Category Archives: Vocabulary

My Dad’s love of words, and the effect on me!

Charles (Chas) Hayden

Over the years, I have been very much inspired by my father (Charles Stanley Hayden). He had a great fascination for words and at the meal table he often quizzed the family on aspects of vocabulary. He loved doing crosswords and seemed to do them most days. From an early age, I remember dad working on the New Zealand Herald crossword puzzle. He would call out clues to get me and other family members involved in the activity. He loved words, especially the rarer ones.

He tried his best to do anagram crossword puzzles but he just couldn’t get the hang of them. One of his friends at school was Mr Clyde Vautier of Gisborne, who went on to complete his BA at Victoria University in Wellington. When I was a boy I recall Mr Vautier visiting us in Tauranga and giving dad tips on how to do this type of crossword, but to no long-term avail!

At school, I had to write essays. In those days, English wasn’t my strong subject: I was a “science man”. (As a 12 year old, I managed to find the formula for gunpowder in a library book, and proceeded to make it in a test-tube at home. My ingredients weren’t very pure and the experiment was a failure, very fortunately, otherwise I probably wouldn’t be here to tell the tale.) But I diverge from the essay writing. I couldn’t get inspired to write the essay so I asked dad if he could help me. He did. I think a lot of the essay was written by him, although it was in my handwriting. But when I got it back from the teacher, the teacher was quite surprised at all the big words that “I” had come up with. I think he may have suspected I’d had some help. (I learnt my lesson on plagiarism then, and as far as I know I’ve never indulged in it since!) One word I remember my dad loved to use was the word ‘pertain’ even although much more common words would do just as well!

Looking back, it’s surprising that my dad was so good at English, and vocabulary in particular, though he had only gone up to Standard 6 or 7 (age 12) at school. But he loved to read. One of his favourite books was the historical novel, Mutiny on the Bounty (published in 1932, when dad was 18 years old), based on the mutiny against Captain William Bligh in 1789.

My dad’s fascination with words seemed to have rubbed off onto me: a few years back I completed an MA (Applied Linguistics) thesis on “The Linguistic Ecology of Academic Words in Different Subject Fields”[1]. I dedicated that piece of work to my dad, as he had died a few months prior to my completing it. Since that time, I have dedicated much of my life to helping students in the Middle East, Asia and New Zealand to enhance their proficiency in written and spoken English.

[1] Hayden, R. (1995). The linguistic ecology of academic words in different subject fields (Master’s thesis, Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand). Retrieved from


How can you increase your vocabulary?

How can you increase your vocabulary? Being in the ‘English’ industry, people often ask how they can increase their vocabulary, how they can learn new words.

There are many apps around which users feel will help build their word power, and maybe they do. Apps like Boggle, and its derivatives are great to use the words you know. But I’d like to draw to your attention to two online websites/programmes which I think are even better for building your vocabulary. They are Free Rice and

Free Rice is a site which my colleagues and I sometimes recommend to those who want to learn new words. The reason for the name – Free Rice – is that every word you get correct increases your ‘store’ of rice by 10 grains, which are actually donated to hungry people through the United Nations World Food Programme, or goes towards providing free education to those who in need through sponsors of the website. Free Rice vocabulary testing covers a wide range of fields including: the humanities – famous paintings, literature, world hunger, famous quotations; English – vocabulary & grammar; math/maths – multiplication table, basic math (pre-algebra); chemistry – chemical symbols, chemical symbols (basic); language learning – German, Spanish, French, Italian, Latin; geography – world landmarks, identify countries on the map, world capitals, flags of the world; sciences – human anatomy; and test preparation for SAT®.

Such websites do help to boost a person’s understanding of words. However, there is much more to knowing a word than remembering its synonyms or its meaning or definition. One website that does focus very well on many of the other areas involved in knowing a word is Not only does it highlight which words you don’t know, but it also teaches you essential English words in a stimulating way. Using adaptive technology it adjusts the new words it gives you based on how well you have done to date. It will keep coming back to you with words you haven’t ‘got’ until you do! Even when you think you know how a word is spelled, how it is used in a sentence, what other words it is associated with and of course its meaning, then it will surprise you at some future occasion and see if you still retain it!

Another way of developing your vocabulary is through extensive reading. Research shows that you will only remember a new word if you meet it at least eight times in reasonably quick succession. Read books, magazines, articles, blogs or whatever, that you are interested in and you will surely build your vocabulary.