Complicated but easy. Simple but hard.

When I teach the reading section of the TOEFL, I sometimes find it surprising to see my students understand some of the difficult ideas expressed in very complex sentences. They are adept at “decomposing” the entire sentence into some meaningful chunks and putting them together to understand the whole.

However, I find it even unbelievable to see my students struggle with the interpretation of a rather easy sentence. The whole sentence is made up of all those words you will have learned one year after you start to learn English.

That’s probably a common phenomenon throughout the world. When you bump into a very difficult word like “egalitarian” you just look it up in your electronic dictionary. Very easy. Straightforward. No trick. But what about “tout”? What about “in”? What about “it”?

The word that doesn’t give you any impact so you need to repeatedly try to remember it intentionally: tout.

The words whose meanings really depend on where in the passage they are used: “in” and “it”.

What if the sentence you are reading consists of only those words? There is no key word –  the word that gives you a general idea of the sentence in one word. Your understanding or interpretation totally relies on the context.

Those are simple English. Many people including experts argue for getting used to simple English, as if it took very little to learn it. On the contrary, my students find simple English very hard, while very complicated English easy to understand.

Simple English is not that simple.


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