I love words. I love learning new words. Have you ever stopped to think about how we use words, even when we are not talking? If you are reading this blog you are engaging with words, if you are thinking thoughts then you are usually thinking in words. Words are vital for us to think, reason, solve problems and ultimately communicate effectively with others.
I love helping adults and children expand their knowledge of words. Building a strong vocabulary is critical to communication and ultimately academic success. The more we know and understand about words, the more we can efficiently store those words in our vocabulary. Efficient storage (also known as semantic organization) will help us to access words quickly when we need them for speaking, understanding what we hear and understanding what we read.
Recently I read an e-newsletter article by Jane Straus from GrammarBook.com, which reminded me why we all need to continue growing our vocabulary. She used the example of how vocabulary knowledge can help us be serious readers vs intuitive readers.
At Newcastle Speech Pathology we support all readers to become ‘serious’ readers. We work to develop your individual reading and learning skills regardless of current abilities. We understand that strong language skills and a robust vocabulary are essential for literacy success.
Read on to find out why Jane Straus also encourages us to ‘never stop learning’. What new word have you learned this week?
Arcane words and the “intuitive” reader
Serious readers, when they are reading literature they consider important, routinely look up any words they do not know.
But there are also “intuitive” readers, who consider themselves of sufficient wisdom to figure out a word just by reading the sentence and trusting their life experience and common sense to grasp the writer’s meaning. Today we will try to expose this policy as wishful thinking.
The three examples below are sentences you might find in print or online. Each contains a possibly unfamiliar word which, if misinterpreted, sabotages the meaning of the sentence.
• On a blistering August morning we came upon a 1960 Buick coruscating in the sun.
Understanding coruscating is the key to understanding the sentence. The Intuitive Reader ponders the word, with its echoes of corrosion and rust, and concludes that the car was falling apart. A reader’s first impressions matter, and this reader now is picturing a broken-down old wreck. But coruscating means “sparkling.” In fact, the car in the tale has been lovingly maintained by its owner. The reader now has a distorted view of the author’s main character, and may well go on to misread the intent of the story.
• What we heard on the demo sounded like a bashful lad with a limpid voice.
The Intuitive Reader doesn’t have to look up limpid to know that the kid on the demo can forget about a singing career. You can’t make it in the music business with a “limpid” singing voice, for what else could limpid mean but “weak” or “lifeless”? But the reader has it wrong: a limpid voice is pure and crystal clear. The kid’s future looks bright. If he can sing in tune, and his material is strong, he could go places.
• The man was in a parlous condition, and a lot of his friends headed for the exit.
Intuitive Readers know what parlez-vous françaismeans, and they know that parlance is a style or manner of speaking. So to them, this sentence might appear to tell a cautionary tale about a “parlous” fellow who gets a proper comeuppance for hogging the conversation one time too many. But in reality the situation is far darker: parlous means “dire” or “precarious.” This man is in trouble. He deserves our compassion, and his fair-weather friends deserve our scorn.
Thanks to the internet, it has never been easier or less time-consuming to look words up. Those who refuse to do so are in constant danger of missing the point.
Written by Alison Speech Pathologist Newcastle Speech Pathology