Using Context to Interpret Common Foreign Words: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Bethany Calderwood

Bethany has taught special education in grades PK-5 and has a master's degree in special education.

English is a language that is constantly changing and growing. One way English expands is by adding words from other languages. In this lesson, you'll learn how to determine the meaning of foreign words using context.

Understanding Context

Katie likes to do puzzles that show a close-up of an image and ask the viewer to guess what it is, like a picture of an orange corner and green streaks. Based on its colors and shapes, Katie identifies the image as a portion of a flower petal surrounded by blades of grass.

Katie uses the context of a picture to identify an object.

Context refers to surroundings. When using context to discover the meaning of unfamiliar words, look at the words, phrases and sentences surrounding the word you don't know. This can be helpful when you read or hear a word from another language.

Using Context to Interpret Words

Katie is reading a story that contains several foreign words. Let's see if we can use context to find out what these words mean following these two steps:

  1. Determine what role the word plays in the sentence, such as an object, descriptor or action.
  2. Look at the surrounding words to determine a meaning that makes sense.

Applying Context: Examples

Example One

''Silence in the stands!'' the announcer bellowed. Judith nudged her best friend Lila and said sotto voce, ''I'm going to win!''

Katie doesn't recognize the word sotto voce. To determine its meaning, she first sees what role the word plays in the sentence. Sotto voce seems to be describing the word ''said.'' Next, she looks at probable meanings. The announcer just requested silence, but Judith is talking anyway. Katie guesses that sotto voce means Judith is talking quietly.

Katie is correct. Sotto voce is an Italian word that means 'in a quiet voice.'

Example Two

''The winner of this year's fashion show will receive a bona fide pair of sunglasses worn by Dolly Parton herself. This is exciting, because last year's winner only got a copy.''

Bona fide is another word that's new to Katie. Again, she starts with rule number one: find the word's role in the sentence. Bona fide is describing the sunglasses. Katie moves on to rule number two: think of a logical meaning.

Last year's winner got a copy of the sunglasses worn by Dolly Parton. However, this year's winner may receive something different, like the real thing. Katie guesses that bona fide means genuine, and she is correct. Bona fide is a Latin word.

Example Three

''This year's winner approached the entire competition with joie de vivre. Through every contest, her excitement was evident. Even offstage, her carefree enjoyment was obvious and contagious. She was a joy to be around.''

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