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Building a Better Vocabulary

Improve your reading, writing, and speaking skills with this engaging course that will teach you new words and strengthen your confidence in your vocabulary.
Building a Better Vocabulary is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 200.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another great great course! Like someone else said, I can’t stop learning! I’m hooked and enjoying practicing my new words and sharing with others my new words. There definitely many million dollar words nobody is going to know the meaning irl but that’s an opportunity to explain and include a story like how Professor Flanigan does. As I’m watching this I can’t help but to wish I found this sooner, or even had a teacher like him in early years of school as a struggling reader. I hope his influence and teaching style is disseminated across the nation.
Date published: 2024-04-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Simply love it! Cannot stop learning! Professor Kevin Flanigan is excellent. In all of his courses, he removes fear and doubt. Thank you, The Great Courses vocabulary!
Date published: 2024-01-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This instructor knows his onions. Mr. Flanagan mixes instruction with humor. I’ve had this course for a couple of years and every five or six months I will listen to it. If you’re thinking of purchasing this course by Mr. Flanagan, I would recommend also getting the guidebook. And I would recommend this to anybody. Having a strong vocabulary is an asset in the business world as well as personal because people are impressed with a strong vocabulary.
Date published: 2023-10-19
Rated 1 out of 5 by from I can't watch Kevin It bothers me that Kevin squats so often while he is lecturing. It's very distracting and it feels like I should be doing a workout. I can't watch anymore lectures.
Date published: 2023-02-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Would you use ten dollar words? This course is quite fascinating for me. I dearly love the English language and have been writing for a living as a business columnist for several decades. When Professor Flanagan comes up with beautiful descriptive phrases such as hornswaggle, ballyhoo, or giddy; we get something usable in good writing which any reader can readily understand and relate to. Unfortunately, when we're introduced to such gems as desuetude, parricide, contumacious, or phlegmatic; the opposite is true. I'm not about to lose my faithful readership by foisting such fancy words on them. Well, maybe that last one might just pass muster as we can easily envisage phlegm in the word. For the most part, however, it makes far more sense to write for the general public than just a select few literary geeks. Nevertheless, the professor does make his course interesting, highlighting target words through many side-trips into actual family happenings to which we can all relate. It makes things understandable and, many a time, provokes a good chuckle. I do agree with so many others that the professor's constant deep knee bends are intensely distracting. They are nothing more than the gestural equivalent of using an exclamation mark on every other sentence rather than just an ordinary period. That is really my only negative for the course, although it is a serious one.
Date published: 2023-02-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from delivers! I have only done about 6 lectures so far but what a pleasure this course is! Promising to help build someone's vocabulary is a daunting task but the good professor is true to his word. The course is well organized with lectures which provide tools for remembering new words so that they stay with us interspersed with lectures which actually teach a number of new words. The whole thing flows well. Add to it the sheer enthusiasm the professor brings to each lecture and you are hooked. It is clear that he loves what he is teaching and that seeps through and makes you enthused about it as well. I am a long time learner with the great courses , getting to know of them when TCG CDs came in bulky boxes bought by libraries and can say that this is a 5 star course.
Date published: 2022-08-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating!!! Exceeded expectations Absolutely loved this course. Exceeded expectations! I was interested in the subject and since there was a sale decided to give it a try. So glad I did. After each lecture I couldn’t stop wanting to share with my husband, mother and best friend snippets of what I learned. What an enjoyable series- I learned so much!!
Date published: 2022-07-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Attention grabber I purchased this course as a gift to one who needs to refine his English-speaking skills. He is captivated by the presentation and attention-absorbing lessons.
Date published: 2022-06-23
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For anyone who has ever grasped for the perfect word, this course provides a research-based and enjoyable method for improving your vocabulary. Your professor understands the cognitive science behind language acquisition and is able to present each new word in a way that makes it immediately memorable. But more importantly, he teaches you these tips and strategies so you can apply them whenever you learn a new word.


Kevin Flanigan

Ever since I was a kid, I've been moved, awed, and at times, even gobsmacked by the power and magic of words.


