TOS Crew: VocabAhead

Since Middlest is fascinated with words and their meanings, I was happy to review VocabAhead’s computer DVD-Rom with 1,000 SAT vocabulary videos and MP3s. At least, I was happy to look at it. I ended up with mixed feelings about the product, so buckle your seatbelt for what may be a slightly bumpy ride.

It’s a clever idea, linking verbal information with pictures and short anecdotes, which helps you to remember the meanings of new vocabulary words.

Our girls have a fairly extensive vocabulary anyhow, from all the living books we’ve read together and individually over the years.  (For a fine definition of “living book” click here or here.) I have to admit there were only a handful of words on the VocabAhead list that we didn’t know. (Do you know what “zoophagus” means? How about “mulct?” These were new to us!)

Got a good vocabulary?

That said, it might be a good review tool, if Middlest were to be taking the SAT anytime soon (she’s still a bit young for that). There was at least one word where she disagreed with the VocabAhead definition, until I showed her in an online dictionary that VocabAhead had an accepted (even standard) definition.

Need to expand your vocabulary?

As I mentioned, VocabAhead involves several senses in the learning of new vocabulary words, and engages the imagination. We received a DVD-Rom with 1,000 words and definitions, taken from the SAT vocabulary list. The words are supplied in two formats: MP4 video and MP3, that you can download to a portable device. I suppose if we needed to, we could put words on our tiny MP3 players to playback vocabulary words while we’re walking or out doing yardwork or riding in the car.

The MP4 files are viewable on the computer, using QuickTime or some other MP4 player. You see a cartoon-style picture illustrating the word, you hear the word pronounced, then its definition (which replaces the picture on the screen), followed by a short story to give you a context for using the word. The definition is repeated, as the picture reappears.

You can see examples at the VocabAhead website.

The MP3 features the same audio track as the MP4 file. That means in at least one case, a mistake is repeated as well. In the audio definition of “hebetic” the reader said “occurring or at relating to puberty” while the words on the screen read “occurring at or relating to puberty”. A subtle mistake, but one we caught that evidently the manufacturer didn’t. I suppose that it’s another way to make the information stick in the brain, the surprise at something “not quite right” and the re-listening to figure out what it was, but as an editor myself I imagine some editor somewhere cringing at knowing all those DVDs are out there with that error. It happens. If you have an editor’s eye, you’ll probably find some typos in this very review.


While I think the VocabAhead approach is a good way to learn and practice new vocabulary words, I must insert a word of caution.

This is obviously a product designed to cater to worldly teens. Standards and expectations seem to be set low. The content is probably mild, compared to the average public school setting, but doesn’t really fit our homeschool culture. The teens in the families we know like good, clean humor, avoid coarseness, and treat others with respect.

Middlest and I found a number of definitions and anecdotes that made us wince. I’m somewhat surprised at some of the words included. I suppose it’s a reflection of the degradation of our culture. The word lists are designed for SAT preparation and probably not chosen by the VocabAhead folks.

I guess teens who watch a lot of sit-coms would not have a problem with this DVD-Rom, but families who don’t watch a lot of television and try to promote respectful attitudes might want to use this as a springboard for discussion, not just hand it over to your teen without comment, if you choose to use VocabAhead.

The Vocabahead website features a word-of-the-day email subscription, vocabulary videos, a “Study Room”  where you can build your vocabulary online (complete with flash cards and quizzes), teacher helps (so you can build vocabulary in elementary school as well as higher levels), and more. You can customize your word study using the website tools.

On the VocabAhead website you can find a link to purchase the VocabAhead DVD-Rom for $24.99 or a book ($12.95) with the same information and free MP3 downloads of the vocabulary words.

Read more TOS Crew reviews of this product here.

Disclaimer: Members of the TOS Crew received either a VocabAhead book or DVD-Rom for review purposes only. No other compensation was involved.


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