How to Use Mind Mapping to Expand Your Vocabulary

Could mind mapping vocabulary words make you more fluent and expressive in your own language – or help you learn another one faster?

Your brain likes to link things together – including words. It connects words and their meanings along neural pathways, which it can then access later. Mind Maps are an incredibly powerful way to expand your vocabulary, as they help you to strengthen these connections.

Let’s look into how mind maps can help you to expand your vocabulary in both your language and any new one you would like to learn.

Why Should You Improve Your Vocabulary Anyway?
  • You will be able to choose words with greater precision and express yourself more clearly. Effective communication can open a number of doors.

  • You’ll appear more intelligent to others if you are able to use the right word at the right time (and avoid using the wrong word).

  • Every time you learn a new word, you understand the ones you already know that much better.

  • The researcher Johnson O’Connor did a number of experiments revealing that a person’s vocabulary level is the best single predictor of occupational success. No matter what industry you work in, a better vocabulary will ensure you give a more professional first impression.

  • You will be able to read more complex and higher level literature and understand its meaning.

  • If you like words and find their origins interesting, these type of exercises will be enjoyable for you.

A Web of Synonyms

One powerful way of expanding your vocabulary is to create a synonym web. In the English language, as in other languages, we often have several words that are used to describe the same thing. On the surface they have a very similar meaning, but when you delve into them deeper each word has a slightly different shade of meaning.

If you want to have a vast vocabulary and really understand the nuances in meaning between different words, it can be very effective and interesting to create a Synonym Mind Map. To do this, start with a simple word in the middle of the mind map, then look it up in the thesaurus and draw nodes extending outward from that central word containing different synonyms of that word.

For example, if the word in the center of your map is “afraid” then the words around it might be “anxious”, “terrified”, “panicked”, “aghast” “cowardly” and “worried.” (You can include as many as you like.)  Now, in each of these separate synonym nodes you can make notes about the specific meaning of the different ways to be “afraid.”

For example, “worried” describes more of a low-grade anticipation of something bad happening, whereas “terrified” depicts a strong and immediate fear. If you were face to face with a snarling hungry bear, you would be terrified not worried. If your child was supposed to be home from school 30 minutes ago and you haven’t heard from them, you might not be terrified (yet) but you would likely be worried.

“Cowardly” is more of a character trait and it has a negative connotation – it implies that someone has a lack of courage. “Aghast” is more than just fear, it also includes a mix of amazement and surprise. (It comes from the Old English word for ghost and sounds a bit old-timey).

Another example could be a mind map around the word “learn” – which is defined as a verb that means to acquire information. So, some of the synonyms you could have around the word would be “memorize,” “master,” “pick up,” “study,” “soak up,””discover” or “comprehend.”

Each of these words has a slightly different shade of meaning as well. To “memorize” something implies that you are working with clear cut facts or data and you are simply remembering them in order to repeat them – such as memorizing your times tables.

However, when you “master” something you must have a much deeper understanding of it and gain a proficiency that is above average. When you “soak up” something it implies that you learn it without really trying, you simply absorb it as a result of being within a certain environment. For example, a young child soaking up a second language because they are immersed in it. When you “discover” something, it refers to learning something new for the first time – whether it is new to you or new to all of mankind (like a cutting edge scientific discovery).

So, all of these different variations on the word “learn” can apply to different situations, environments and types of learning. As you start to unpack the different meanings of these words, you will see that while they appear to mean the same thing – they are all unique. This will help you to always choose the exact word that is right for the situation.

Writers: Expand Your Expressive Vocabulary

This vocabulary building style mind map is a very useful tool for writers. Whether you are writing non-fiction, prose or poetry – your writing will be more interesting and effective if you have a large toolbox of words at your disposal to convey what you want to say.

For example, check out this great infographic with 100 words that you can use instead of “said”. When you are writing dialogue, it gets boring to keep repeating “he said” “she said” over and over again. Words like “murmured,” “snorted” and “snapped” are more interesting and give the reader more information about how the character said what they said.

If you find that you use a particular word too much in your writing, such as “beautiful” or “great” why not try making a mind map to help you brainstorm different alternative words you can use instead?

Learning a New Language – Link Words Together

Of course, you can use mind maps to improve your vocabulary not just in your native language – but also in a new language you are learning.

For example, perhaps you are trying to learn more food words in Spanish. Start your mind map with “Comida” in the centre and then branch out from there with as many food words as possible, from manzana to chorizo. You can then draw little pictures of the food, write notes, etc. around each of the nodes. You can group the vocabulary nodes in a way that makes them easier to remember – such as by food group.

You can also add secondary words that are associated with that food product – for example around the node for “wine” you can add the words for white wine and red wine as well as the words for bottle and glass. Chances are, if you are asking for wine in a restaurant you will also need to know how to say these words as well, so it’s helpful to connect them together in your mind.

The process of drawing out this map and linking the words together by category will help you to connect them to each other in your mind. If you get stuck thinking of the word for “apple” next time you are at the supermercado then just close your eyes and picture the word next to the apple drawing on your mind map – you’ll see manzana in your mind as clear as day.

Your Vocabulary Can Forever Expand

If you find these exercises enthralling (or riveting, or engrossing, or fascinating, or intriguing) then there is good news. There are so many words out there in our language and other languages to learn that you could spend your life making vocabulary mind maps and still not cover them all – the possibilities to expand your vocabulary are endless.

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