Vocabulary is much tougher and time-consuming to master.

Let’s explore why.

1. Learning pronunciation is more straightforward

How we learn pronunciation?

By listening how a word sounds.

Most people I’ve interacted with simply key in the word in Google or an online dictionary, hit ‘enter’, and play the audio (of the word). Few bother to read phonetic symbols representing different sounds in English.

And then pronouncing the word loudly few times.

How we learn vocabulary though?

We look at the meaning of the word and few example sentences. (Some stop at just the meaning, which makes it difficult for them to use those words in real situations. And if you can’t use, then what’s the point.) Some may also glance at synonyms and antonyms.

A word may, however, be used in multiple ways (this is more true of verbs), which further complicates building vocabulary. Let’s see this through an example.

For example, ‘haul’, the verb, can be used in following ways:

a. To pull something heavy slowly and with difficulty

They hauled the boat out of the water.

She hauled herself up into the tree.

b. To take something or someone somewhere, especially by force

The police hauled him off to jail in front of his whole family.

She was arrested, fingerprinted, and hauled before a judge.

(Example sentences are in italics.)

And if we talk of ‘haul’, the noun:

a. A usually large amount of something that has been stolen or is illegal

A haul of arms/drugs.

b. The amount of fish caught

Fishermen have been complaining of poor hauls all year.

In sum, whereas learning pronunciation is far more straight-tunneled, learning vocabulary is messier, fuzzier, and memory-hogging.

2. Using pronunciation is more straightforward

When you’re speaking, there is little ambiguity in how you’ll pronounce a word. You come across a word whose sounds you’re familiar with and you say it loud.

When it comes to choice of words though, there can be ambiguity. In some situations, more than one word can fit in – some perfect, some OK, and some misfit. Let me explain this through few examples:

Do you throw a ball? Do you toss a ball? Or do you slam a ball?

Do you walk behind someone? Do you follow someone? Or do you stalk someone?

Do you shut the door? Or do you slam the door?

Do you leave a room? Or do you storm out of a room?

Depending on the action being performed, you may use any of the two or three verbs. Shut the door, for example, would mean closing the door the way we normally do. Whereas slam the door would mean closing the door with force.

Doesn’t that complicate using vocabulary?

This, however, isn’t a problem with nouns where ambiguity is rare. You call a cucumber, cucumber. Not cauliflower. You call a table fan, table fan. Not ceiling fan.

In sum, you pronounce a word in just one way, but you may have to weigh few words – all in a flash – to bring in an appropriate word while speaking.

Question: What has been your experience? Which of the two – vocabulary or pronunciation – you’ve found more challenging to master?