Mar
26
2012

  Vocabulary.com is Kicking My Butt

Ouch! I had the interweb on, so I decided to look up SAT words to see if I should really start teaching them to W. I found vocabularly.com, which lists the top 100 SAT words as one of its quizzes. They made it quick and easy to sign up (used my fb login), and I decided to take the quiz to see if I remember enough to train W properly.

I clicked on the "top 100 SAT words" quiz, and pretty much nailed it. I missed two, or something like that, the rest I got right. So I'm thinking, no problem, now that I know the words, I'll just work them into conversation with W, and he'll learn them. I was feeling pretty good about my vocabulary skills.

I surfed around, looked at some other pages, then went back to vocabulary.com. They had a "challenge" tab, so I went ahead and clicked on that. They had a word I hadn't even seen before, so I guessed on it. Wrong. I guessed again. Wrong. These are multiple choice questions, and I couldn't even get it right on the second try. Of course, it was because I was just guessing at random, having never seen the word before. I guess this is how many people taking the SAT felt. Ouch. I finally guessed right. Then it gave me another word. That I hadn't seen before.

This was demoralizing, I thought I was acing the SAT words, what happened? I went to the "How It Works" tab on the site. Aha. I was off the top 100 SAT words. This site is not so much a test-prep site as it is a site to help anyone improve their vocabulary. The more quizzes you take, the better it can predict how to help you build your vocabulary. So while I was surfing around the web, the site analyzed the results of my SAT word quiz, and stocked its challenge quiz with words it specifically predicted that I would NOT know. Which it must do if the goal is help you increase your vocabulary. However, I'm not sure that it is my goal. I think I prefer just brushing up on words I'm already familiar with. If I learn all kinds of fancy new words, who on earth would I use them with? Although I can actually think of instances where I could use esurient and fugacious in conversation, if the person to whom I'm speaking doesn't know those words, of what use are they to me? I can think of only two friends who have better vocabularies than me, and I don't converse with them regularly, alas. Two of my neighbors are bona fide rocket scientists, maybe they have good vocabularies? They certainly are quick at math. But I don't recall ever hearing any words out of their mouth that I didn't understand (while in contrast, I've been in awe of their math skills during conversation).

I think it can be difficult to know someone's true vocabulary knowledge unless you play them at Scrabble or something contrived like that. Because if anyone is well-mannered, they won't use words they think the listener doesn't know, right? And if no one knows exactly what another's vocabulary level is, then you just stick with the basics. Well, not basics, but I think there is some perceived but not technically defined vocabulary list for college graduates of a certain age. And it's usually not an issue, since at parties and whatnot people are often all from a similar demographic, so no one has to give much thought to altering their speech from what comes naturally to mind.