October 24


How To Understand Vocabulary And Phrases You Don’t Know In English: (Extensive Reading)

According to the Polyglots (the people who can speak more than two languages) once you learn the first 1000 most common words and know how to use them, you will understand around 70-80% of English. (Fluent Forever)

The 2000 most common words will get you to around 90% of a normal conversation.

5000 of the most common words will give you around a 95% understanding (Fluent In 3 Months)

12,000 words, which is what you are recommended to go to university with will only give you a 97% understanding of a normal conversation.

What this means is that you will never understand 100% of English. 

This is why one of the most important skills you need to master is to use what you know and the context to understand what you don't know.

Native speakers also use this skill for speaking to each other with informal English.

What we are going to do in this article is give you an activity that will help you practice and develop this skill.

This article is  designed for intermediate and above and is not designed to teach you new vocabulary.

For activities focusing on building your vocabulary then check out our articles on...

How Do I Use What I Know To Understand A Word That I Don't Know?

I'm going to use an example here to make things easier, and because most people have at least heard of it, I'm going to explain this using Harry Potter.

In the first book/ movie, Harry has to choose a wand.


As he is choosing the wands, there is a lot of descriptions about how the wand is made and what it is made out of.

All the wands are made of different types of wood.


The goal of this activity, is not knowing what Oak is, but knowing that wands are made out of wood, therefore if a wand is made from Oak, then Oak is a type of wood.

What this means is that you don't need to understand 100% of the words that you are reading or listening to, you can just get the general idea.


You don't need to understand everything 100%, this activity is when you are using the context and what you know to get the general idea about what the new words are. 

All you need is enough to continue the conversation. 

Isn't It Better If I Just Learn All Of The Words That I Don't Know?

Have you heard of the IELTS exam?

Well the reading and listening sections are focused around this skill.

The final parts of both the listening and reading are designed using words that you will probably never have heard of.

The skill they want you to be showing here, is your ability to take educated guesses about what you don't know.

Check out some example questions from IELTS exam here.

Even if you do not need the IELTS exam, the fact that this skill is on the exam should indicate that this is an important skill to master.


This skill is an important one to master and you can see how important it is because there are specific parts of the IELTS test, in the later part of the reading and listening that are specifically designed to test this skill.

How Do I Practice This English Skill And Why Do I Need To Read?

Firstly, we recommend doing this activity with some kind of reading or text simply to make things easier.

We don't recommend that you do this activity only with listening because it is more difficult to check if you are correct.

We are going to give you three different ways to do this.

One is flexible  enough that you can adapt this to any topic you are interested in.

The other two are a little more specialized  but are still extremely useful to most students.


The activity we have made to practice and develop this skill is easier to do with reading because you can use the text to check what you are studying is correct.

Only listening, with no text is possible, but not recommended.

Like How We Teach And Want To Study With Us?

All our students get free transcripts to improve their listening speed when they study. 

The First Method Uses Books (Preferably On The Kindle)

First we recommend you choose a book you are interested in.

Try to use novels rather than academic books because we have found that stories are much easier to follow using this activity.

The book we will be using in this example is The Hunger Games.


Tip: We also recommend that you use young adult novels for this activity because the language is much  simpler but the stories still have adult themes and specialized words in them, which is much closer to most conversations that you will be having.

 To check out some of the best sellers click here.

Step By Step Guide For Extensive Reading

One: Read between five to ten pages of the book depending on the difficulty and note down or underline the unknown words that you have.

Do not look up the new words yet, but note down the frequency of the new words and how often they appear in the text.

Two: Then you need to write a summary about what was happening in these pages, nothing too detailed just the main events and the key points.

No less than 50 but no more than 100 words (you still need to practice expressing yourself, but anything more defeats the point of the activity).

Any unknown words at this point you need to try and guess their meaning, by using the context around the word. 

Example: Hunger Games Page One 

When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim's warmth but finding only the rough canvas  cover of the mattress. She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with her mother. Of Course, she did. This is the day of the reaping

I prop  myself up on one elbow. There's enough light in the bedroom to see them. My little sister, Prim curled up on her side, cocooned  in my mothers body, their cheeks pressed together. In sleep, my mother looks younger, still worn but not so beaten-down. Prims face is as fresh as a raindrop, as lovely as the primrose  for which she was named. My mother was beautiful once, too. Or so they tell me.

Three: Once you have your first summary, then you can look up the new words.

Tip: If a word keeps appearing in the text then I would probably turn this into a flashcard and use spaced repetition to help you practice this word.

Four: Once you have an understanding of the unknown words, read again and write a new summary.

Once you have your second summary, compare this to your first summary.

What did you get correct and what did you get incorrect.

Why Do We Need This On The Kindle?

