As I’ve said before, vocabulary is the area of ESL study that never ends. In the beginning, you learn vocabulary in logical groups (colors, months, etc.) in a study method that I call vertical – each word is a new idea. And this study is vital for the beginnings of communication – no vocabulary, no conversation.
However, while vertical development of vocabulary is necessary for any communication to take place, it is not enough for fluent communication. If I say “I am very tire today,” you will understand me, but you will also know that my English abilities are limited. Obviously, I should say “tired,” not “tire.” This ability to choose, not the correct idea for the word, but the correct form (part of speech), is based on what I call horizontal vocabulary. You cannot consider yourself fluent in English if you use the noun form of a word when you intend the verb. Therefore, horizontal vocabulary development should be an ongoing component of vocabulary study.
The idea is really simple. When you set out to learn a new word, investigate the word to uncover its forms for the different parts of speech. You can go further, and look into the collocations (words that always go together, such as “afraid of” [rather than “afraid about” or “afraid on”]). You can do even more, and find the related phrasal verbs, the idioms, the slang. But let’s start just with the parts of speech.
I’ll give a simple example – the word red. It can be a noun – “Red is my favorite color.”
It can be an adjective – “I have a red shirt.”
So, what else?
Adverb of manner? (usually I just add -ly to the adjective – can I do it? Redly? YES!!! “The sun sank redly behind the smoke.”) Is this a common use? No, but who cares? I’m on my way to increasing my vocabulary (and accuracy in English) almost painlessly. [I’ve just increased my understanding of “red” by 50%.] What about a verb? Can I “red” something? No. But there is the verb “redden.” “His face reddened in embarrassment.” (Can something “greenen,” or “bluen?” No, but it can whiten or blacken.) Can I find anything else? Well, there is “reddish,” meaning sort of red. And of course, for later study, there are multiple meanings, such as the American use of “red” to mean a communist. But for now, let’s just focus on the more basic horizontal vocabulary.
horizon – noun horizontal – adjective horizontally – adverb
For more detailed, hands-on work towards fluency, come study ESL abroad at EC San Francisco