What Causes Lack of Vocabulary? (6 Common Mistakes to Avoid) | Iris Reading
What Causes Lack of Vocabulary

What Causes Lack of Vocabulary? (6 Common Mistakes to Avoid)

What Causes Lack of VocabularyIf you’ve ever flipped pages through a dictionary hoping to improve your vocabulary, you’re not alone in the quest for linguistic growth. Developing a vocabulary requires consistent work, not just memorizing words from a dictionary without understanding their context.

Mistakes like relying solely on a dictionary and neglecting the context of words do not help improve vocabulary. Not practicing the vocabulary you learn actively, lack of consistency, and not developing habits like reading also lead to a lack of vocabulary. 

Thus, instead of treating words as entities that survive independently, it’s important to strive to understand their context. So if you want to develop a strong written and spoken vocabulary, you’ll need to demonstrate utmost commitment to this task and avoid common mistakes in your learning journey.

In this post, we’ll look at what causes a lack of vocabulary and how to increase your word knowledge. We’ll also discuss the common mistakes to avoid when improving your vocabulary and the strategies you can implement. Let’s start!

Factors influencing vocabulary acquisition and development

Vocabulary acquisition simply means learning more words in a given language. Even though developing your vocabulary is mostly associated with learning a second language, it’s just as important for developing the native language. 

Psychological factors, what environment you grew up in, reading habits, lack of engagement with what vocabulary you learn, and limited social interactions are some factors affecting your vocabulary learning. 

Furthermore, vocabulary acquisition is one of the most important features in estimating language proficiency. Three important aspects help you develop your proficiency in a certain language:

  • Partial to precise knowledge. This refers to how large your vocabulary is and the different levels of knowledge you have for different words. That implies that you know some words well or at least know them to some extent. 
  • Depth of knowledge. Your knowledge depth is how well you understand terms and how you connect them in sentences and change their form. 
  • Receptive to productive useability. This focuses on your understanding of how to use words in different contexts. It involves two stages: comprehension (understanding what the words mean) and production (using the words correctly in speaking or writing).  

Let’s start by exploring some of these factors and how they influence your vocabulary learning curve.

You can also check out our Personal Productivity course, which helps you make time for learning new vocabulary while also boosting your productivity.

Psychological factors that can cause a lack of vocabulary

Your mind’s psychology plays a significant role in every learning situation you face. It is essential to understand that most vocabulary is understood by context and is affected by different psychological factors that control how to process that context.

All this shows that psychological factors play a huge role in enhancing vocabulary. 

This section sheds light on psychological factors that start forming from early childhood and dictate how it affects your vocabulary in the future. 

Language acquisition and early childhood experiences

The language development and acquisition rate varies widely depending on the nature and amount of a child’s early language experience and the child’s capacity to use that experience.

Moreover, the underlying mechanisms and course of language development in early years are mostly described separately. It includes subdomains like:

Phonological development

Phonological development is the sound system. Newborn babies can discriminate between speech sounds. In their first year, they become insensitive to acoustic differences that do not seem similar to the language they hear. 

So, as they grow older, they achieve a mental system for representing the sounds of their language and saying words that are within their articulatory abilities.

Lexical development

This development refers to understanding the different words children hear. Children develop a 100-word vocabulary milestone between 20 and 21 months, after which vocabulary development happens very rapidly.

Exposing kids to more vocabulary in their native language is more productive. That is because they can easily store speech sound sequences in their phonological memory. However, full mastery of the word meanings requires new conceptual developments, too.

Morpho-syntactic development

Morpho-syntactic refers to grammar development. Even though children begin putting two or three words together at around two years of age, their combinations often need grammatical function words and endings. 

However, if a child is exposed to structurally more complex speech, they acquire grammar more rapidly with less experience, which shows that language experience plays a significant role in development.

Cognitive abilities and learning styles

Your cognitive abilities and learning styles will vary from others. You can look at the same words or the same story and yet describe it in a completely different manner. The human mind interprets the same events, sounds, and sights differently. 

Due to this, some people will find it easier to use new vocabulary words in their everyday language, while others may need help to use words naturally.

There are different cognitive styles for learning anything or developing your ability. These include:


This refers to how you use your knowledge of the previous vocabulary you already know and connect it to new vocabulary.

Field dependence and field independence

This learning style depicts how you perceive and interpret your surrounding environment. For instance, field-dependent people are interpersonal and skilled at reading social cues. That means they can convey their feelings openly and, in the process, enhance their verbal vocabulary.

Reflectivity and impulsivity

This third type represents opposite ends of a cognitive style spectrum. For instance, a reflective individual would take the time to analyze and process different information and thus systematically approach vocabulary development. 

