Video Transcript 11

In this video we'll look at what you can do to make difficult written texts easier to understand. It is unlikely you will be writing too much yourself for Kalahari students to read, but if you do, be aware of the various difficulties we have discussed earlier and try to avoid them.

A much more likely scenario is that you will need to explain texts written by someone else, including practice exam questions. If it is just a single word that is causing difficulty, you should draw pictures and diagrams if possible, or use the explanation methods that were described in the last video.

But often the difficulty in understanding written texts goes beyond failure to understand single words or phrases, but is because of the complex structure of the sentences. Let's look at a short passage from the grade 10 World History textbook about emancipation in the USA, which is written in very complex syntax.

Imagine that you are working with a group of Kalahari students taking history class, and you need to prepare a mini-lesson to help them understand the text. Pause the video while you analyse the text for its likely difficulties and how you could help the students overcome them.

Ok, to start with, we should note this text is based in a cultural assumption that women should enjoy the same rights as men, which is not shared across all cultures. This might be an interesting starting point for discussion.

That aside, let's look at vocabulary and note that there are no idioms or phrasal verbs - which we have identified before as causing significant problems. But there are general academic words such as 'disperse', 'obstacle', 'stereotyped' and other words such as 'bigotry' and 'acculturated' that are not common to everyday spoken language. All these are likely to be difficult. There are also two polysemous words to be aware of. It is likely that students will have first encountered the word 'board' as in 'blackboard' or 'bulletin board', and not with its meaning here as a group of governors. Similarly, 'grave' is likely to be known as a burial place, and not as meaning serious.

Another significant difficulty is the complex syntax of the text. The first sentence contains a very long noun phrase as its subject before we come to the main verb 'faced'. The second sentence starts with a long dependent clause before we come to the main subject 'women'. Both of these grammatical features, long noun phrases and postponement of the main subject, make texts difficult.

So having established the reasons why the text is difficult, let's consider how to make it more comprehensible to the Kalahari students. The first thing you can do is to identify the key words. Together these will provide an essential summary of the passage. In the first sentence, the key words are the noun subject 'women', the verb 'faced' and the three objects 'obstacles', 'humiliation', and 'bigotry'.

In the second sentence the essential words are the subject noun 'women' and the verb 'hesitated'. You can build up an understanding of the rest of the passage just based on these key words

As a general rule, the important words in a text will always be nouns and verbs. Other parts of speech such as adverbs and adjectives are of secondary importance in establishing the key ideas.

For our second example of difficult written text we'll take a very brief look at another question from the mathematics text book. Pause the video to analyse it yourself before listening to the discussion.

Actually there is not a lot to say about this except that it makes the cultural assumption that the student knows the rules of rugby; that a try is equivalent to a goal in soccer but earns three points.

This would not be hard to explain to the Kalahari students. What is hard, however, is being aware of the cultural assumptions you make or are made in written texts and the fact that they not be shared by your students.