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Improve Your Vocabulary with The Great Courses. Enjoy the tips and strategies of learning a new word.
31 minutes each
Five Principles for Learning Vocabulary
Toss aside the rote memorization of childhood and explore the cognitive science behind the five core principles of effective vocabulary learning: definition, context, connections, morphology, and semantic chunking. Through interactive examples, see how you can improve your ability to remember the definition of a new word or a long list of familiar terms.x
The Spelling-Meaning Connection
Unlock the English language's powerful morphological system with a concept known as the spelling-meaning connection, and see how our spelling system makes a lot more sense than you may have originally thought. Then, learn how to create a vocabulary notebook that effectively organizes all the words you will learn in this course for best recall.x
Words for Lying, Swindling, and Conniving
Begin building your vocabulary in earnest with this lecture on wonderful words to describe liars and the lies they tell. Learn trenchant words to describe the cheats, swindlers, charlatans, scam artists, barracudas, sharks, and sharpies, and their hustles, flimflams, and double-dealings. Reveal the nuances of meaning between similar words like specious and spurious.x
Words That Express Annoyance and Disgust
Turn now to annoying people and their irksome, vexing, irritating, nettlesome, and exasperating behavior. Tease apart the differences between words that use the Latin root quir/ques, and those that spring from the word queror. Then, study words that describe excess - from sickly sweet, sappy, and sentimental words to downright offensive and disgusting ones.x
Fighting Words and Peaceful Words
English is replete with lively, hard-hitting words to describe conflict and harmony. Delve into the morphology and etymology of words relating to war and peace, including examining two high-utility Latin roots, bell and pac. Add some pugnacious words to your everyday lexicon, including melee, contumacious, and donnybrook.x
Going beyond Dictionary Meanings
How can you ensure that new words don't slip from your memory? In this lecture, Professor Flanigan shares effective and fun strategies to reinforce your vocabulary knowledge, including a clever graphic organizer that anchors your new word to words you already know, and a game designed by a leading expert in reading and vocabulary.x
Use the Latin prefix mal to generate over a dozen rich vocabulary words, all of which concern things that are bad, evil, or done poorly. Then, learn a fun, albeit archaic, term of contempt, and get a firm understanding of the difference between invidious and insidious.x
Words for Beginnings and Endings
Go beyond Latin to learn a word for inexperience that has its roots in Old English. Distinguish between people who are innocent and naive, new to a skill, or pretending to know more than they do. Then, turn to words for endings, and learn why we say immortal, and not inmortal.x
Words Expressing Fear, Love, and Hatred
Agoraphobia. Xenophobia. Claustrophobia. Begin this lecture with words that describe fear. Then, using the Greek root phil/phile and the Latin root amor, build words relating to love. Finally, embrace your inner misanthrope with words about hatred, which spring from the Greek verb misein.x
Words for the Everyday and the Elite
Will you be hobnobbing with the hoity-toity gentry or the hoi polloi? Gain even more words to enrich your vocabulary when it comes to describing things that are ho-hum and others that are high class. You'll even learn a useful synonym for trite remarks, hackneyed phrases, and platitudes.x
Words from Gods and Heroes
Forge a link between the tales of Greek and Roman gods and heroes and the English vocabulary words they inspired. What is the difference between a herculean task and a Sisyphean one? What Gordian knots do you have in your life? This lecture full of ancient myths is a true delight!x
Humble Words and Prideful Words
Transition into the next lecture with a story about Odysseus and his hubris. Then, explore other words about people who think too much or too little about themselves, including a fascinating word that has a positive connotation when it refers to a voice, but a negative connotation when it refers to speech or writing.x
High-Frequency Greek and Latin Roots
Power up your morphological radar" and gain the ability to spot Latin and Greek word parts in unfamiliar words, aiding you in uncovering their definitions. Investigate words using the affixes eu-, dis-, in-, pre-, post-, and dys-; then, turn to words that build from the roots man, umbr, tract, and therm."x
Words Relating to Belief and Trust
Turn now to precise and powerful words for facets of trust and belief. Study words that have their roots in the church, but have expanded their reach into other areas of life. Use your knowledge of Greek roots to show the difference in the belief of an apostle (stellein) and an apostate (stenai).x