It means considering every word’s context and how it connects to other words. In contrast, impulsive individuals prioritize speed over accuracy and take advantage of opportunities to engage properly with new vocabulary.

Cognitive Vocabulary Approach (CVA)

The Cognitive Vocabulary Approach (CVA) is another method that focuses on explicit instruction in vocabulary and comprehension. 

The approach recognizes that you need to learn the appropriate meaning of new words and understand the cognitive processes involved in effective comprehension. It focuses on three main facets:

  • Identifying unfamiliar words
  • Examining word meanings
  • Relating word meanings

You may also like: 12 Ways to Improve Your Vocabulary and Writing Skills.

Learning disabilities and developmental disorders

Learning disabilities and subsequent disorders manifest in infancy or childhood and affect the developing nervous system. It’s an umbrella term that doesn’t indicate a lack of intelligence or motivation. It means a student facing this problem perceives things differently, which may lead to a lack of vocabulary.  

These disabilities or developmental disorders also impact language processing, how your express language, attention and memory issues, Specific Language Impairment (SLI), and more. All these end up making your vocabulary sparser and less enriched.

Sociocultural factors that hinder vocabulary acquisition

The sociocultural factors that affect vocabulary knowledge and acquisition, especially for a second language, include stereotyping, social distance, motivation, attitude, and personality. 

We’ll dive deeper into how different sociocultural impacts vocabulary development.

Poor educational resources and opportunities

Children with no good opportunities and resources lack behind in learning vocabulary. They face difficulties with reading and thinking critically, and eventually they can develop language impairment. 

The pattern develops early and strengthens in their early years, making vocabulary intervention an imminent process. 

Moreover, this gap in vocabulary knowledge and reading achievement can be attributed to the Matthew effectThis effect occurs because children with a well-developed vocabulary at a young age find it easier to learn new words than peers with limited word knowledge.

Low exposure to language environments

Language is one of the most important predictors of developing knowledge and understanding of the mental world, a concept also defined as “theory of mind” development. 

At the same time, literacy and home language environmental influences also play a huge role in the development of both language and theory of mind.

Low exposure to language environments hinders language development, making it difficult to understand others’ perspectives, emotions, thoughts, and ideas and engage in complex social interactions.

Cultural background 

Language is inherently cultural, and since language has a close relation to vocabulary, it affects how you learn words and use them in a daily context.

Your choice of words when expressing idea can be used to describe the impact culture has on your language development, a process that starts from infancy. For instance, American children learn and develop language through verbal instruction. In contrast, children living in Africa tend to gain language concepts and ideas through nonverbal instructions.

Thus, the cultural aspects of a particular area dictate how children develop their language skills and influence their cognitive functions.

Defficitary teaching techniques 

deficit mindset forms when teachers focus on problems rather than potential. Effective vocabulary development requires explicit instruction, where teachers assist in helping students build asset-based thinking that assumes all students have the same potential and seek to understand their strengths.

Focusing on strengths instead of weaknesses allows teachers to provide clear instructions that focus on students’ difficulties and help build a wider vocabulary.

You may also like to read: 9 Reasons Why Improving Your Vocabulary Is Important

Shallow reading and lack of engagement

Shallow reading means approaching reading with a superficial and passive mindset. This process makes you skim through texts without fully engaging with the content and not developing a good idea of what you’re reading. 

It also leads to limited exposure to new words and hinders vocabulary development.

You need to seek clarification on what you’re reading to make connections between words and take advantage of the opportunity to internalize new vocabulary. This also leads to weak word retention and ineffective vocabulary use in your everyday language.

You can also check out the Maximizing Memory course from Iris Reading which lets you actively engage with what you’re reading and enhance your vocabulary.  

Environmental factors affecting vocabulary growth

Your surroundings matter a lot for vocabulary growth. Learning new things is a process that requires commitment, skills, and deep understanding. Your relative situation affects your learning capacity a lot and ultimately affects your vocabulary acquisition. 

Let’s look at some of these factors that affect your vocabulary growth.

Lack of reading habits 

Reading helps you develop a rich vocabulary, so the more you read, the better your vocabulary will be. Moreover, reading more leads to better comprehension.

A lack of reading habits equates to poor vocabulary, and this may happen due to limited access to reading materials, the early education system, and parental influence. 

Limited social interactions and communication opportunities

You naturally acquire communication skills when exposed to social environments where you interact with different people. This social interaction facilitates lexical and phonological development too.

