you’ll very quickly come across new words. These can also be the basis for a great creative writing exercise. You might even learn new uses for familiar words. For example, I recently took a beading class and learned that the center of the piece is the “heart.” As in, “thread towards the heart.” Paying close attention to vocabulary helps you to see the world in new ways.
Learning new words doesn’t have to be a chore. My husband and I regularly place Scrabble on Facebook. The application allows players to check to see if letter combinations are words. I’ve discovered new words that way, too. I’ve made a rule for myself: if I play it, I have to know what it means. (Now that it sounds like I’m a Scrabble cheat, do you want to play?)