Words for the Way We Talk
Study the fascinating stories behind words that describe how we speak - from the laconic Spartans to the pithy Jedi master to the loquacious ventriloquist. At the end of the lecture, return to Greece for the story behind a word inspired by the Athenian orator Demosthenes and his opinions about Kingx
Words for Praise, Criticism, and Nonsense
Continue your study with a useful word that describes the verbal equivalent of meandering. Then, turn to the Bible for a word derived from the Old Testament prophet, Jeremiah, who prophesied the imminent downfall of the Kingdom of Judah. Finally, discover a word for playful banter that English borrowed from French.x
Eponyms from Literature and History
Step back in time and learn about words inspired by the great men, women, and places of literature and history. English is replete with a host of lively eponyms, such as bloomers, sideburns, and sandwich. In this utterly enjoyable lecture, the professor shares the people and stories behind eight excellent eponyms.x
Thinking, Teaching, and Learning Words
Begin with a fun psycholinguistic experiment that shows how your brain processes new words. Explore the work of some major scholars of learning and language - Skinner, Watson, Chomsky - and get an exegesis of erudition. Delve into the process of language acquisition, including why a child might say, "I winned the game, Daddy!"x
Words for the Diligent and the Lazy
From polished professionals to slothful slackers, this lecture covers a wide range of words to describe work ethic. Dig into the nuances that separate similar words like tenacious and pertinacious. Expand your knowledge of the Latin root fac (to make or do) to include alternate spellings and a useful suffix.x
Words That Break and Words That Join
Using the Latin roots rupt and junct, create a list of words related to breaking and joining. Discover the fascinating subject of Janus words such as cleave, which means to split apart and to stick close together. Finally, explore a variety of words that describe groups or gatherings of people.x
Some High-Utility Greek and Latin Affixes
Add some powerful Greek and Latin affixes to your vocabulary notebook. Explore intriguing etymologies for words like abdicate (which originally had nothing to do with royalty) and antediluvian (a word with ties to the Bible that got a new lease on life). Don't absquatulate now, there are more great words to come!x
Cranky Words and Cool Words
What's the difference between someone who is irascible, one who is testy, and another who is dyspeptic? What about the difference between stoic and stolid? Professor Flanigan's stories from his childhood and from pop culture vividly illustrate the new words you'll learn here.x
Words for Courage and Cowardice
You likely know that the word courage comes from the Latin cor/cord, meaning heart. Explore words for different kinds of courage, including false courage, cheeky courage, and reckless courage. Then study the flip side with words about cowardice. This fun lecture skips from Latin to Yiddish to Middle French to Old Italian!x
Reviewing Vocabulary through Literature
Take stock of your accomplishments thus far with a review like no other! In this lecture, you will be able to test your knowledge by relating the words you have learned to some of the most colorful characters in literature, as written by Oscar Wilde, Moliere, James Joyce, J.R.R. Tolkien, and others.x
Words for Killing and Cutting
Turn to dark words to discuss terrible deeds. The Latin word caedo, meaning, "to cut" or "to kill," is at the root of many of these words, such as genocide and homicide. Learn a unique word that refers to both the crime and its perpetrator, then focus on words that stem from the root seg/sect, meaning, "to cut."x
A Vocabulary Grab Bag
Engage with some wonderful words that Professor Flanigan adores, but could not fit into the themes of the other lectures. This grab bag lecture is full of great vocabulary, including a useful phrase for describing a take it or leave it situation.x
Words for Words
Open the Bible to the book of Judges and read the story that spawned the word shibboleth, which is a test word, phrase, or custom that differentiates one group of people from another. Then, tease apart the fascinating differences between dialect, vernacular, and jargon.x
Specialty Words for Language
Over the years, linguists and language scholars have organized and categorized words in a number of different ways. In this lecture, explore many of these linguistic categories, including spoonerisms, phrases that give us a unique insight into how our minds plan out our speech.x
Nasty Words and Nice Words
Follow the intriguing evolution of the word nice, which originally meant ignorant or unaware. Then, dive into words for things and people that are nasty or nice. You'll find words to wish good health, to describe your favorite uncle, and to warn others about hidden sources of harm and downright poisonous people.x
Words for the Really Big and the Very Small