West Chester University of Pennsylvania

Professor Kevin Flanigan is a Professor of Education in the Literacy Department at West Chester University of Pennsylvania. He earned his B.A. in History from Mary Washington College, his M.Ed. from James Madison University, and his M.Ed. in Reading Education from the University of Virginia. After working as a middle grades teacher and reading specialist, he received his Ph.D. in Reading Education from the University of Virginia, with a dissertation on emergent readers' developing concept of word in text.

In 2011, Professor Flanigan was nominated for the U.S. Professors of the Year Award. In 2009, he and his colleagues at West Chester University received an Educator 500 award for innovative teaching.

Professor Flanigan's research focuses on developmental word knowledge, vocabulary development and instruction, and interventions for struggling readers. He presents frequently at national and international conferences and works with schools to implement effective literacy instruction. He is coauthor of Words Their Way with Struggling Readers, Vocabulary Their Way (2nd edition), and Developing Word Recognition. Professor Flanigan is on the authorship team for the Vocabulary Their Way middle school program. He has published articles in many professional journals, including The Reading Teacher, the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, and the Journal of Literacy Research.

By This Professor

Building a Better Vocabulary
Building a Better Vocabulary


Five Principles for Learning Vocabulary

01: Five Principles for Learning Vocabulary

Toss aside the rote memorization of childhood and explore the cognitive science behind the five core principles of effective vocabulary learning: definition, context, connections, morphology, and semantic chunking. Through interactive examples, see how you can improve your ability to remember the definition of a new word or a long list of familiar terms.

33 min
The Spelling-Meaning Connection

02: The Spelling-Meaning Connection

Unlock the English language's powerful morphological system with a concept known as the spelling-meaning connection, and see how our spelling system makes a lot more sense than you may have originally thought. Then, learn how to create a vocabulary notebook that effectively organizes all the words you will learn in this course for best recall.

31 min
Words for Lying, Swindling, and Conniving

03: Words for Lying, Swindling, and Conniving

Begin building your vocabulary in earnest with this lecture on wonderful words to describe liars and the lies they tell. Learn trenchant words to describe the cheats, swindlers, charlatans, scam artists, barracudas, sharks, and sharpies, and their hustles, flimflams, and double-dealings. Reveal the nuances of meaning between similar words like specious and spurious.

30 min
Words That Express Annoyance and Disgust

04: Words That Express Annoyance and Disgust

Turn now to annoying people and their irksome, vexing, irritating, nettlesome, and exasperating behavior. Tease apart the differences between words that use the Latin root quir/ques, and those that spring from the word queror. Then, study words that describe excess-from sickly sweet, sappy, and sentimental words to downright offensive and disgusting ones.

32 min
Fighting Words and Peaceful Words

05: Fighting Words and Peaceful Words

English is replete with lively, hard-hitting words to describe conflict and harmony. Delve into the morphology and etymology of words relating to war and peace, including examining two high-utility Latin roots, bell and pac. Add some pugnacious words to your everyday lexicon, including melee, contumacious, and donnybrook.

31 min
Going beyond Dictionary Meanings

06: Going beyond Dictionary Meanings

How can you ensure that new words don't slip from your memory? In this lecture, Professor Flanigan shares effective and fun strategies to reinforce your vocabulary knowledge, including a clever graphic organizer that anchors your new word to words you already know, and a game designed by a leading expert in reading and vocabulary.

32 min
Wicked Words

07: Wicked Words

Use the Latin prefix mal to generate over a dozen rich vocabulary words, all of which concern things that are bad, evil, or done poorly. Then, learn a fun, albeit archaic, term of contempt, and get a firm understanding of the difference between invidious and insidious.

32 min
Words for Beginnings and Endings

08: Words for Beginnings and Endings

Go beyond Latin to learn a word for inexperience that has its roots in Old English. Distinguish between people who are innocent and naive, new to a skill, or pretending to know more than they do. Then, turn to words for endings, and learn why we say "immortal," and not "inmortal."

32 min
Words Expressing Fear, Love, and Hatred

09: Words Expressing Fear, Love, and Hatred

Agoraphobia. Xenophobia. Claustrophobia. Begin this lecture with words that describe fear. Then, using the Greek root phil/phile and the Latin root amor, build words relating to love. Finally, embrace your inner misanthrope with words about hatred, which spring from the Greek verb misein.

