We must get at its exact meaning, and try to understand why the author uses it. A good author uses a word in a certain place because no other word will do in that place. Poets do not throw in a few words just to fill out the line.
The second rule is : Do some hard reading every day.
Besides reading for pleasure, we must do a little reading regularly that makes us ask, What does the author mean? This constitutes the digging and delving for culture.
The third rule is : Seek the pictures the author saw as he worked.
When the picture is not clear, we must read the passage over and over again until it is clear. We cannot afford to be cowardly and run away from this. It is calling to us to stand firm and get what belongs to us: The fourth rule is: Do not skip the unfamiliar words.
We must look them up in the dictionary.
If we have nO dictionary we can go to the nearest library and consult one, or ask a friend, or write to a newspaper that gives informa tion.
The following sentence shows how readily a picture in the author's mind is reflected to our own : "The man fell from a fifth-story window, struck an awning, and escaped with only a broken arm." All the facts that are told in this sentence spring at once to the mind as we read it. We are satisfied with the exactness of the informa tion, and we can see 'what happened.
And yet there is little we actually know about the matter. For example, we do not know how the man was dressed, out of what particu lar window he fell, whether the man who owned the awning sued for damages, which arm was broken, or what the doctor charged for setting it.
But the writer wished to convey only the general fact ; first, as a report ; second, as a warning to the public that there is danger in leaning out of a fifth-story window.
Therefore, the mental image or the picture we see as we read this item is as clear as the writer wished it to be, and it presents to us all we need to know about it.
But here is another sentence : It is written in perfect form. It is well-balanced. It is clear. It states a fact. It states that fact carefully.
"The sporangia, as in all lycopodiales, are solitary and adaxial with reference to the sporophyll." What mental picture does the average reader get from this? To answer this question, let us adopt the very common habit of skipping unfamiliar words. The result is this : The as in all are solitary and with reference to the From the sentence in this form, we under stand at once how necessary word-knowledge is if we are to receive the mental picture that inspires the author to write. And it suggests that there is much well-written English that, if read rightly, will make us busy to our bene fit. It calls upon us to be careful, to ask ques tions, to seek information, to remember, and to enlarge our list of words.
This is a high order of moral, as well as of mental training. Character is developed in a man who does these things. And it is not developed if he leaves them undone.
Hence, what may be called the dictionary habit is distinctly valuable. It practically in sures one's reading. To know the accurate meaning of words clarifies speech, that action which is so common that we scarcely realize it is our most constant habit. In one way and another we are interested in the use of words in every hour of our waking life. They may
be grouped as speech words, reading words, and thought words. Even the vow of silence cannot keep a man from thinking words, for words are the very symbols of our thought action, and we are constantly translating the objects and conditions of the present, past, and future into them.
Here is a concrete illustration of how a man began to use a dictionary. He used it primarily to increase his vocabulary of names for things and actions, and although this incident is con cerned with a German dictionary, the illustra tion is valuable, for it shows what comes from willing and doing.
He was an American in Germany whose business had taken him to Leipzig and Chem nitz, twice annually, for twenty years. Here is his story of the way he began to use and to make a dictionary : In the first few years of my coming here, he said, I engaged an interpreter through whom I transacted my business, particularly with the manufacturers with whom I dealt. I paid him for the use of his tongue, and I suppose he always said what I told him, but some times I had to try it out by the rule of three, to be sure.
One day, it occurred to me that I might be able to master this language myself. So I began to think over in English, what I would say to a manufacturer, in ordinary circum stances, in Leipzig and Chemnitz. I went over the matter carefully, and I decided that a small vocabulary would serve the purpose.
I worked the whole scheme of business con versation out in English, put it into compact form and carried it around with me for such further modification as my next experience in Germany would suggest.
It seemed to me that about four hundred words would suffice. When I returned to America I devoted my spare time to German, first getting the essentials of grammar and pro nunciation from a conversational method teach er. When that was accomplished I handed him the business phrase book I had formulated and requested him to work it into the lessons. As my facility in conversation increased I began to practice with my teacher in buying and sell ing goods. We did a great business.
To aid my memory I made a vest-pocket dictionary out of an indexed memorandum book and wrote in it my speaking vocabulary. I had a wider reading knowledge of German after two years or so than I had of spoken German, and I never put a word in my pocket dictionary until I could use it and understand it when used in conversation by others.
This speaking vocabulary has now run up to two thousand or more words. I have be come enthusiastic in the study of German; I read a little when I have the spare time, and always on my ocean trips I talk to every one who knows the language, for I recognize that facility comes from ceaseless repetition in the use of tongue and ear.
When a man begins to learn a new language he finds that it is an active, living thing. It is not the words, but the impulse and momen tum of the language that must be mastered. If one who wants to know the language cannot live in Germany he must live in German.
Now I feel quite independent in my small way. I travel and transact my business here with no trouble. I read simple narrative prose readily, and it has added not only a new pleas ure to my life, but a greater outlook.