When you read in English, you are likely to come across words or phrases that you don’t understand. Looking these up in a dictionary can be very time-consuming and frustrating, however. This makes it difficult to enjoy reading, and it is impractical as well, if you have to read very many pages at a time.
When you read in your native language, what do you do if you come across a word that you don’t know? You may occasionally check with a dictionary, but most of the time you guess the meanings of unfamiliar words for the context. You can do the same when you read in English.
Let’s look at some examples. Even in the case of any easy word, you often understand the meaning only because of the context, because many words have more than one meaning. Take, (10) for example, the word race. If you see it by itself, you don’t know exactly what it means, because it has more than one meaning. It can mean “a contest of speed,” or it can mean, “one of a number of divisions of human beings.” But suppose you saw it in this sentence: “The horse won the race and the $10,000 prize.” Which meaning do you think it has here? Since the words horse, won, and prize are associated with a contest of speed rather than divisions of human (15) beings, you could have guessed that in this sentence race means “a contest of speed.”
You can sometimes guess the meanings of more difficult words in the same way. If you don’t know the word “euphemism” and you read it in the sentence, “Pass away is a euphemism for die,” how do you figure out what it means without looking in a dictionary? If you look at the other major words in the sentence – pass away and die- you see that they mean almost the same (20) thing, but that pass away is an indirect and less harsh way of saying die. Therefore, a euphemism must be an indirect or less harsh way of saying something. You are able to figure out the meaning of a word that you didn’t know by looking for clues in the context.
Sometimes the author will tell you the meaning of an unfamiliar word, or restate the idea in a way that gives you a clue to the meaning of the unfamiliar word. The sentence, “She broke (25) her tibia, a bone in the lower part of the leg,” is an example of the first technique. “A bone in the lower part of her leg explains what the tibia is. Here you are able to understand the meaning of a word because the writer explains it. The sentence, “His ideas are really half-baked; he just does not think them out well,” is an example of a restatement of the idea. The second half of the sentence restates the idea of the first, so half-baked means “not thought out well.”
An author may also give an example or illustration of an unfamiliar word. In the sentence, “I was very apprehensive, as if I were waiting to see the dentist,” the feeling being described is compared with the common experience of waiting to see the dentist. How do you feel when waiting to see the dentist? You probably feel nervous about what might happen, and that’s what apprehensive means.
Another kind of clue to look for is a word or phrase that is contrasted with the unfamiliar word. In the sentence, “When you remember how shy he used to be, it’s hard to believe how outgoing he is now,” the word shy, which you probably know, is contrasted with the word outgoing, which may be unfamiliar. Since the opposite of shy is friendly, or eager to mix socially, you can guess what outgoing probably means.
You should keep in mind that it is not always necessary to understand the exact meaning of a word when you are reading. If you are able to get a general idea of the meaning of an unfamiliar word, that is sufficient for most types of reading.
These techniques may sounds difficult and confusing, but it you try using them, after a while you should find that your reading goes much more smoothly and is much more enjoyable.
taking a lot of time
making one feel...
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