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How to Learn and Improve”Reading Comprehension”? (II)

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By Paul Lim | Kaplan SAT & ACT Trainer

In the previous article, I have talked about “extensive reading” and how it can greatly improve vocabulary and comprehension over the longer run.  But the question that most parents ask is: “How can my child improve reading in the short term?  His test is coming up next week!”  In order to answer that question, we have to settle for the second best: intensive reading and a moderate amount of cramming.

When time is not on our side, we have to work harder and try to cram as much as we can into our brains.  I am not saying that this is the best way to learn; what I am saying is that sometimes, this is a necessary evil.  In order to do that, we have to use a dictionary extensively.  Most of my students know that I do not recommend online dictionaries like Google or dictionary.com.  I also do not recommend dictionaries like Oxford or Cambridge because both use difficult words to define simple words.  These are basically not helpful to most students.  But the worst case is to use English-Chinese dictionaries or Google Translate, because they are fundamentally detrimental to our learning of English.  The reason is very simple: the more we use translation, say English into Chinese, the more Chinese we learn.  The more we use these tools, the more English words become meaningless and the more we need to translate them into Chinese.  In a way, this method actually causes students to learn more Chinese than English.  And on top of that, they have to spend more time in reading because they have added one more process, translation, into it.  This is one of the main reasons why many students are not able to finish the reading comprehension test within time limit.

I recommend using a dictionary app (Merriam-Webster Learner’s Dictionary) rather than a paper dictionary for many reasons.  Firstly, most student don’t know how to use a paper dictionary anymore.  One of my previous students was spending a lot of time trying to figure out the alphabetic sequence of words that it took him 2 to 3 minutes just to look up a word.  Needless to say, this is a big waste of time.  Secondly, students these days may know the words, but they don’t know how to pronounce them.  This is a major defect in our education, because reading out loud is not commonly practiced in schools anymore.  A good dictionary app is able to pronounce the words accurately so that they can learn both the meaning and the pronunciation of the words.  And last but not least, the dictionary app provides a “recent” list, the list of words that you have looked up, so that students can go back to the list from time to time and review them.  It should be abundantly clear that a dictionary app has many advantages over its paper counterpart.

With a good dictionary app and appropriate reading materials, the students can go through the reading materials slowly and intensively, under the guidance of a teacher or tutor.  In this way, they can pick up vocabulary words; understand the meaning of phrases, sentences, and passages; pronounce them correctly; and will be able to incorporate them into their own writing when the time comes.  A good dictionary app is a must-have tool that has no apparent drawbacks.

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Mr. Paul Lim
Kaplan SAT and ACT Trainer
MBA, National University of Singapore
B.Sc., Harvey Mudd College
TBE
TESOL

• Over 15+ years of experience in teaching SAT and ACT
• Graduated from a prestigious U.S. college
• Proven record in helping students achieve a perfect subject section score of 800
• Author of a book on effective learning strategies for mastering vocabulary

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