Improving reading Comprehension (Part 2)

Image courtesy of Sam Greenhalgh via Flickr (cc 2.0)

 

In the previous part, we spoke of how speed reading and deducing meaning can lead to better comprehension. Here are some more techniques for you to try:

 

  1. Improve concentration

Your powers of concentration perhaps affect your ability to understand a piece of text more than anything else, so train yourself to concentrate well over long periods. Are you wondering how? Well, take one small step at a time. To begin with, see if you are able to focus on what you are reading for about 10 to 15 minutes, increasing the reading time as you go along. The ultimate goal should be to form an ability to concentrate on a task for as long as an hour.

 

  1. Widen vocabulary

Unfamiliar vocabulary is often a stumbling block to reading comprehension, so the more words you are able to recognise, the better you understand a text. One way to learn new vocabulary is by maintaining a running list of words you don’t understand; later, you can look them up in a dictionary. Of course, you need to make it a point to use the words too, while speaking or writing, so that they become a part of your active vocabulary.

 

  1. Expand background knowledge

Background knowledge and vocabulary sort of go hand in hand: an individual who doesn’t know much about factories may not understand words such as supply chain, reverse engineering, or lay-off.  Do not panic though, as there are several ways to acquire background knowledge about something – watching TV programmes, reading articles, talking to people with experience, making visits, etc.

 

  1. Read for pleasure

We commonly turn academic activities into a right struggle, not realising that it doesn’t have to be that way! Turn reading into a fun activity by reading for pleasure: read about your favourite movie star or an exotic holiday destination, or read a novel by your favourite author. This will help you truly engage with the text, because you are reading content that you find interesting.

 

Remember, there are no shortcuts to improving your reading ability. Keep at it, and your comprehension will get better with time.

 

 

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

stumbling block (to something)
Form : noun
Meaning : something that stops you from achieving something
Example : Lack of funding is the major stumbling block to completing this project.

 

running
Form : adjective
Meaning : continuous
Example : Stanley has had a running battle with the council over his new garage.

 

make it a point (to do something)
Form : phrase
Meaning : to make sure something happens
Example : Cindy makes it a point to avoid heavy meals while travelling.

 

go hand in hand
Form : phrase
Meaning : to be closely related
Example : It’s a fact that poverty and crime usually go hand in hand.

 

engage (with something)
Form : verb
Meaning : to be fully involved and try to understand something
Example : Young children engage with content that is full of colourful images.

 

keep at (something)
Form : phrasal verb
Meaning : to continue to work on something
Example : He kept at it and finally learnt how to take a free kick.

 

 

How Punctuation Can Improve Your English Writing (Part 2)

Image courtesy of Emily Mathews via Flickr (CC 2.0)

 

In the first part, we looked at two of the most widely used punctuation marks: full stops and commas.

This week’s post explores some less common ones, starting with the exclamation mark (!)

 

Exclamation

Originally known as the note of admiration, an exclamation mark (also known as an exclamation point) is used to show strong forms of emotion: excitement, surprise, pleasure, anger, etc. It can also accompany words that represent sounds, or appear at the end of short commands.

Used Example
at the end of a short word or phrase that expresses an emotion: Look out!
Ow! That really hurt!
after a word that represents a sound: Bang!
at the end of a command: Stop!

 

Question mark

As the name suggests, question marks go at the end of direct questions. Another use is in question tags, where a short question phrase is added at the end of a sentence to check if it is correct. Question marks are also sometimes added within brackets to signal that the writer is doubtful about what has just been said.

Used Example
at the end of direct questions: Where were you born?
at the end of a question tag: You eat red meat, don’t you?
to express doubt: They say operating the new machine is quite easy (?).

Remember, you should not add a question mark after an indirect question. For example:
He asked me where I was going. ✔ (He asked me where I was going?)

 

Hyphen

The most important function of the hyphen is to link words or parts of words. Though its use has become less common over time, a hyphen is almost unavoidable when there are certain types of compounds (having two or more parts) in use.

