Myth 5: Guessing words from context is an excellent strategy for learning second language vocabulary.
Using context clues is a reading-improvement strategy but not a vocabulary-improvement strategy. Students often guess the wrong meaning from context and don’t verify their assumption. As good readers, they focus on the general meaning of the passage instead of the meaning of every word, meaning that they ignore new vocabulary words in the passage. At best, students may partially and passively pick up on the meaning of a word from context. This does not lead to retention of that word. Even if learners look it up in the dictionary, the might not retain it. Teachers must call students’ attention to the words in the passage and explicitly teach them the correct meaning. Students will remember the new word by 1) paying attention to words deemed important, 2) marking down new words, and 3) reviewing new vocabulary regularly. Exercises that ask students to guess word meanings from context should be done in class so that the teacher can give immediate feedback.