32 min
Words for the Everyday and the Elite

10: Words for the Everyday and the Elite

Will you be hobnobbing with the hoity-toity gentry or the hoi polloi? Gain even more words to enrich your vocabulary when it comes to describing things that are ho-hum and others that are high class. You'll even learn a useful synonym for trite remarks, hackneyed phrases, and platitudes.

30 min
Words from Gods and Heroes

11: Words from Gods and Heroes

Forge a link between the tales of Greek and Roman gods and heroes and the English vocabulary words they inspired. What is the difference between a herculean task and a Sisyphean one? What Gordian knots do you have in your life? This lecture full of ancient myths is a true delight!

32 min
Humble Words and Prideful Words

12: Humble Words and Prideful Words

Transition into the next lecture with a story about Odysseus and his hubris. Then, explore other words about people who think too much or too little about themselves, including a fascinating word that has a positive connotation when it refers to a voice, but a negative connotation when it refers to speech or writing.

34 min
High-Frequency Greek and Latin Roots

13: High-Frequency Greek and Latin Roots

Power up your "morphological radar" and gain the ability to spot Latin and Greek word parts in unfamiliar words, aiding you in uncovering their definitions. Investigate words using the affixes eu-, dis-, in-, pre-, post-, and dys-; then, turn to words that build from the roots man, umbr, tract, and therm.

32 min
Words Relating to Belief and Trust

14: Words Relating to Belief and Trust

Turn now to precise and powerful words for facets of trust and belief. Study words that have their roots in the church, but have expanded their reach into other areas of life. Use your knowledge of Greek roots to show the difference in the belief of an apostle (stellein) and an apostate (stenai).

33 min
Words for the Way We Talk

15: Words for the Way We Talk

Study the fascinating stories behind words that describe how we speak-from the laconic Spartans to the pithy Jedi master to the loquacious ventriloquist. At the end of the lecture, return to Greece for the story behind a word inspired by the Athenian orator Demosthenes and his opinions about King

34 min
Words for Praise, Criticism, and Nonsense

16: Words for Praise, Criticism, and Nonsense

Continue your study with a useful word that describes the verbal equivalent of meandering. Then, turn to the Bible for a word derived from the Old Testament prophet, Jeremiah, who prophesied the imminent downfall of the Kingdom of Judah. Finally, discover a word for playful banter that English borrowed from French.

32 min
Eponyms from Literature and History

17: Eponyms from Literature and History

Step back in time and learn about words inspired by the great men, women, and places of literature and history. English is replete with a host of lively eponyms, such as bloomers, sideburns, and sandwich. In this utterly enjoyable lecture, the professor shares the people and stories behind eight excellent eponyms.

32 min
Thinking, Teaching, and Learning Words

18: Thinking, Teaching, and Learning Words

Begin with a fun psycholinguistic experiment that shows how your brain processes new words. Explore the work of some major scholars of learning and language-Skinner, Watson, Chomsky-and get an exegesis of erudition. Delve into the process of language acquisition, including why a child might say, "I winned the game, Daddy!"

31 min
Words for the Diligent and the Lazy

19: Words for the Diligent and the Lazy

From polished professionals to slothful slackers, this lecture covers a wide range of words to describe work ethic. Dig into the nuances that separate similar words like tenacious and pertinacious. Expand your knowledge of the Latin root fac (to make or do) to include alternate spellings and a useful suffix.

32 min
Words That Break and Words That Join

20: Words That Break and Words That Join

Using the Latin roots rupt and junct, create a list of words related to breaking and joining. Discover the fascinating subject of Janus words such as cleave, which means to split apart and to stick close together. Finally, explore a variety of words that describe groups or gatherings of people.

30 min
Some High-Utility Greek and Latin Affixes

21: Some High-Utility Greek and Latin Affixes

Add some powerful Greek and Latin affixes to your vocabulary notebook. Explore intriguing etymologies for words like abdicate (which originally had nothing to do with royalty) and antediluvian (a word with ties to the Bible that got a new lease on life). Don't absquatulate now, there are more great words to come!

29 min
Cranky Words and Cool Words

22: Cranky Words and Cool Words

What's the difference between someone who is irascible, one who is testy, and another who is dyspeptic? What about the difference between stoic and stolid? Professor Flanigan's stories from his childhood and from pop culture vividly illustrate the new words you'll learn here.

