I've always liked opera. When I was a kid, my parents used to play opera records on the stereo in the living room. I loved the voices and the music, but I never knew much about opera itself. My brothers and sisters were much like me in that way - passive in their appreciation. We'd hear it from the next room, but never talk about it....or ever admit that we actually liked it.
Fast forward decades later. Enter the world of Youtube. By chance, I came upon a Franco Corelli recording of Tosca's "E lucevan le Stelle" that I recognized from my parents' collection. It was magnificent. I continued listening to more of his recordings and then scrolled down and listened to the same songs done by other tenors. Over the next few days and weeks, I listened to dozens of tenors sing dozens of songs. I compared them and tried to determine which ones I liked best. Then I realized - it was not a competition, and decided to enjoy the variety of styles. I also decided then and there that I would educate myself about opera.
So how was I going to accomplish this? First, if I was going to be able to have an intelligent conversation with someone about opera, I'd have to build my opera vocabulary. At that point, I didn't know coloratura from contralto, so I simply read the biographies (short ones) of some of my favorite tenors up to that point. In them it would say that Pavarotti, Kraus, and Bjorling were lyric tenors and that Del Monaco, Corelli, and Domingo were dramatic tenors. So I'd go back and listen to those singers all over again and say to myself, "Yes, of course. I hear the difference. Now I get it." Then I'd do the same thing with other terms and phrases, and about sopranos and baritones as well, and then one thing would lead to another and, eventually, my opera vocabulary started to snowball and I felt I had the confidence to talk to people about opera without embarrassing myself. There's an old saying that goes "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear" and, sure enough, that's exactly what happened. One of my uncles is a huge opera fan and a former semi-professional crooner himself, and we started a long-time correspondence mainly about opera. And then I discovered that a teacher I worked with was as crazy about opera as my uncle and we'd have endless discussions and debates about it. And then I met more and more like-minded people and my knowledge and enjoyment of opera grew even further. But nothing was more enjoyable than going to my second live opera performance. Yes, my second, not the first. The first one I saw was years earlier but with only a slight hint of appreciation for what I was witnessing. But the second? Oh, the second was special.
So here's my point. If you want to develop your vocabulary, find something you're interested in (a specific category), and jump in with both feet.