Is ginormous a real word? What's the difference between capacious and commodious? What are the two words Gulliver's Travels gave to English for big and small? Get answers to these questions and more in this lecture, where you'll also build words using the Latin roots magn and min.x
Spelling as a Vocabulary Tool
Review the three layers of information in the English spelling system: alphabet, pattern, and meaning. Delve into several studies done by Professor Flanigan and other literacy researchers to see how children acquire the ability to read English and what insights we can apply to your own acquisition of new words.x
A Medley of New Words
In this final grab bag lecture, learn a new word to describe partisan politics or views. Then, go beyond bang and shush and add some more sophisticated onomatopoeic words to your repertoire. Finally, a fun pop quiz helps you review some of the words you've learned in the last few lectures.x
Building Vocabulary through Games
Start this lecture with some clever vocabulary games and activities that are not only fun to play, but will reinforce your word knowledge and ability to confidently use your new vocabulary words. Then, learn how you can leverage the power of context to improve your reading and writing vocabulary.x
Words English Borrowed and Never Returned
English is notorious for being an omnivorous language. Substantially more than half of English vocabulary is from languages other than its Anglo-Saxon ancestor, Old English. Why do words get borrowed, and how do these words eventually settle in and become just as familiar as English ones? Find out here.x
More Foreign Loan Words
Continue your study of foreign words that migrated to English. Encounter new and exciting words from French, German, and Spanish, and along the way, engage in a fun psycholinguistic experiment that shows how your brain processes language. By the end of this lecture, you'll have the mot juste for every situation.x
Forgotten Words and Neologisms
In this final lecture of the course, travel back in time for some delicious words that Professor Flanigan believes deserve to be brought back to common usage. Then, explore neologisms, or new words that are coming into English every day, like meme, boson, and muggle.x
What does the word bombast have to do with cushion stuffing? What is the difference between specious and spurious? Would you want someone to call you a snollygoster?
The hallmark of a powerful vocabulary is not simply knowing many words; rather, it’s knowing the exact word to use in a specific context or situation. A great vocabulary can enhance your speaking, writing, and even thinking skills. This course will boost your vocabulary, whether you want to enhance your personal lexicon, write or speak more articulately in professional settings, or advance your knowledge of the English language. For anyone who has ever grasped for the perfect word at a particular moment, this course provides a research-based and enjoyable method for improving your vocabulary.
Building a Better Vocabulary,taught by Professor Kevin Flanigan of West Chester University of Pennsylvania, offers an intriguing look at the nuts and bolts of English, teaches you the etymology (history) and morphology (structure) of words, and delves into the cognitive science behind committing new words to long-term memory.
Any lifelong learner can build a better vocabulary with these engaging lectures, but they will be particularly useful for:
readers who want a greater appreciation of literature;
writers or speakers seeking the “just right” word;
those who are intellectually curious about language and linguistics;
students studying for college entrance exams; and
anyone looking to boost their working vocabulary.
By the end of the course, you will have a practical framework for continuing to build your vocabulary by discovering new words and fully mastering the nuances of familiar ones.
Harness the Way Your Brain Learns Language
Research in cognitive psychology informs Professor Flanigan’s methods for teaching vocabulary. These methods apply whether the student is a new reader, a struggling student, a person learning English as a second language, or an intellectual looking to expand his or her vocabulary.
In particular, you will learn about the five core principles of effective vocabulary learning, as illustrated here with the word factotum.
Clear definitions: A factotum is someone hired to do a variety of jobs, someone who has many different responsibilities, or a jack-of-all-trades.
Rich context: Batman’s butler, Alfred, is a factotum. He keeps the affairs of the Wayne estate in order, maintains and repairs the Batmobile, and even offers his employer sage advice.
Personal connections: Think of a person in your life who is a jack-of-all-trades. When you think of the word factotum, attach it to a memory of this person.
Exploring the morphology: The root fac is from the Latin verb facio, meaning “to make or do” and the Latin word totum means “all.” Thus, a factotum is literally someone who can do it all.
