How Adults Stop Building Their Vocabularies

Then, eventually , at some point in your adult life (unless you are the rare exception), you gradually lost your compulsive drive to discover, to understand, to know.

Eventually, therefore, you gradually lost your need to increase your vocabulary – your need to learn the words that could verbalize your new discoveries, your new understanding, your new knowledge.

Ronald Gelatt, in a review of Caroline Pratt’s book I Learn from Children, describes this phenomenon as follows:

All normal human beings are born with a powerful urge to learn. Almost all of them lose this urge, even before they have reached maturity. It is only the few . . . who are so constituted that lack of learning becomes a nuisance. This is perhaps the most insidious of human tragedies.

Children are wonders at increasing their vocabularies because of their ‘powerful urge to learn’. They do not learn solely by means of words, but as their knowledge increases, so does their  vocabulary – for words are the symbols of ideas and understanding.

(If you are a parent, you perhaps remember , that crucial and trying period in which your child constantly asked ‘Why?’. The ‘Why?’ is the child’s method of finding out. How many adults that you know go about asking and thinking ‘Why?’ How often do your yourself do it?)

The adults who ‘lose this urge’, who no longer feel that ‘lack of learning becomes a nuisance’, stop building their vocabularies. They stop learning, they stop growing intellectually, they stop changing. When and if such a time comes, then, as Mr. Gelatt so truly says, ‘This is perhaps the most insidious of human tragedies’. But fortunately the process is far from irreversible.

If you have lost ‘powerful urge to learn’, you can regain it – you can regain your need to discover, to understand, to know.

And thus you can start increasing your vocabulary at the same rate as when you were a child.

I am not spouting airy theory. For over thirty-five years I have worked with thousands of adults in my college courses in vocabulary improvement, and I can state as a fact, and without qualification, that:

If you can recapture that ‘powerful urge to learn’ with which you were born, you can go on increasing your vocabulary at a prodigious rate –

No matter what your present age.

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