The Importance Of Learning New Words As An Adult

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I’ve been thinking and reading a lot lately about how we acquire new words. Most of the research is on children, of course, but it’s vital that adults keep expanding and enriching their vocabularies as well. Jeff Shuey, an executive writing on the Personal Branding Blog, explains why  understanding and being able to use the right words is necessary for professional success:

“Too often we hear terms in meetings that we don’t understand. Yet we’re too embarrassed to ask for clarification. Sometimes these are terms that are mentioned by colleagues, managers, vendors and even customers. Not knowing these terms and the context for using them can risk your credibility. Not speaking the same language can affect your ability to get things done and can alienate you from the group. If you don’t know the slang, you aren’t in the club. Your ability to communicate with a group using these terms will be limited.

So: If you are looking to find a new job, or break into a different segment of your company, or into an entirely new market—learn the slang. Learn the lingo. Knowing the slang will enhance your credibility. It will increase your ability to connect with others and perhaps to secure a job. It will also put others at ease. They’ll know you are part of the same conversation. Whether you are changing roles within your company or whether you are seeking a new role in a new industry, knowing the slang is critical.

How do you learn the slang? Ask the question. When a term is used that you don’t know, ask about it right then and there and ask for the context. Or make a note of the term and ask for clarification later. Find someone on the inside and ask them for guidance. If in doubt—ask the question! Why? Because it’s better to be seen as clueless for a few minutes than to be clueless forever for not knowing.” (Read more here.)

There are all kinds of terms of art in journalism, from “TK” (a fact to be filled in) to “lede” (the opening of an article) to “kicker” (the resounding last line of a story).

What are the specialized words used in your industry, and how did you learn them?

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2 Responses to “The Importance Of Learning New Words As An Adult”

  1. This is a great topic that directly pertains to our niche – music and music education. I doubt there is a more convoluted vocabulary in any other discipline – heck, we even have 2 names for every note! It makes both teaching music a challenge and often causes learners to simply scratch their heads.

    With the current “I want it now” prevailing attitude, the ‘vocabulary’ (whether it be classical, jazz, or rock) part of the equation is often missing. We’re sometimes left with “just show me how to play this riff” rather than “I’d really like to understand this concept”. It does make for short term excitement but unfortunately, it often leads to frustration and ultimately abandonment.

    Once again Annie is spot on – some of the best advice I received in college was from an passionate old professor named Moshe Paranov. It was simple and he preached it often, he’d say “If you don’t know, ask”. Most of us thought he was a little batty as freshman, yet somehow, he seemed to get smarter every year.

  2. anniempaul says:

    Thanks, Eugene! And I love the advice of your professor. Simple, but how often we refrain from asking about what we don’t know…

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