Semantic chunking: Schema are your brain’s “file folders” which link your newly-learned word to things you already know. Connect your new word, factotum, with familiar people, as well as words that share the fac root, such as factory and manufacture.
To aid in providing clear definitions, rich context, personal connections, morphology, and schema development, Professor Flanigan organizes these lectures by theme. This allows you to fully understand the differences between closely related synonyms and gives your brain the opportunity to create connections and file new words in long-term memory.
You’ll learn a vast array of words about:
love and hate,
trustworthy people and liars,
war and peace,
praise and criticism,
breaking and joining, and much more.
You will supplement the robust information included in the course guidebook with your own vocabulary notebook, where you can jot down personal connections to each word to further cement your knowledge.
Go Beyond the Dictionary
Cognitive scientists have proven that the brain is hard-wired to remember stories. We find it easier to remember information presented as a story than as a list of facts. Learning etymological narratives—or stories about the history of words—leverages this powerful vocabulary learning tool.
Fighting words: Donnybrook, Ireland was known for its annual fair... and the drunken, riotous brawls that occurred there each year. When you want to describe a raucous and violent confrontation, donnybrook is the perfect word.
From literal to figurative: In the 16th century, bombast referred to cotton stuffing for cushions. Today, the word refers to “fluffy” speech or writing that doesn’t offer any substance.
Footlong words: Sesquipedalian, an adjective that means “given to the overuse of long words,” was inspired by the Roman poet, Horace, who often criticized others for using long, pompous-sounding words. He used the phrase sesquipedalia verba—literally “words a foot and a half long.”
A large part of a word’s etymology is its morphology, including the Latin or Greek roots from which it sprang. Approximately 70% of English vocabulary is derived from Latin or Greek affixes or roots, and the number increases to over 90% for scientific jargon. These fascinating lectures delve into affixes and roots from Latin and Greek, as well as words that English borrowed from other languages, including German, Yiddish, Japanese, Gaelic, the romance languages, and more.
If you are an avid reader, you may have previously encountered some of the words in this course. But even the most voracious reader will be surprised and delighted by these eye-opening lectures, which delve into the building blocks of the English language and reveal intriguing new nuances to words you thought you knew well.
Activities to Test Your Knowledge
Professor Flanigan’s expert instruction helps you build vocabulary knowledge that is broad, deep, and flexible. By the end of these 36 fascinating lectures, you should:
be familiar with more words,
know the differences between similar words for the same concept,
be able to make connections between new words and familiar ones,
be better able to infer a word’s meanings from its morphology and context, and
apply new words confidently when you speak or write.
Vocabulary games can help achieve these goals—and they are fun whether you are testing your knowledge alone or competing with friends or family members. They are particularly helpful with creating a flexible vocabulary, as they provide opportunities to use and think about words in novel and creative ways.
Riddles: Learn a clever game that pairs a rhyming answer comprised of familiar words to a question full of sophisticated—perhaps even sesquipedalian—ones.
Clue Review: Sit in the “hot seat” and test your knowledge with a partner. The hard part? Both of you must know the word and its definition to win!
Taboo: This popular game has a lot in common with effective strategies for vocabulary learners. Taboo will have you thinking flexibly, making connections, using synonyms, antonyms, and related words—and improving your vocabulary while having fun.
Experience the Joy of Words
In the words of the Greek historian Plutarch, “The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.” The goal of Building a Better Vocabulary, then, is not to cram your mind with new words, but to kindle a passion for the process by which words are created and the beauty of the words you read, speak, and hear every day. These 36 lectures will certainly set your mind ablaze and change the way you experience the world.
Professor Flanigan’s approach to learning vocabulary makes each lecture a joy to experience. As a former reading specialist and literacy coach, he understands the cognitive science behind language acquisition and is able to present each new word in a way that makes it immediately memorable.
But more importantly, he teaches you these tips and strategies so you can apply them whenever you learn a new word. By the end of the course, you’ll have a vocabulary notebook filled with valuable notes, sketches, stories, and strategies—and you’ll be eager to start reading and update it with new words you encounter.
As you may have already guessed, you would not want to be called a snollygoster; it is an antiquated term of contempt for a shrewd, unscrupulous person.