Under the Hood
The science of vocabulary building
Vocabulary Begets Vocabulary: The More You Know, the More You Learn
Ever notice that the more you play the Challenge, or learn a Vocabulary List, or even just look up words you don’t know in the Dictionary, the faster you start learning the new words you see and hear in everyday life?
Don’t chalk this up to that recent uptick in your coffee consumption. Scientific research on vocabulary building suggests that the more vocabulary you know, the more you learn.
Back in the 1980s, in a research study out of the University of Texas at Austin, John L. Shefelbine asked 32 sixth graders to define words they were unlikely to know: bolted, clamber, makeshift, manipulating, and lodge, among others. First they saw the words cold. A week later, they had a go at them in context.
Shefelbine knew that all the students would do better with context clues. What he didn’t know, though, was which students would make the largest gains. Was it the students he’d included in the study due to their above-average analytic reasoning skills? Or the students he’d hand-picked for their above-average vocabularies? (He included below-average students in both groups as well.)
Would you guess it was the “above average vocabulary level” students? You’re right! Shefelbine showed that students who knew the most words going into the study had learned the most new words by the end of it, hands-down. He also showed that analytical reasoning skills were not a factor — the kids with poor analytical abilities but high vocabulary levels left their potentially “smarter” counterparts in dust.
So good news, Vocabularians. Just by being here, you’re learning. The more you play the Challenge, the more you’ll learn, on and off the site.