30 min
Words for Courage and Cowardice

23: Words for Courage and Cowardice

You likely know that the word courage comes from the Latin cor/cord, meaning heart. Explore words for different kinds of courage, including false courage, cheeky courage, and reckless courage. Then study the flip side with words about cowardice. This fun lecture skips from Latin to Yiddish to Middle French to Old Italian!

32 min
Reviewing Vocabulary through Literature

24: Reviewing Vocabulary through Literature

Take stock of your accomplishments thus far with a review like no other! In this lecture, you will be able to test your knowledge by relating the words you have learned to some of the most colorful characters in literature, as written by Oscar Wilde, Moliere, James Joyce, J.R.R. Tolkien, and others.

33 min
Words for Killing and Cutting

25: Words for Killing and Cutting

Turn to dark words to discuss terrible deeds. The Latin word caedo, meaning, "to cut" or "to kill," is at the root of many of these words, such as genocide and homicide. Learn a unique word that refers to both the crime and its perpetrator, then focus on words that stem from the root seg/sect, meaning, "to cut."

31 min
A Vocabulary Grab Bag

26: A Vocabulary Grab Bag

Engage with some wonderful words that Professor Flanigan adores, but could not fit into the themes of the other lectures. This grab bag lecture is full of great vocabulary, including a useful phrase for describing a "take it or leave it" situation.

31 min
Words for Words

27: Words for Words

Open the Bible to the book of Judges and read the story that spawned the word shibboleth, which is a test word, phrase, or custom that differentiates one group of people from another. Then, tease apart the fascinating differences between dialect, vernacular, and jargon.

30 min
Specialty Words for Language

28: Specialty Words for Language

Over the years, linguists and language scholars have organized and categorized words in a number of different ways. In this lecture, explore many of these linguistic categories, including spoonerisms, phrases that give us a unique insight into how our minds plan out our speech.

30 min
Nasty Words and Nice Words

29: Nasty Words and Nice Words

Follow the intriguing evolution of the word nice, which originally meant ignorant or unaware. Then, dive into words for things and people that are nasty or nice. You'll find words to wish good health, to describe your favorite uncle, and to warn others about hidden sources of harm and downright poisonous people.

30 min
Words for the Really Big and the Very Small

30: Words for the Really Big and the Very Small

Is ginormous a real word? What's the difference between capacious and commodious? What are the two words Gulliver's Travels gave to English for big and small? Get answers to these questions and more in this lecture, where you'll also build words using the Latin roots magn and min.

32 min
Spelling as a Vocabulary Tool

31: Spelling as a Vocabulary Tool

Review the three layers of information in the English spelling system: alphabet, pattern, and meaning. Delve into several studies done by Professor Flanigan and other literacy researchers to see how children acquire the ability to read English and what insights we can apply to your own acquisition of new words.

32 min
A Medley of New Words

32: A Medley of New Words

In this final grab bag lecture, learn a new word to describe partisan politics or views. Then, go beyond bang and shush and add some more sophisticated onomatopoeic words to your repertoire. Finally, a fun pop quiz helps you review some of the words you've learned in the last few lectures.

30 min
Building Vocabulary through Games

33: Building Vocabulary through Games

Start this lecture with some clever vocabulary games and activities that are not only fun to play, but will reinforce your word knowledge and ability to confidently use your new vocabulary words. Then, learn how you can leverage the power of context to improve your reading and writing vocabulary.

30 min
Words English Borrowed and Never Returned

34: Words English Borrowed and Never Returned

English is notorious for being an omnivorous language. Substantially more than half of English vocabulary is from languages other than its Anglo-Saxon ancestor, Old English. Why do words get borrowed, and how do these words eventually settle in and become just as familiar as English ones? Find out here.

30 min
More Foreign Loan Words

35: More Foreign Loan Words

Continue your study of foreign words that migrated to English. Encounter new and exciting words from French, German, and Spanish, and along the way, engage in a fun psycholinguistic experiment that shows how your brain processes language. By the end of this lecture, you'll have the mot juste for every situation.

29 min
Forgotten Words and Neologisms

36: Forgotten Words and Neologisms

In this final lecture of the course, travel back in time for some delicious words that Professor Flanigan believes deserve to be brought back to common usage. Then, explore neologisms, or new words that are coming into English every day, like meme, boson, and muggle.

35 min