Used Example
in compound adjectives: a custom-made car
when two nouns (e.g. court martial) are turned into a compound verb: to court-martial someone
when a phrasal verb (e.g. to break up) is turned into a noun: The break-up left him shattered.

Despite being one of the most important features of written English, punctuation is often taken lightly by most people; but skilled use of punctuation can help take your written English to the next level.

Improve Your Reading Comprehension (Part 1)

Image courtesy of Matthias Uhlig via Flickr (CC 2.0)

 

Let’s face it, among all the language skills, reading is perhaps what most people least enjoy, especially if it happens to be an academic text. The reason for this can vary – a wandering mind, narrow vocabulary, or just impatience.

 

However, there are situations where this skill is a must; an exam perhaps being the best example. Almost all popular language tests have a reading component. IELTS, for instance, has a reading module designed to test a wide range of reading skills.

 

So, how do you improve your comprehension if you are not the reading kind? Here are some ways:

 

  1. Use speed reading

Speed reading is the technique of reading a text quickly with the aim of understanding its overall idea. In a reading comprehension test, this skill is priceless, as test takers find themselves in a race against the clock to answer all the questions. When dealing with long passages, the reader often focuses on content words – i.e. words that carry the message, such as nouns, main verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. This way, they save time, allowing them to better focus understanding and answering those questions.

 

  1. Learn to deduce meaning

One thing that slows readers down is unfamiliar vocabulary. Each time they come across a word they don’t recognise, it hinders their reading speed, thereby affecting comprehension too. One way to overcome this problem is to develop the ability to deduce meaning. In other words, form an ability to guess the meaning of a word you don’t know by looking at words surrounding it. Let’s put this technique to test with the help of an example:

 

We drove past hyacinth fields in full bloom, the air filled with their sweet, lingering fragrance.

 

If you don’t recognise the word ‘hyacinth’, focus on words surrounding it – fields, in full bloom, sweet, lingering, and fragrance. From the context, it is clear that hyacinth is something that grows in fields, develops over time, and has a pleasant smell that is long-lasting. If your guess at this point is that it’s a flower, then you are dead right!

 

So, the next time you come across an unfamiliar word, try to deduce its meaning; then look it up in a dictionary to confirm you guessed right.

 

GLOSSARY

 

let’s face it
Form : phrase
Meaning : used to indicate what you are about to say is unpleasant but true
Example : Let’s face it, we both know you shouldn’t be marrying a guy like Jake.

 

wandering
Form : adjective
Meaning : moving aimless from one place to another
Example : Sally fares poorly in studies because of her wandering mind.

 

comprehension
Form : noun
Meaning : an individual’s ability to understand things
Example : Miguel had no comprehension of how difficult it was to raise a child.

 

a race against the clock
Form : phrase
Meaning : a situation when someone has to do something quickly, as they only have a limited amount of time
Example : Rescuing people during floods is always a race against the clock.

 

hinder
Form : verb
Meaning : to make it difficult for someone or something to make progress
Example : A leg injury hindered Roger from playing his best tennis.

 

What to Expect in a Decent Dictionary (Part 2)

Image courtesy of Chris Dlugosz via Flickr (CC 2.0)

 

The first part looked at some information that is typically found in most dictionaries – meaning(s), part of speech, pronunciation, verb forms, and miscellaneous grammar points.

 

Here’s some more information you are likely to come across:

 

  1. Synonyms and antonyms

A synonym is a word that has the same meaning, or nearly the same, as another word. An antonym, on the other hand, is a word that means the opposite of another word.

Example:

honest

Synonyms – truthful, sincere, trustworthy, straightforward, reliable

Antonym – dishonest, corrupt, deceitful, insincere, untrustworthy, unreliable

 

  1. Collocations

The word collocation refers to a word combination that happens naturally in a language. Learning such typical combinations is important because it broadens the scope for expressing ideas clearly.

