Each week I help a high school junior study for his SAT verbal test that will be an essential part in his being accepted to a college or university next year. His parents, like most American parents, think it's essential that he get a college degree.
Having taught at universities for many years, I tell him that what happens in college involves words and their meanings and that the more reading he does, the better. He looks at me blankly, then shows me his weekly list of vocabulary words.
Forty words a week are given to him by his English teacher to memorize, as if they were part of a foreign language. The words are not put in any context, such as sentence or paragraph, and they are unrelated to any assigned reading given to the class. This strikes me as an odd way to teach.
So I do my best to create a context for each word, and by repetition and rote memory, he does pretty well on his weekly vocabulary tests.
What I don't say to him is that many of the words he has to learn are commonly used in the media and should be used in the home. If I had one bit of advice for parents of high school students, it would be to pay attention to vocabulary development, noting words used on television and using some of these in everyday conversation, along with definitions.
I am not, for the most part, talking about erudite or learned words but ones like the following from recent SAT word lists:
ALOOF NAIVE VIVID RELICS CONVEY
HAPHAZARD BIASED BENEFICIAL CHAOTIC
It seems to me that a 17-year-old American, born of American parents, one of whom was a science teacher with advanced degrees, should know such words by having heard and used them. They should not be new to him.
It sounds simplistic to say so, but education begins at home, and so does college preparation. Students must do more reading, less video watching; they must play word games and have fun learning a new English word every day throughout the primary years and into high school. Parents can make this happen in positive ways.
If they did, there would be no need for my young friend (and millions like him) to be worried about studying such words each week: he should know them!