Repeat, clarify, explain, picture
This week it’s my turn to be your guide to the Bangkok Post. In past weeks you have learned a lot about the way we gather and write the news at the Bangkok Post. Now I want to show you how to take advantage of our style of writing to guess the meanings of words you might not know. Hopefully, this week’s lesson will save you a lot of time you would otherwise spend opening your dictionary.
Terry Fredrickson Manager, Educational Services|
As you have seen by now, the main points in news stories are repeated several times. They are briefly summarised in the headlines and first paragraphs to help our many busy readers quickly find the stories that interest them. This is followed by a more detailed treatment of the story for people who want a deeper understanding.
This style of writing offers some big advantages to people who are learning English. First of all you get several chances to understand a story’s main points. As you will see, it also means that you often get more than one chance to guess the meanings of important words as well.
Repetition can be boring. News writers avoid this problem by coming up with fresh ways of saying the same thing. One of their most common devices is the use of synonyms words with the same or nearly the same meanings. Recognising these synonyms is one of the most efficient methods you can use for guessing the meanings of unfamiliar words. If you know one of the words in the pair corruption and graft, for example you immediately know the meaning of the other as well, thereby saving a trip to your dictionary.
Let’s try an example from a story which appeared recently in the Bangkok Post. From the headline and the first two sentences, you can easily guess the meaning of the word burglar. Try it.
Burglar picks the wrong address
Rennes, France, AFP
He couldn’t have picked a worse house to rob. A 28-year-old thief on Saturday unwittingly broke into the house of a policeman who had arrested him the previous day in an unrelated case.
Obviously a burglar must be a kind of thief. Later in the story, we find another synonym this time for the word arrested. What is it?
The thief, who had been nabbed and released by the officer the previous day for shoplifting, managed to escape but was arrested a few hours later while enjoying coffee at an outdoor cafe in the town centre.
Even if there is no direct synonym for a unfamiliar word, its meaning often becomes clear as the story continues. Sometimes the story will give specific examples of the word in question. For example, it may become obvious that juvenile delinquents are teenagers who repeatedly break the law.
Words and phrases are also clarified in other ways. Take for example, the phrase gag order in the story below. Can you determine what it must mean?
Gag order lifted in Anwar’s trial
Kuala Lumpur, AFP
The Malaysian judge hearing the second trial of jailed deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim lifted a sweeping gag order yesterday.
"I’ve decided to set aside the order. The order goes against the freedom of speech and the constitution," Justice Ariffin Jaka told the court. "You are free to say what you like but keep it within the limits of the law."
From the judge’s statement, it is clear that a gag order must prevent people from talking about something in this case, a trial. Notice also that lifting the order means setting aside the order so that it is no longer in use.
News writers know that most of their readers are not experts on the subjects they find in the newspaper. For that reason, the writers usually explain technical or scientific terms. Sometimes they do this immediately after the word: "Encephalitis, a viral brain disease spread by mosquitoes, killed 2715 people in India last year."
Other times they add a whole sentence of explanation as is the case with the scientific term "black hole" in the story below.
Huge black hole at galaxy centre
Measuring the solar system’s orbit around the Milky Way Galaxy has provided more evidence that a "supermassive" black hole lies at the galaxy’s centre.
A black hole was once a star that has collapsed on itself and pulls in matter and even light with its gravitational power.
Let’s not forget photographs and their captions. This is often the most painless and effective way of learning new vocabulary. Can you figure out what the word decapitated means from the picture and caption below?
Clearly the heads of the statues were cut off from the rest of the body which is exactly what decapitated means.
Ayutthaya police exhibit the heads of Buddha statues decapitated by thieves from ancient temples in the province. They were among 96 stolen items intercepted by police KOSOL NAKACHOL|
Exercises from the Bangkok Post
The box below contains are wide variety of news stories. In each case, you should be able to guess the meanings of many of the words which might not be familiar to you. Simply follow the instructions as you read.
TV ban on dozing MPs|
Phnom Penh, AFP
The Cambodian government has barred local television crews from filming MPs having a snooze in parliament, Information Minister Lu Laysreng said yesterday.
"We have released advice to TV stations not to film sleeping MPs, because it looks bad for the whole country and the institution of parliament is insulted," the minister argued.
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Parking of refuse trucks irks teachers
- A synonym for dozing in the story is ___________.
- A short phrase with the same meaning is _______ ____ ________.
- Use a word from the story to complete this sentence: If you put a ban on something it means you have _______ people from doing it.
Teachers and parents yesterday lodged a complaint with a House committee saying the Nonthaburi municipality used a school compound as a depot for refuse trucks.
Apichart Asaphaviriya, the group leader and chairman of the Parents and Teachers Association of Nonthaburi Kindergarten, lodged the complaint with Kaew Buasuwan, chairman of the House committee on local administration.
Mr Apichart said students and teachers are suffering from inhaling foul smells emitted by at least 60 garbage trunks which parked in the school compound.
* * * * * * *
- A synonym for refuse in the story is _________. (Incidentally, this meaning of refuse is pronounced with the stress on the first syllable REfyus unlike the verb reFYUZE.
- If something irks you, it means that you are happy / unhappy about it.
- Where are trucks and buses kept when they are not in use? At a ________.
||People scramble to get out of the way as two bulls chase the runners into the bull ring in Pamplona.
