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Nov 19, 2018

Why It Is Wrong to Frequently Visit a Dictionary for the Meanings of New Words While Reading a Passage

No one can deny the fact that anyone who wants to be successful in learning the English Language needs a good English dictionary. Such a dictionary should be a source of information – information that is not generally available in grammar books. It should not only contain a list of words and their meaning, but also a lot of information that can help a learner to speak and write good English.
Why It Is Wrong to Frequently Visit a Dictionary for the Meanings of New Words While Reading a Passage
In order to use a word correctly, the reader needs to know how to link it with other words in a sentence. He should also know the structures that often precede or follow it, and whether it is formal or informal. This will help him to choose what word is appropriate for a particular context. The dictionary is, therefore, an invaluable aid to reading as well as writing skills.

If the meaning of a particular word in a passage impedes the overall comprehension of the main ideas presented in it, then a dictionary should be used. Most teachers must have observed a widespread tendency among their students to attack a new passage by reading it word by word, stopping to reach for a dictionary whenever they come across a word they do not know. This is a wrong approach; the dictionary should be used as a last resort. The main objective of reading a passage is not to define specific words but to understand the ideas and concepts of the passage. The frequent use of a dictionary tends to focus the reader’s attention on words when he should be concentrating on understanding the main ideas of the passage. Efficient reading implies obtaining the greatest amount of information from the passage in the shortest time possible. The frequent use of a dictionary takes too much time – time that can better be employed in getting an overall understanding of the passage.


Instead of turning to the last resort, the reader should continue reading. Very often, the meaning of an unfamiliar word can be guessed from the context in which it is used. The passage may give a definition, cite examples or describe the circumstances surrounding the use of such a word well enough for him to know what it means. After reading the whole passage, the reader may realize that he has understood the important ideas presented without knowing the meaning of every word. If, after reading the entire passage, the reader is still unable to guess the meaning of a word from the context, then he should study the structure of the word. The word may be a compound word which, when broken into its component parts, can be easily understood.

If, after exhausting these approaches, the reader still does not understand the meaning of a word, and if this word is vital to the comprehension of the whole passage, then and only then, should he refer to a dictionary.

WAEC, 2010.

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