Do you want to improve your reading speed and your listening speed?

If you have a kindle then you can add the audio to the book.

Check this out.                                


If you have the audio then you can change the activity a little to work on your listening.


How Does The Activity Change With Audio?

The first part of the activity does not change.

  • Read 5 to 10 pages
  • Don't look up the new words
  • Write a summary of around 50 to 100 words.

The second part is when the audio is added.

Don't read, but put your finger on the page and follow at the same speed as the audio.

If you have the kindle this is already done for you.

What this does is increases your listening speed and your listening comprehension at the same time.


  • Choose a novel that you like, young adult books are recommended.
  • Read five to ten pages and underline the words that you don't understand, but don't look up the new words yet.
  • Note how often the unknown words appear in the text, the more often the word the more likely it is you will need to learn the word by heart. 
  • Write a summary about what was happening in the pages that you read (between 50 to 100 words).
  • Look up the new words. 
  • Read again and write one more summary.
  • Compare your first summary to your second summary. 

The Second Way To Practice Listening Comprehension: Using YouTube (Ted-talks and Stand-up Comedians)

Firstly, you will need the transcripts for the video that you are watching, which you can order here (Go transcript).

You can use YouTube for this activity, however, because we are only focusing on your listening for this activity we recommend you pick something like a TEDTalk or a stand-up comedian.


Because they stay in the same place and the environment around them does not change much.

You won't have the added benefits of location and environment to help you understand what they are talking about, you have to focus on improving your listening. 


You have to focus on your listening and only your listening.

However, we know that this is difficult to do especially when you are encountering a lot of new words and this can lead you to feeling overwhelmed. 

So if the TEDTalks and comedians are feeling too advanced and you want to focus on improving your listening speed for more everyday conversational English check out All Ears English


Note: If you want to improve your listening ability then you will need to use the kindle and buy the audio. 

Follow along with the audio and text, at the same speed as the audio and write a summary about what you hear. 

Only use the text to help with new words. 

Studying With Tedtalks:

First, with Ted talks I would recommend you download the free app TEDtube


This give you all the transcripts for free to some of the most popular TED talks and gives you the same ability as the kindle to work on your listening speed.

The activity steps to the activity with TedTalks are exactly the same as the one above.

Why Use TED And Not Books. 

TED is factual, but it is given through a presentation, which requires a certain level of storytelling and presentation skills.

Use TED talks to practice listening comprehension for more academic topics and how to use these topics in everyday speech.


Although this activity we recommend using with stories, TED talks because they are presentations is a great way to practice this skill with more academic language. 

To get access to the transcripts for the TED Talks download the application TED Tube. 

To study with TED, use the same steps as you are studying with the kindle and audio.

Study with Comedians: Recommended For Upper Intermediate

We talked about the stages of learning English and how at the upper intermediate level you need to start focusing a lot on the culture and humor of English because without this knowledge a lot of the meaning will be lost.

TV shows will give you a lot of this knowledge, but we recommend using a combination of different activities with them, which you can find here.

Stand up comedians are useful for this activity because they are telling stories, which makes it easier for you to follow and since they are only staying in the same place like a TEDtalk, this forces you to improve your listening comprehension.

This is one of the best ways you can practice your listening comprehension for informal English and slang words.

Step By Step Studying English With Stand Up Comedians 

  • You need the transcripts for this (this will be difficult)
  • Stand up comedians are only really recommended for upper intermediate
  • Listen to the video and follow along with the transcripts for around 2 minutes.
  • Stop the video and underline the new words
  • Write a summary between 50 to 100 words about what you think was happening
  • Look up the new words (use the urban dictionary for informal words)
  • Listen to the same part of the video and continue following with the transcripts
  • Write a new summary and compare this to your first summary

If you want help and recommendations about which stand up comedians we would recommend you start here and work your way through this YouTube Channel.


Stand up comedians are recommended for upper intermediate students because they focus a lot on the informal language and cultural knowledge. 

You will have to order the transcripts for the videos you want, but by working with your friends this does not have to be too expensive. 

  • Listen to the video and follow along with the transcripts for around 2 minutes.
  • Stop the video and underline the new words
  • Write a summary between 50 to 100 words about what you think was happening
  • Look up the new words
  • Listen to the same part of the video and continue following with the transcripts
  • Write a new summary and compare this to your first summary


Improving your listening comprehension is one of the most difficult things that you can do because it requires enough of a background knowledge of the topic to accurately guess the general meaning of new words. 

 If you want more details and specific information about how to increase your listening comprehension, then you can book a free trail class with us. 

Free Transcripts Included For Students

Students who choose to study with us will get transcripts free transcripts to improve their listening speed.  


Improve Listening

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