It’s hard to fully understand what you’re reading if you don’t understand the words being used in the text.
In this article ill teach you how to read and understand even when you don’t understand some of the words being used.
How to read when you don’t understand the words
One way you can find the meaning of words in text is by using context clues.
Context clues are the hints that the author provides to the reader to make them understand the meaning of a word.
If you have difficulty in reading because you don’t understand the words the best thing to do is look at what comes before a word and after the word as it can provide some hints as to what a specific word means.
Here’s a passage lets now use context to derive the meaning of the word “inevitable”:
“Victory and defeat are what you make of them; it is how you deal with
them that matters. Since defeat is inevitable in life, you must master the art of
losing well and strategically.”
To understand the meaning of the word inevitable let’s take the words surrounding it and the context.
Let’s first look at the word “defeat”.
Defeat is being portrayed as a fact of life. We can notice this by how the author uses “in life” after the word.
Using logic we also can understand the full meaning of the passage because of how words are used and how information is provided.
“You must master the art of losing well and strategically” is a being used a solution to the problem that comes with the statement “since defeat is inevitable in life”.
This alone is enough to make the passage meaningful despite us running into a problem word, which in this case is “inevitable”.
We can look at the words that come after “strategically” which can reveal more useful information to make the puzzle complete.
Deriving meaning from the context in which a word is used in is important because it will make you think and understand words a lot better.
Unlike the casual reader that skim reads just enough to know the basic idea.
Use Root words
Recognizing root words is another effective way you can make educated guesses about the meanings of unfamiliar words.
By definition, root words are the basic building blocks of words.
They are the core part of a word that carries meaning.
Root words are usually derived from Latin or Greek and many English words are formed by adding prefixes and suffixes to the roots.
For example the root word for befriend is “friend” and we all know what that word means.
So let’s look at a brief example of a sentence:
“Had I not befriended the best mechanic in my city, I would have continued to be overcharged for basic work by other mechanics”
If “befriended” is the word we are struggling with then we can use its root as well as the context clues surrounding the word.
We already what it means to have a friend.
We can then make an educated guess that “befriend” means becoming friends with somebody because the sentence says the person stopped being overcharged for basic work after befriending a mechanic.
There are other examples of root words that all could provide some help when looking to understand heavy words such as:
Bio – Life (e.g. biology …. The study of life)
Tele – Distance (e.g. telecommunication …. Transfer of communication signals over a distance)
Use a dictionary
Some people find it hard to understand some books even with a dictionary handy because difficult words can complicate the meaning of text.
Most people think having a dictionary somehow shields them from low comprehension.
That is not always the case; knowing the definition of words is only half the battle, understanding what is being said is the other half.
You should therefore use context clues to really try to grasp what the author is trying to communicate to you in addition to using a dictionary.
I have written about how to read complex books and anyone looking to improve their reading skills should take some time to read that article.
A dictionary can be very helpful in understanding what is being read if it is used with backup tools such as context clues and knowing root words.
You also need to be resourceful in researching and looking into what you’re reading so you get a better angle on the author’s motive behind the work.
The forward approach
The forward approach is a lot like context clues however it takes it to a whole new level.
You simply continue reading while taking note of words that you don’t understand and then pausing after reading a complete thought and see whether you can try to make sense of the word or not.
The idea here is that when you continue reading you gain more and more insight into what the author is trying to say which means you can skip the difficult words when they don’t make sense at first glance and go for the bigger picture.
Of course this does not always work because some books are packed with too many of these complex words that could stand in your way.
Aside from that, the forward approach can be a good strategy if used in moderation.
It can be paired with repetition.
I know what you’re thinking; why should I have to read something over and over again to understand it?
The answer is simple, repetition is how you train your brain to focus and pay attention to the information it’s receiving.
This can be a great way to read books that have dense words.
A productive way to train your comprehension is to read topics widely.
Reading widely on a specific topic makes you knowledgeable about it. As a result, any additional material you read on the topic will be easier to digest.
You can also read books on various topics to learn how words are used in different genres of writing to express meaning.
That exposure to nuance in language is very important in the development of a reader.
So read as widely as you can.
Harness the power of research
Most people give up too quickly when it comes to reading complex material packed with words they don’t understand. That is not the way to go about it.
You should take a lot of notes while reading and have a separate sheet for words and concepts you do no understand.
Later, you can research and find the answers to questions by consulting people, using the internet or going to the library.
Always think of difficulties as opportunities for learning and you’ll change the way you go about doing things.
Break down sentences
An effective way you can read better is to break down paragraphs; sentence by sentence.
You can then go ahead and use whatever resource such as a dictionary, google etc. to figure out the meaning of each sentence before proceeding to the next.
Once you understand the meaning of a sentence you can then formulate it in your own words and see if you have really understood.
Most of the times handling difficult words like this will result in better understanding.