Example:

food

Verb collocations – consume / eat / have / cook / make / prepare food

Adjective collocations – fast / junk / takeaway / fresh / organic / canned food

 

  1. Example sentences

Example sentences are perhaps the best way to learn how to use a word or phrase accurately in a sentence. They show us the way various grammatical features work together to form a sentence. Some dictionaries print fixed expressions or phrases in bold to help users learn faster.

Example:

The change in policy will do serious harm to our business.

Though I’m not particularly fond of my mother-in-law, I don’t wish her any harm.

I know our neighbour’s dog looks ferocious, but he means no harm.

 

  1. Register

The term register means the degree of formality associated with a word. At times, dictionaries also highlight words that are old-fashioned or offensive.

Example:

ascertain (formal) = to find out

ripping (old-fashioned) = wonderful

gaffer (informal) = an individual who is in charge of a group of people

dude (slang) = a man

bird (sometimes offensive) = a way of referring to a young woman

 

  1. Spelling

A lot of words have alternative spellings, depending on the version used – British English (BrE) or North American English (NAmE).

Example:

theatre (BrE) / theater (NAmE)

doughnut / donut (NAmE)

colour (BrE) / color (NAmE)

 

So, the next time you use a dictionary, gather different types of information that can help you better your English.

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

miscellaneous
Form : adjective
Meaning : consisting of different kinds of things
Example : Tom has a box of miscellaneous items from his childhood.

 

scope (for something)
Form : noun
Meaning : the opportunity to do something
Example : Sally’s new job offers plenty of scope for international travel.

 

offensive
Form : adjective
Meaning : rude or unpleasant
Example : Students who use offensive language in the classroom will be punished.

 

alternative
Form : adjective
Meaning : describes something that can be used instead of something else
Example : Swimming is a good alternative to running when recovering from an injury

 

 

What to Expect in a Decent Dictionary (Part 1)

 

Image courtesy of Chris Dlugosz via Flickr (CC 2.0)

 

A decent dictionary, be it printed or electronic, can be an invaluable tool when trying to improve your English. Sadly, not many language learners exploit it to the full.

 

So, what can you typically expect to find in one?

 

  1. The meaning(s) of an English word or phrase

Most words in the English language have more than one meaning, and dictionaries usually list them out.

Example:

run (verb)

  • to move quickly using legs
  • to manage a business
  • to use a computer program
  • (of liquid) to flow in a particular direction
  • to try to get elected to a job
  • to drive somebody to a place

 

  1. Part of speech

This refers to one of the grammatical groups that a word belongs to depending on how it is used in a sentence. Remember, a word could have different forms.

Example:

drive – verb (= when used to talk about operating a vehicle)

drive – noun (= when used to talk about someone’s energy or desire to do something)

 

  1. Pronunciation

The phonetic transcription of a word usually appears alongside it to help users pronounce the word accurately. Alternate ways of pronouncing the word can also be found in some dictionaries.

Example:

 

Word Pronunciation

(British English)

Pronunciation

(North American English)

restaurant /ˈrestrɒnt/ /ˈrestrɑːnt/
sure /ʃʊə(r)/ or /ʃɔː(r)/ /ʃʊr/

 

  1. Verb forms

Most verbs in English have between 3 and 5 forms; knowing them is essential to be able to make different grammatical structures.

Example:

 

Present simple

I / we / you / they

Present simple

he / she / it

Past simple Past participle -ing form
cut cuts cut cut cutting
dance dances danced danced dancing
eat eats ate eaten eating

 

  1. Other grammatical information

A comprehensive dictionary may also contain other important information, such as the plural form of a noun, or whether a noun is countable or uncountable.

Example:

thief (singular) – thieves (plural)

furniture (uncountable)

 

If you’ve just started learning English, using a dictionary regularly can help stretch your limited vocabulary, so be sure to use one.

 

GLOSSARY

 

decent
Form : adjective
Meaning : of good enough quality
Example : Is there a restaurant nearby where I can get a decent meal?

