If you are preparing for an exam that has vocabulary in its syllabus, you must read a newspaper daily. Inculcating this habit will help you go a long way, not just in the exam but in life itself.
If you are still stuck on the age-old methods of cramming vocab through rote-learning or using mnemonics to memorize words, you need to upgrade yourself. There’s a new kid on the block — Contextual learning through English newspaper.
Reading English newspapers daily is the single most valuable habit which can get you through any English exam. After all, it’s the skill that got me, a quintessential Hindi medium student, through the SSC CGL exam in my first attempt. But that requires method, technique and a lot of hard work.
🌳 Benefits of reading a newspaper daily
When you start reading an English newspaper daily, you start to see things improve dramatically. Some of the most prominent benefits you see are –
💯 You perform well in the exam
Prepositions, collocations and multiple meanings of words are the favorite traps of examiners. When you learn words in context, you learn not just their meaning, but also the prepositions with which they are used, their collocations and their alternate meanings.
Let’s examine them one by one.
✅ You learn Prepositions
Many exams including CAT, SAT, GRE, SSC and IBPS PO ask questions related to prepositions in the form of fill-in-the-blanks. Take this question, for example. –
A. The Delhi govt is gloating ___ its decision of banning direct as well as surrogate liquor ads.
If you have encountered the word gloat in your reading, you won’t find it difficult. On the other hand, if you have only crammed words, you will likely not know its answer. The answer to this question is 2 – over.
Let’s take one more example—
B. For a whole day he sat alone, ___ by despair.
The only hint you have is the preposition after the blank space – by. If you know which of the options is immediately followed by by, you can determine its answer.
The prepositions used with the above four options are –
- peeved at
- stunned by
- extricated from
- engaged in
- thrilled with or thrilled at
It is evident that the 2nd option – stunned – is the answer.
✅ You learn phrasal verbs
This is an extension of the previous one since phrasal verbs also have a preposition associated with them. Take this sentence for example –
C. War broke ____ between them.
Again, it would be difficult to answer these questions if you haven’t learned words with their usage. The answer to this question is 3 – out.
✅ You learn collocations
Collocations are the group of words that are frequently used together. For eg., We use heavy rain and thick fog but not thick rain or heavy fog even though the meaning conveyed would have been similar to the one intended.
Collocations are asked in the exam in the form of fill-in-the-blanks, sentence improvement and cloze test. If you haven’t read enough content in English, chances are you wouldn’t get them right.
✅ You learn all meanings of a word
Most of the words in English have more than one meaning.
Often, they are the figurative senses of a word but sometimes they take on completely different meanings based on the context in which they are used. Even a simple word like take can be used as a synonym for words like steal, seize and capture.
🌳 You learn words for life
This is a huge plus point. When you learn words through a newspaper story, your brain automatically creates links and words are entrenched in your mind forever.
Sample this story which I read in the ‘The Hindu’ newspaper about a decade ago, in 2012–
In a gory incident, a child fell into a cauldron of boiling oil at a local sweets shop.
[Cauldron = कढ़ाई ]
The word of interest here is gory. In just one reading of the sentence, we can glean the following information about this word –
- Without even referring to the dictionary, from the context alone, we can be sure that the word gory qualifies incidents that are extremely unpleasant or horrifying.
- It is qualifying a noun – incident, therefore it is an adjective. Again, you don’t need to memorize the part of speech of any of the word since you have seen its usage. You know when and how the word is used.
There are some benefits to this approach —
- As you have seen its usage in a sentence, you don’t need to make your own sentence to fully grasp its meaning.
- You have encountered this word as a part of a newspaper story, therefore there is a strong possibility that you will retain its meaning, just like me, even ten years down the line without even a revision.
The reason for that is that our brains are better adept at remembering elaborate stories than they are at learning individual words in isolation. Therefore, as long as you have this story in your passive memory, this word will remain in your active memory.
🌳 You learn words incredibly fast
As you learn words with the stories, your retention rate will be crazy high for a single reading – close to 90%.
Since the component of revision and mindless cramming is entirely obviated in this approach, you will build vocab at a mind-boggling rate. I am talking about 50 words, even more per day. At a retention rate of 90%, this translates to 45 words committed to memory forever, at once.
Granted, learning so many words in a day is not an easy task. It requires unwavering concentration and deep focus for about 4-5 hours every day but this is still a better approach than pointless rote-learning and mnemonics.
Many times, it happens that some of the stories are laden with elegant, well-chosen words. Have a look at this story about M S Dhoni –
Mahendra Singh Dhoni played his 200th IPL match yesterday but, _as is his wont, he said that he was oblivious to it and played down the milestone.
This one sentence has four words (& word phrases) that are worth your time. If you can get the meaning of this sentence from its surrounding context, it is easy to work out the meanings of all the underlined vocab.
The meaning of the sentence in Hindi is – “महेंद्र सिंह धोनी ने कल अपना दो सौवां IPL मैच खेला, परन्तु जैसा की उनकी आदत है, उन्होंने कहा कि वो इस बात से अनभिज्ञ थे और उन्होंने इस उपलब्धि को ज्यादा महत्व नहीं दिया |”
From its meaning, I hope it is easy to figure out the meaning of individual words and word phrases.
- Wont = Habit, आदत
- Oblivious = Not knowing, In the dark, Unaware of something, अनभिज्ञ
- Play down = To give little or no importance to something = downplay, किसी बात को ज्यादा तवज्जो न देना |
- Milestone = An achievement, उपलब्धि
For an average student, this sentence is a gold mine. By just single reading of the sentence, you bagged four words that too in your active vocabulary.
🌳 You commit words to your active memory, not in the passive one
When you learn words with their sentence, in their natural environment, you commit them to your active memory, meaning that you can form your own sentences.
Active memory is the bank of words that you understand and use while speaking or writing. Passive vocabulary, on the other hand, is the words that you understand but cannot use.
Needless to say, active memory is indispensable for speaking and writing.
How do you think I learnt to write English articles? There was a time when I couldn’t understand the headline of a news report let alone write lengthy articles. But I ploughed on, learning words through newspapers and now I have enough confidence that I can write lengthy articles in a jiffy.
That pretty much sums up my arguments. I hope I succeeded in convincing you to read an English newspaper daily.