Thus, a lack of social interactions and communication leads to a lack of vocabulary development. Passive engagement with peers and the environment around an individual lead to problems that directly affect learning rates.

Technological influences on vocabulary development

The advent of technology has brought new learning opportunities and has positively impacted vocabulary development, especially at the elementary level.

Let’s see how the increased exposure to digital media impacts vocabulary development compared to traditional teaching.

Impact of digital media and screen time

Screen time and digital media have both positive and negative impacts. It depends on how you use these platforms. For instance, accessing rich digital content like articles, e-books, and news articles exposes you to high-quality content that enhances your vocabulary.

In contrast, mindlessly scrolling through social media apps leads to passive consumption and limits your vocabulary growth.

Language learning applications 

Many language learning applications in the world today have gained immense popularity. These apps have a positive effect as they expose you to more words in a structured manner and help grow your vocabulary incrementally.

The apps also have interactive games that motivate you to participate, making the learning process engaging and enjoyable.

Read also: Why Can’t I Memorize Easily? (Explained!)

Common mistakes to avoid if you want to enrich your vocabulary

While being introduced to new vocabulary may seem like a no-brainer, it does involve a complex learning process. Many instructional strategies fall short in helping build practical knowledge of new words.

Mistakes like lack of understanding, passive interaction with new words, skimming through the text, trying to learn too many words, not fully engaging with what you’re reading, and similar mistakes hinder your vocabulary learning process. 

Let’s look at some of these common mistakes in detail.

1. Learning new words without reviewing them

Learning word meanings without reviewing them is the biggest mistake you can make. If you learn new words without reviewing them before learning the next ones, you’ll forget your previous knowledge and might wonder what went wrong.

Your memory depends on a Forgetting Curve that demonstrates how your memory works. If you memorize 100 new words, after a few minutes, you’ll only remember around half of them. The curve keeps receding as time increases, so you’re left with remembering very few words. 

However, this curve can be slowed down by just reviewing words. That means repeating the words you learned and using them in active speech, a process called Spaced Repetition.

This method is great in helping stick vocabulary to your mind. It’s a presentation method that ensures information stays fresh in your mind.

Learn more about the Spaced Repetition Learning Technique (Step-by-Step Guide)

2. Learning too many new words at once

If your goal is to retain more words in the long term and be able to use them effectively, it’s best to learn a few words and focus on reviewing them. Educational research also shows that chasing new words only makes you remember 10-15% of what you learned. 

While learning many words from a dictionary may sound like an ideal situation, the reality is quite the opposite. A dictionary definition won’t help you in oral or written language. Especially if you’re learning a new language, trying to learn more words without context isn’t the smartest move.

3. Practicing shallow reading

Shallow reading means reading a text quickly in truncated forms without critically analyzing the text and is characterized by incomplete and intermittent reading patterns, affecting your vocabulary development. 

Shallow reading leads to limited comprehension, only focusing on the information at a surface level and missing out on nuances and deeper meanings in the text. It also affects your retention rates and is associated with impaired critical thinking and lack of reflection.

4. Lack of testing vocabulary acquisition

Another common mistake is reading or learning new information without testing yourself. Tests create an atmosphere where you can use the words you learned and also help increase retention rates. 

Thinking that simply reading or skimming through the text will help you enhance your vocabulary is a very deceptive thinking process. Think about the last novel you read. How much of the story do you remember? And subsequently, how many new words do you remember from the novel?

Not testing yourself also leads to a lack of motivation and accountability. You also do not get useful insights into what you learn.

You may also like: How to Speed Read a Novel? (Explained)

5. Using a single method of learning new vocabulary

Using different methods like reading novels, taking courses to help memorize vocabulary, and reviewing new words regularly ensure that the new vocabulary stays in your mind longer. Using all these methods simultaneously also helps use words in everyday social conversations. 

Thus, sticking to one learning mode to enhance vocabulary is not the best practice. For instance, people love using vocabulary apps and think it will be enough to make their vocabulary stronger.

You need to understand that these apps should only be seen as an interactive addition to your vocabulary learning. Making them the only source won’t help you connect deeply with words.

6. Relying too much on antonyms and synonyms

Synonyms are words with the same meaning but different phonological sounds and spellings. Antonyms are words that mean the opposite of something. Using them without understanding the context cannot help much with your vocabulary.

Relying solely on antonyms and synonyms doesn’t help much with improving your vocabulary since they have different levels of intensity and can be used interchangeably in a sentence. 

For instance, the sentence “I was elated he participated in the celebration” sounds out of place. That is because it relies on synonyms, and a better version to express the same thing would be “I was thrilled he attended the event”.