 

exploit
Form : verb
Meaning : to use something well in order to get benefit from it
Example : I don’t think students exploit the study resources in our library enough.

 

to the full
Form : phrase
Meaning : to the maximum
Example : Youngsters usually want to enjoy life to the full.

 

comprehensive
Form : adjective
Meaning : including many details
Example : He’s writing a comprehensive guide to tourism in Asia.

 

A Quick Guide to Prepositions of Place

Image courtesy of Sergey Sokolov via Flickr (CC 2.0)

 

A preposition of place shows the location of someone or something. Three of the most commonly used ones in this category are at, on and in.

 

When to use at

Use at when referring to the specific position where someone or something is located.

 

Used to refer to Example
addresses at 39 Lake Road | at 221B Baker Street
a specific location at the bus stop | at the railway station | at the airport
a meeting point We decided to meet at the club. | Let’s meet at the mall.
a place of study She’s studying at Glasgow University.
someone’s shop or house I’m at the grocer’s. | I’m at the dentist’s. | I’m at Katie’s.
group activities at a conference | at a party | at a rock concert | at a wedding
a large place when we consider it to be a point in a journey Our plane stopped at Dubai for refuelling before landing in Zurich.

 

 

When to use on

Use on to indicate someone or something is located on a surface.

 

Used to refer to Example
travel via public transport on a bus | on a train | on the metro | on a plane | on a ship
travel using horses or two-wheelers on a cycle | on a motorbike | on a scooter | on a horse
pages in a book on the first page | on page 23
the number of the floor on the ground floor | on the eight floor
position by a lake, sea, road, street, etc. London is on the Thames. | They used to live on Orchard Street.
something that is in contact with a surface on the wall | on the table | on the floor | on the ceiling

 

When to use in

Use in to show that someone or something is in an enclosed space.

 

Used to refer to Example
large areas in Paris | in France | in Europe | in the desert | in the woods
three-dimensional space in the office | in a supermarket | in a flat | in a house
cars, small private aircrafts, boats, etc. in a car | in a taxi | in a boat | in a helicopter

 

Remember, you cannot do without prepositions of place if you wish to use English accurately.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Quick Guide to Prepositions of Time

Image courtesy of Christopher Allen via Flickr (CC 2.0)

 

A preposition is a relationship word which generally shows the location of something (in the hall), the time when something happens (at midnight), the way something is done (by train), and so on.

 

Learning them can be a little bit tricky, as there aren’t always rules to help you choose the correct one. To make matters worse, some prepositions can have many different uses. For example, according to the Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries, the preposition on has eighteen different functions.

 

In this article, we’ll consider how to use three common prepositions of time: at, on, in.

 

When to use at

Use at when referring to a specific time that is relatively short.

 

clock times at 7 o’clock | at 6:30 pm
holiday periods at Christmas | at Easter
specific times of the day at noon | at midnight
meal times  at lunchtime | at dinner time

 

Of course, there are situations when at is used to show longer periods of time ‒ for instance, we say at night, or at the weekend.

 

When to use on

Use on when referring to days and dates in general.

 

days of the week on Monday | on Thursday
dates on the 15th of July | on 22nd February
special days on New Year’s Day | on Republic Day | on her birthday
parts of specific days on Friday morning | on Sunday night

 

When to use in

Use in when referring to longer periods of time.

 

parts of a day in the morning | in the afternoon | in the evening
seasons in winter | in autumn
months in February | in July
years in 1977 | in 2015
decades in the seventies | in the 1980s
centuries in the fifteenth century | in the twenty first century

 

Remember, we do not use a preposition before certain expressions of time, such as last, next, every, each, or this. For example, we say:

I saw that film last Saturday. (NOT I saw that film on last Saturday.)

I play tennis every Sunday. (NOT I play tennis on every Sunday.)

 

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

tricky
Form : adjective
Meaning : difficult to do
Example : Some people can find operating smartphones a bit tricky.

 

 

Pin It on Pinterest