In the last blog, we read how to learn words through their origin stories. In this blog, we go back to the most basic method of learning words: through the context they appear in.

I was reading the book ‘The Secret’ by the Indian Spiritual Guru Osho. The first chapter of the book deals with the most basic question concerning human beings: ‘Who Am I?’. The arguments and reasoning provided for the empirical existence of I make it an interesting read, on the philosophical level. But there was another level that I got interested in.

The picture above is highlights my curiosity in the form of the yellow ellipse. During the course of 3 pages, the word indubitable made 6 appearances and even without looking up the dictionary, one became indubitably sure of its meaning. You can guess its meaning from the previous line as well. Just for academic purposes, I will mention a couple of lines from the book:

  1. The great European philosopher, Descartes, says, “The only indubitable fact about life is that I am.”
  2. The only indubitable phenomenon is my own existence. That cannot be doubted. Why cannot you doubt it?- because even to doubt it. It will be needed.
  3. And we don’t know who we are. The only indubitable fact has not been discovered; and we have been struggling to discover many dubitable things.

If one has to read these lines in a space of 5 minutes, one is sure to remember indubitable forever. There is absolutely NO DOUBT in my mind. Is there any in yours?

As you would have guessed, indubitable comes from the same root as doubt, and means something that cannot be doubted.

The example above shows the power of contextual derivation of meanings: this is probably the most used method of learning words, especially intrinsically. How many of us open up the dictionary every time we encounter a new word? I am sure the answer will not be more than 25% because we always trust our mind to find the meaning through the context the word appears in.

But how does one use this method?  How does one learn more and more words using this method?

Well, the age old advice to learn language: READ more, the more you READ, the greater number of CONTEXTS you encounter, the greater number of CONTEXTS you encounter a word, the greater the chances that you will LEARN it.

My advice: start using a vocab-notebook, note down the word with the abbreviated context it appears in and every time you meet the word again, go back and make a small note with regards to the new usage the word appears in. Do this exercise about 3 times for a word and you should have learned the word for life.

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