Infering Word Meaning Through Context Clues

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By: Neng Syifa Masnoneh

One of the purposes of teaching English to EFL learners is to equip them with reading skill so that they can comprehend an authentic English text for their reading purposes. However, the lack of vocabulary size will apparently cause a big problem for them to comprehend the text since the number of vocabulary size supports the mastery of reading in addition to listening, speaking, and writing. Thus, vocabulary acquisition must be given a greater emphasis. Therefore, in this paper I aim to outline general teaching procedure to develop the microskill of inferring the meaning of new words students encounter through context clues. This microskill is one of ways to enhance their reading comprehension. It is expected that this paper could provide some insights for teachers with the same problem and interest.

English course, whether it is as general subject or as compulsory subject, is given to equip student so they can communicate in global community. One of the purposes is to improve their reading skill, enabling them to access information printed in English. This ability is considered important because lots of information, which is needed for academic and non-academic purposes are written in English; and to prepare high competent human resources who can compete nationally and internationally, the mastery of the skill is likely cannot be ignored. The underlying reason of the importance of English mastery is the global use of the language. However, many students, but not all, fail in acquiring the language which then leads to the reading failure. This failure is, in general, contributed by the lack of vocabulary size, since good vocabulary mastery supports the master of reading, along with writing, listening, and speaking. The relation between vocabulary size and the success or the failure of reading skill is supported by the result of questionnaires, interviews, and observations conducted by Merawati (2003) at the beginning of her study. It was found that, “students’ perceived problems when they were reading English texts were their limited vocabulary” (Merawati, 2003). Therefore, vocabulary acquisition needs emphasizing. The finding of research conducted by Nurweni (1997) supports the importance of vocabulary instruction in which it was found that on average the 324 subjects only knew 987 of the 2000 most frequent words, and 239 of the 808 university words.

Reading comprehension is very close related with vocabulary knowledge (Nation, 2002). Therefore, teachers have to develop word-attact skills in case students face difficulty in comprehending the text due to unfamiliar words. Word-attact skills are techniques to deal with new words when comprehending texts including skipping some unfamiliar words and inference from context (Nuttal, 1982) or guessing the meaning from context (Nation, 1988, 2002). Although the skill of inferring word meaning from context is one sub-skill in word-attact skills, it is a powerful activity to enhance reading comprehension (Nuttal, 1982). The importance of developing the skill of inference from context is based on some underlying reasons that (1) only knowing the dictionary meaning of a word is not enough to comprehend a text. The surrounding context often determines the meaning of a word, which in turn lead to a better comprehension. (2) Over-reliance to bilingual or monolingual dictionary slow down reading speed, and more seriously, interrupt readers’ own thought processes (Nuttal, 1982). (3) The skill builds self-confidence in reading when dictionary is not available (Merawati, 2003). (4) Teaching the use of context clues encourages students to use clues in their independent reading and it can be a major self-help technique for students learning vocabulary. Judicious use of context clues is...
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