Similarly, understanding that “wholehearted” is an antonym of “disingenuous” does not help you figure out how to use the word.

Check out our Speed Reading Foundation Course that helps you read more in less time while also focusing on strategies to enhance your comprehension so you remember more vocabulary.

Strategies for overcoming a lack of vocabulary

Reading extensively, using more reading materials, vocabulary-building apps, tools, and courses, practicing active listening, and similar strategies help overcome a lack of vocabulary and improve your skills. 

Let’s start exploring some strategies that help build your vocabulary.

Create a daily reading routine to expand your vocabulary 

Reading everything that comes your way is one of the most effective and passive ways to boost your vocabulary. This strategy lets you build connections between words, learn how to make coherent sentences, and understand the context of words you read. 

When you read, you’re exposed to a wide diversity of words. It doesn’t matter what type of written material you read or what genre; it’ll help improve your vocabulary drastically over time.

Expose yourself to diverse literature

Literature contains many words with a vast array of writing styles and genres. Exposing yourself to different types of reading materials helps you develop your vocabulary and see how literature evolved over the years. 

You also get to see how to properly use idioms, understand their context, and see how to use them naturally. Reading literature-rich text helps improve your vocabulary while also developing your reading comprehension. 

Learn active reading techniques for vocabulary enrichment

Actively reading means reading something with the motive to understand and evaluate its relevance. Re-reading the material without any motive does not help increase your vocabulary. Including techniques like highlighting words, making annotations, summarizing points, and reading critically help you develop vocabulary. 

Thus, reading with a motive and not just skimming through the text is always important. Try to be more focused on what you read and ask questions from the text, like what happened and why it happened. How did it happen? Where and when it happened? And so on.

Also, improving your reading skills means taking care of the four cue systems, which include phonological, syntactic, semantic, and pragmatic. All these need to be considered simultaneously to help you read more effectively.

Use word learning strategies and mnemonic devices

Using mnemonic devices is a form of word association that helps you remember proper use and definitions. This helps create an association between new words and familiar concepts. 

For instance, think of the word “enigma”, which means something mysterious. When broken down into its components, you hear something like:

  • “En” sounds like the word “in,” which can imply something within or enclosed.
  • “ig” sounds similar to the word “eye,” which relates to perception or observation.
  • “ma” can be associated with the word “map,” symbolizing a representation or puzzle to decipher.

Combining these sounds creates a mnemonic interpretation like: “Enigma is like being in a maze”, which suggests that an enigma is a puzzling situation that requires deep understanding to solve the problem.

Use Accelareader for vocabulary development

Developing your vocabulary has a direct relation with reading and understanding comprehension. If you feel you can’t read effectively or want to increase your reading speed, our speed reading tool can help you solve all these problems.

The Accelareader is an effective reading tool that lets you choose at what pace you want to read. You also have the option to tweak the settings and choose the number of words you’d like to see at a time, adjust the text size, and use Rapid Serial Visual Presentation to help you read efficiently. 

If you’re focusing on improving your vocabulary, it’s best to choose fewer words to be flashed. This helps lay a solid foundation for increasing your vocabulary and lets you remember what you read more vividly.

Check out our course on Advanced Comprehension and Memory to help you understand useful strategies to improve your vocabulary.

Create vocabulary flashcards to increase word knowledge

Using flashcards is an effective way to boost your vocabulary. Whether you use homemade flashcards with different words or online tools to flash words at you, this helps tremendously enhance your vocabulary. 

Creating vocabulary flashcards reinforces the word in your mind by repeating it. It also engages you in active learning through visual representation, aiding in memory recall.

Practice vocabulary learning in writing

When writing something, you’ll have a lot of time to search your mind or the thesaurus for the exact word you need. You can use the word and understand its context in the sentence, which helps develop a deep vocabulary so words flow effortlessly from your mind. 

You can also take notes as you read to learn new vocabulary. Our Effective Note-Taking course helps you understand the best strategies for writing vocabulary-rich content and the pitfalls to avoid.

Takeaway: Unlocking the path to enriching your vocabulary 

Limited vocabulary leads to limited expressiveness, difficulty communicating with others, and reduced reading comprehension. 

Knowing what mistakes to avoid and using effective strategies like improving your reading skills, using different tools to enhance your vocabulary, and understanding each word’s meaning and its context contribute to enriching your word knowledge. With a bit of dedication, consistency, and persistence, you can enhance your vocabulary and, subsequently, language skills.

Iris Reading’s Maximizing Memory course is a great tool that lets you retain more new words and use them effectively according to the context. Take the course today and come a step closer to improving your vocabulary.

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