4.2 Deciding which words to learn
In order to expand your specialised and general academic vocabulary more rapidly and effectively, it is helpful to distinguish three types of words in the texts you read:
- Words and word groups that are highly relevant to your present studies that you already use. These words are part of your active vocabulary.
- Words and word groups that you understand but would not be able to use when speaking or writing. These words are part of your passive vocabulary, as you can recall their meaning only when you encounter them in the speech and writing of someone else.
- Words and word groups that you don’t understand but could be relevant to your present studies.
The following provides an opportunity to practise distinguishing between these three types of words.
Look closely at the text from Activity 10, ‘The global threat of infectious diseases’, and note down examples for each of the three categories described above. Type your answers in the boxes below:
Of course, it is impossible to predict what you have written as your answer will depend on your background and your first language. Here are some possibilities:
- Words and word groups that you already understand and use: infection, birth, cause, impact
- Words and word groups that you understand but cannot use: infectious disease, optimism, interventions, mass vaccination programmes, claimed, accelerated, infected, average life expectancy, threaten, emerging, downward trend, concern, potential, alter the course of, shaping
- Words and word groups that you don’t understand: antibiotic therapy, pandemic, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, human immunodeficiency virus, hence, epidemic
Having identified the words in the text that are part of your active vocabulary, your passive vocabulary, and those that are completely new to you, it is important to decide if you need to upgrade your knowledge of any of them. Look again at the lists you have made and answer the following questions. Type the answers in the boxes below.
Which of the words and word groups that you only understand should become part of your active vocabulary? Why?
Which of the words that are completely new to you should become part of your active or passive vocabulary? Why?
Your answer will depend on your interests and on the subject you are thinking of studying. For example, active knowledge of specialised terms such as human immunodeficiency virus is likely to be essential if you are interested in science or medicine, but less so if you want to learn English literature.
However, general academic terms such as concern, emerging and potential can be used in many academic contexts, so you will probably want to be able to understand and use these, whatever your interests.
Identifying and classifying new words after reading a text can be a time-consuming process. However, being selective about the words that you wish to focus on and deciding that some of these will be for passive, rather than active, use can make your vocabulary learning more efficient. As you study new modules, selecting which new words and word groups to learn for either active or passive use will become easier.