Listening to a conversation in a foreign language can be a big challenge. People speak quickly, and they don’t always pronounce words exactly as you expect to hear them. They also have an annoying habit of using words you don’t know, or they use familiar words in unfamiliar ways.
Reading can be just as difficult. It is easier to reach for the dictionary and look up new words when reading, but it interrupts the flow of what you are doing.
When listening and reading in your native language it’s unlikely that you often use a dictionary? Why is that?
Of course, you already have a large vocabulary in your native language and that’s a big help. But you are using another skill too.
Imagine you are in a noisy nightclub with your friend.
<br>“_ you won drin_?” he asks, showing you his empty glass.
<br>“Yes, please,” you answer because your glass is almost empty too.
<br>“Wha_ _ drink__?” he asks, although he can see what’s in your glass.
<br>“Yes, please.” It’s really hot in this crowded place and you want the drink to be cold.
<br>Even reading this dialogue in English you could probably work out what was going on. You’ve been in a noisy place and experienced similar conversations. You could use your knowledge of the situation to fill in the gaps in the conversation. But just in case…
<br>Understanding the situation gives context to what we hear and read. It helps us to fill in the gaps and interpret the meaning of new words or phrases. It’s an important skill to develop.
How can you work on this skill? The good news is that you already do. You do it every time you read or listen to something produced in English. But you can choose to work a little harder if you want to develop the skill a little quicker.
Try to resist reaching for the dictionary until you have read the whole piece of writing. You may find clues about the meaning a word you don’t know if you read on.
When you find a word you don’t know, try to guess its meaning from the information you have.
<li>Which other word could you fit in the sentence?
<li>Is it a verb, a noun, an adjective, an adverb, a preposition?
<li>Does the word start with a negative prefix (un, in, il, im, mis, etc)?
<li>Is it a compound word (made up of two or more other words)?
<li>Does it sound like any other words you know?
<br>You might be surprised how many words you can work out in this way and the process of guessing will help you to guess more accurately in the future.