Six hurt in fiesta’s inaugural bull run
Six people were slightly injured yesterday when they were trampled in the first bull run of one of Spain’s most famous annual fiestas, San Fermin.
* * * * * * *
New cigarette smuggling scam
- From the picture and caption, explain what the word scramble means.
- A synonym in the story for the adjective inaugural is _______.
- The word trampled most likely means: a) shouted at b) frightened c) stepped on d) stupid
Lucrative market for returning exports
Thai-made cigarettes which are smuggled back into the country are popular among illegal traders in border provinces because the products yield high returns.
A source from the Special Branch police said traders were joining forces with influential people in border areas nation-wide to smuggle cigarettes, exported by the Thailand Tobacco Monopoly, back into the country for high profits.
According to the source, such cigarettes cost only 7-8 baht a pack when they reach markets in neighbouring countries because they are not subject to normal duties, such as excise and customs taxes. Such duties are imposed on domestically sold cigarettes which are priced at 29-30 baht a pack.
The big price gap encourages illegal traders to buy Thai cigarettes in neighbouring countries, especially Burma and Malaysia, bring them to small factories near the border, put them in fake packs each of which costs only one baht and looks like those sold in Thailand, smuggle them back into the country, and sell them at 25 baht a pack.
- Smuggling involves…
- illegally taking something from one country to another
- avoiding the payment of taxes
- both a and b.
- neither a nor b
- A scam involves
- producing something very cheaply
- buying something very cheaply
- trading with people from another country
- cheating in order to earn money
* * * * * * *
Scientists hide messages in DNA microdots
- A phrase from the story which is a synonym for lucrative is ______ ______ ________.
- What do the synonyms in number 12 mean?
Old steganography merged with hi-tec
Future spies may need a degree in molecular biology to keep up with the newest secret coding technique devised by scientists in the United States.
James Bond and Mata Hari could have learned a thing or two from researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.
They combined DNA technology with the ancient concept of steganography concealing a message within a large number of similar objects and reduced it all to the size of a photographic microdot, similar to the ones used by German spies during World War Two to transmit secret messages.
14. From the story, explain what steganography means.
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Probe on entrance exam fiasco
PM orders ministries to ferret out source of huge miscalculation
On orders of the prime minister, the Education and University Affairs ministries will set up a committee to investigate this year’s failure of the new entrance examination system.
Deputy Education Minister Arkhom Engchuan said the prime minister demanded at yesterday’s cabinet meeting that the two ministries form a panel to find those responsible for the miscalculation of Mathayom 6 students’ grade point average (GPA) and percentile ranking (PR) for more than 300 high schools nation-wide, which had led to the cancellation of the new entrance exam system in the 1999 academic year.
* * * * * * *
Party given two weeks to settle feud
- The word probe is a noun so there is no direct synonym in the story. But there is a verb in the story that can be changed into a noun to become a synonym. What is the verb and what is its noun form? (Incidentally, the word probe is one of the most common headline words to appear in the Bangkok Post.)
- To ferret out means to _______.
- A fiasco is a very bad __________.
The cabinet reshuffle was postponed for at least two weeks yesterday as the Democrats hope time might heal the Social Action Party rift.
Sanan Kachornprasart, the Democrat secretary-general, said yesterday he would ask coalition partners to give SAP rival factions a chance to iron out their differences and stay.
Maj-Gen Sanan had acted as a go-between to end the feud over cabinet posts between an alliance of Rakkiat Sukthana and Somsak Thepsuthin and the faction of Suvit Khunkitti, who quit as leader before quitting the cabinet this week.
Maj-Gen Sanan invited the rivals for talks on Tuesday and asked them to reconcile but made clear the party would be dropped if the row persisted.
- The word feud has two synonyms in the story, _______ and _______.
- Even though you may not be familiar with any of the three synonyms, it is clear from that story that they refer to a ________.
- If the two sides can settle a feud, they reconcile. There is a four-word phrase in the story that is a synonym for reconcile. Use it to complete this sentence: If they reconcile, it means that they will _____ _____ _____ _________.
Guessing the meanings of new words from context could be the most important skill you learn this term. It is important, therefore, that you practice this skill often. One of the best ways is to use the news stories in the Bangkok Post. Skim through the news pages, looking through the headlines and subheadlines for words and phrases that you don’t know. Then try to figure out their meanings from the rest of the story. You’ll be surprised how often this is possible. At the very least, you should get a general idea of what they mean. Still, don’t expect 100 percent success. In other words, don’t throw away your dictionaries. They will always remain a valuable tool.
This lesson is designed to help your students learn to become "word detectives" by using context to guess the meanings of unfamiliar words. Because news stories contain considerable redundancy (repetition), they are among the best reading materials for learning and practising this skill.
Detective work can be fun, especially when it is done in small groups. I suggest you use that technique when your students work through the exercise.
Make sure you stress to your students how useful the guessing skill can be in reading news stories. It is far less effective for more difficult texts like magazine stories, novels, or even some newspaper features. These types of writing contain far less repetition and they also tend to have a higher proportion of unknown words, often making guessing an impossible task.
Next week: Summary writing from an expert
•This lesson was prepared by Acharn Terry Fredrickson, BA Stanford, MA (TESL) University of Minnesota, Manager of the Educational Services Department at the Bangkok Post and general editor of this programme.