“vocabulary is probably the best single indicator of a person’s overall level of intelligence”
Aside from appearance, one of the first things we notice about a person is the way they speak. The way a person talks, the words they choose, their level of articulation all work to form in us certain perceptions and conclusions. For many, vocabulary and IQ go hand in hand. When you consider that the average person speaks around 120 words a minute, you don’t get a lot of time to make that crucial first impression in a casual social setting. Those first words you speak to a new acquaintance need to count.
Vocabulary as a predictor of intelligence
It has long been perceived by the general public that a person with a more advanced or larger vocabulary was more intelligent. Many people automatically assume this, and it is evidenced in the way a person is treated once they exhibit an advanced vocabulary by articulating their thoughts with more precise, intelligent words. The words that they use give them an air of authority and they are immediately seen as someone who is more intelligent than the average person (with an average vocabulary). While this is generally an unconscious response, the perception is an accurate one.
In The Nature of Vocabulary Acquisition, Robert J. Sternberg of Yale University made a profound statement:
“… vocabulary is probably the best single indicator of a person’s overall level of intelligence. Stated in another way, if one wants a quick and not-too-dirty measure of a person’s psychometrically measured intelligence, and thus has time to give just one brief test of it, vocabulary is generally the best predictor of overall score on a psychometric IQ test. (p. 90)”
Active vs. Passive Vocabulary
Many people see vocabulary as simply black and white. There are words that you know and words you don’t know. However, there are actually several layers to how we use our words. First, there are the words that you know and have mastered enough that we can comfortably and easily use them in verbal communication. This is called active vocabulary. They are the words that are actively present when we speak or write; part of our working memory.
There is another layer that consists of words that we may know, but do not use them in our verbal communication. We understand their meaning when reading or hearing them, but are not confident enough in our knowledge of them to use them in everyday communication.
When a person is able to make that jump and move words from their passive vocabulary to their active vocabulary, it improved their reading comprehension and increases the words that their brain pulls into their more accessible memory.
Vocabulary as a Measure of Intellect
The understanding of words, what they mean, and how they are used is called lexical knowledge. It is this knowledge that truly reveals how intelligent a person is. This is not memorization, it is something the person knows – and opens up their world.
Vocabulary testing is a standard part of most IQ tests for the simple reason that it reflects intellect. It is the basis for reading comprehension and reading decoding. When a person reads a sentence and knows what each word means, he or she can combine that information and comprehend the sentences. One added benefit to this is that people who are able to comprehend what they read will read more. The more they read, the smarter they usually are. Intelligent people tend to be more well-read.
It’s important to note that a large vocabulary is more than just knowing a few big words. Anyone can memorize some words and phrases. However, the person who knows how to use the words in context, who understand the words they use and have made them a part of their vocabulary, those are the intellects. They are the people who really know the high-impact words.
In conclusion, the link between vocabulary and IQ is undeniable. The more you improve your vocabulary, the more your intelligence will increase. It is just that simple. If you want to score higher on IQ tests and become more intelligent, the quickest way to do it is to improve your vocabulary…with a focus on your active vocabulary.
Raise your vocabulary; raise your IQ.