Vocabulary

On November 30, I wrote the GRE exam. The scores of this exam were necessary for my application to the MPH program. One of the sections for this exam was Verbal Reasoning.

A couple of passages are given to the candidate and questions asked on the purpose of the passage, synonyms, antonyms, and a lot of other vocabulary related questions. I had a study time of 3 days to understand this and the other two sections for the exam. I found the Verbal Reasoning the hardest.

I found my vocabulary is painfully minimal. I did not know synonyms. Words like ” abjure” floored me. ” Equivocate”, a word commonly used in the exam was another word, which try as much as I did, I could not master. Finally from my research background, I tried to understand it as – equity- equal distribution- unable to say which one or which side- and finally the real meaning-intentionally use vague language.

As a non- native English speaker, it seems my vocabulary is not all that it should be. I have been trying to correct this deficit the past days’. I am surprised that for a person who reads books in English by the ton, my vocabulary is extremely deficient. When I write, I notice recently that I struggle for words and when I read back on what I have written, often my sentence constructions are all wrong. It seems I need to do some severe re-doing of my knowledge of English.

I have often found that reading books like P.G. Wodehouse, immediately brings a change in my vocabulary and the speed at which I am able to enunciate my ideas. I am also keeping my GRE preparation book titled ” Essential Words for the GRE” until I can master all the words in said book.

Do you ever feel at a loss for words or synonyms or antonyms ? Is it a problem only for people for whom English is not the first language ?

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38 thoughts on “Vocabulary

  1. But you know, everyone struggles for the right word in any situation and sometimes we even make up new ones including swear words! Each language has its own idiosyncrasies and every speaker of a language other than English must ask themselves, “Do I always have the right word?” I find that when I am working with a child whose first language is not English that if he or she struggles with reading in English, they also struggle with reading in their first language. Wish you luck and good study habits with the GRE.

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  2. Dear Susieshy. Most grad students, here in the states, including myself, simply say: “I took the GRE.” To say, “I wrote the GRE” isn’t incorrect but that sort of expression is usually reserved for maybe essay type examinations, e.g., prelims for a doctoral degree. At any rate, I remember when I took the GRE, the verbal part was really tough for me as well. Like you, I was suddenly shown my need for vocabulary studies! I think, though for non-native speakers, vocabulary is difficult. I think reading is good, but it has problems. For instance, I think sometimes as we read, we tend to simply “skip over” words that we don’t recognize. You might not even be conscious of doing this. I think working with the GRE Word List is a good idea. To best learn those words here’s what I suggest and this comes from a life time of teaching. Take each word and write it in a sentence of your own making. Keep a notebook for this purpose. Review the word every now and then. Maybe take three or five words a day or one a day. But the important thing is to keep reinforcing your knowledge of each word. You will eventually start seeing those words in journals, novels, and non-fiction.

    You have actually taken the hardest step! You’ve admitted to the problem! Most people can’t even do that. So good for you! 🙂

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  3. I wouldn’t have pegged you as a non-native speaker from reading your posts. You’ve done really well! Suddenly you were exposed to a higher level, making you feel inadequate. You’ve taken it as a challenge, which is laudable. I’ll tell you why I needed a good vocabulary. I’d start to write the perfect word in a sentence, and I couldn’t spell it. As John often asked, how can you look up a word if you don’t know how it begins? We were pre-computer people at the time. Good luck on your brain expansion.

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    • Your English is impeccable, Anne. I used to think I was good till I did the tests for the GRE preparation- my knowledge was grossly inadequate. Many of the GRE words were not there in my dictionary too. I needed to go online to find their meanings. John is right, if you don’t know what the word is how can you look it up ?
      Susie

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      • That’s outrageous that the GRE words are not in the dictionary. As a writer, you won’t need that super vocabulary. The aim is to communicate with your audience, so you shouldn’t use esoteric language. It’s good to broaden your horizons, but don’t send yourself out of touch with the rest of us.

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      • It means words that would be understood by only a few people with special knowledge. I laughed at myself, because I used the word and assumed I knew what it meant. I looked it up to be sure I had used it correctly.

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      • That is good that you looked up the meaning of a word in the dictionary. From the way it sounded, it seemed that it is something that is “out of reach”. And it means almost that, I guess.
        Susie

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      • The GRE has a standard to adapt to: remember that most of us will not use the math on the GRE in everyday life either. We need the scores for Graduate school entrance. I had to the test also and study for the math. If you have the Dictionary of American English, I would expect most words to be there but who knows? Language is constantly changing and evolving. My masters is in linguistics. I love words and the usage of language but when it comes to math, I work extra hard to understand concepts.

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  4. Susie, I stand in awe at your abilities! It is not even easy for someone who has English as a first language to always wrap our heads around meanings. I usually have to hear it in a sentence and sometimes even then I need to get the dictionary out.
    I really only know one language. Years ago I took German as that is what our high school offered. Through the years I have forgotten most of what I learned in those two years of German.
    I salute you in your determination! Keep it up Susie!

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    • Faye
      I needed to take the GRE exam. It is compulsory for my application to the MPH program which I told you about. I was forced to do it. Sometimes the study book told us the German or Latin origins of the words and I saw stars. I think knowing German is good to have a strong base for English.
      Did you learn German because of your heritage ?
      Thanks,
      Susie

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  5. Thanks Susie for your kind wishes regarding my cold. I see that I made another typo this morning. I meant to say, “I took the GRE exam,” and of course studied for the math. I am almost 100 percent better. I need to finish some Christmas shopping, a lunch meeting, and finish up some chores today. Enjoy the holidays.

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  6. Well, I am quite impressed with your use of the English language. I had no idea that you weren’t native. I am in agreement with Anne, you are able to communicate and that is what language is really for-expressing our thoughts and heling one another-you do both. I understand this exam is vital for your education, but the truth is many of us may not could perform well, if we had to take it. Godspeed my dear!

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  7. Susie, I struggle so often for the right word. You will laugh at this, at times more than one appropriate word will come to mind, and my aging brain will combine them into a nonsensical new word that only I will understand. Perhaps in my old age I will begin a new language. Just kidding. I think you are very well spoken and your writing wonderful. I also just had to look up abjure. I might use it in writing, but in speech I am very, very simple in my word choices. No, strike that, I doubt I will ever even use abjure even in what I write…isn’t the essence of writing communication…no one would understand it. Merry Christmas my friend.

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  8. Hey susieshy, recently i have also started preparing for my GRE, I read your post and thanks to you, got an amazing feedback on what to focus more, but one line hit me the most, the one about the author P,G. Wodehouse…can you suggest me what book should i start reading first..because i don’t have any of his book can u suggest me?? will be a great help.

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