To study effectively, you will need to learn and remember technical terms specific to your study. Discover quick rules and common principles that apply to the formation of most technical words in English.
Common components of technical words
Many technical words in English have their origins in Greek and Latin words. They are often made up of several components, and knowing these will help you to remember them or to work out their meaning. Technical terms often use prefixes and suffixes to provide additional information to a word.
Prefix – found at the beginning of a word
Its function is to elaborate, qualify or change the meaning of a word. For example:
|an-||no, not, without||anaerobic||without air|
|hemi-||half||hemisphere||half a sphere|
Suffix – found at the end of a word
It cannot be used alone, but when added after a word it completes the word. Its function is to form or change the meaning of the word.
Suffixes can indicate the type of word, for example ‘communicative’ is an adjective, ‘communication’ is a noun, and ‘communicate’is a verb. They may also describe a state, quality, action or relation. For example:
|-logy||study of||anthropology||study of the human race|
|-er||agent/person||trainer||person who trains|
|-ectomy||cut||appendectomy||removal of appendix|
A base word usually has its own meaning and can stand alone, whereas prefixes and suffixes modify the word. For example, ‘cardiac’ is a base word meaning pertaining to the heart. When the prefix ‘myo’ is placed before it, as in ‘myocardium,’ the meaning can be read as muscle of the heart, or heart muscle.
As each discipline has its own terminology, try to obtain or develop your own comprehensive list of suffixes, prefixes and base words used within your area. If you learn the key prefixes, base words and suffixes for your discipline, you will be able to decode many of the technical terms you meet in your studies.
Noticing common word structures
There are often common ways of forming technical words in a discipline. While there are inconsistencies to general rules, knowing how technical words are usually structured can help you both learn and recall them.
For example, the following are typical word endings that indicate singular or plural.
|Singular||Plural||Example - singular||Example - plural|
|-a||-ae||one vertebra||two vertebrae|
|-on||-a||a protozoon||many protozoa|
|-is||-es||a hypothesis||several hypotheses|
Noticing how technical terms are classified
Each discipline may use its own way or ways of classifying its content, for example by systems, groups, time periods, theories or methods. Whichever way, main themes are often divided into smaller topics, followed by details and examples. The grouping of content usually follows rules or principles specific to the discipline. Knowing how your discipline groups its content helps you to locate technical terms in a meaningful context, making it easier to understand and recall them.
For example, biology uses the following groupings for describing organisms:
Similarly, medicine classifies information into functional body systems, such as the musculoskeletal, circulatory, respiratory, nervous and auditory systems. By contrast, an area such as music history may group its content chronologically around key periods: Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, Classical and Romantic. There’s usually a core terminology associated with each group, which serves as a reminder of what should be included.
Consolidating your learning
Create your own lists of terms
List words that you are not familiar with but need to know and put some time and effort into learning them. There may be many specialised lists compiled by others, but by compiling your own, you identify the terms you specifically need to know.
Once you have mastered these words, move them to a list of words that you know and work on new, unfamiliar words.
Use different ways to learn new terms
Develop learning strategies that work for you. Remember, the more senses you use in learning new words, the better chance you have of remembering them.
For example, you may make a flashcard for each word or create visual maps of related words, which can include a range of information about the words. These activities help you to learn new terms by writing, reading and visualising them. You can also use games, such as crossword puzzles or quizzes, to learn your words. Using the words verbally, for example by talking with friends, can further assist the learning.
Practise and use newly learnt words as often as you can, as this will help you to remember and apply them better. Use them when you think, speak, read and write about your academic work.
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Developing your vocabulary
Learn how to use appropriate words and expressions in your writing and speaking and to constantly expand your vocabulary so you can express your ideas accurately and confidently.
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Improve your English in 10 minutes
While there is no quick fix for English language issues, persistent practice in bite-sized activities every day can make a big difference in the long run.
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Many students find that applying active learning helps them to move beyond remembering and understanding towards engaging with ideas in a more complex way.
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