Different Levels of Reading

Reading Methods and use of Language

There are different depths to reading. The first level is to read the given  lines and make out their plain or simple meaning. If for example a parent complains against ragging of his ward by another student in the college and the principal promises to dismiss the student but the parent insists the punishment is not serious enough and he should be suspended, evidently the uneducated villager does not know the meaning of the word ‘dismissal’ .If on the other hand when you are attending an interview  you are instructed to take your seat and you begin to lift up the chair the panel members would be startled as you have taken literally what was a conventional phrase asking you to be seated.

  The second level is to read between the lines or sense something implied but not stated explicitly. If for example you go to meet an important official and you make your request to the receptionist she says, “would you like to wait, sir?” she implies that the officer is busy  and will take time to see you. The third level is to read beyond the lines and it means to deduce something much beyond what the words express, to interpret the statement and load it with unexpressed meaning. . If for instance in the above example when the receptionist asks you, “would you like to wait ,sir”, if you conclude that he really does not want to see you , then you have read beyond the lines. To give another example, suppose you go to a business office and ask for a donation to your school for your sports day and the reply is ,


“Sorry, our company has a huge commitment to Miss India  fashion show” you might reasonably interpret the reply to mean that it is outside their policy to sponsor any sports event and that they  do not have any social commitment.

Different styles of language

One should also know different styles  of language used for different purposes , situations and audiences. Thus we have standard or formal English, conversational and colloquial English, slang, officialese, legalese, jargon, journalese,  scientific language etc. Each has its own characteristics and uses. For official and formal occasions and purposes we use standard English in both speaking and writing. Examples are speeches  on  formal occasions like Independence Day, official reports,  or a letter to a minister  or to a college principal. In conversation and everyday speech certain short forms and informal expressions are allowed. “Lend me five bucks” , “ he kicked the bucket”, “ he puts his foot in the mouth whenever he speaks”, guys and gals,  etc. are colloquialisms. They make language more colourful, spontaneous and functional  but are out of place in formal contexts.

Slang is informal language used within  particular groups of a social or local nature and hence is understood by the concerned members of the group only. Thus we have teenage slang, college slang , army slang, sailors’ slang, terrorists’ slang etc. The use of slang makes the particular members of the group feel closer and distinct from the rest of the population. It is a mark of exclusivity and insulation.  Slang is out of place in formal speech and writing.

Legalese is an example of professional jargon used by lawyers as the doctors too have their own peculiar language. Legalese are words of law  not easily understood by the layman. Similarly there is journalese, the language of journalists like for example medicos, scribes, gubernatorial post, legal fraternity etc. Using slang to outsiders to the circle is poor manners.

The language used in scientific reports and studies has its own style. It is in the third person, impersonal, devoid of all traces of emotions and personal touches. These must lay bare all facts only  with no scope for guess work, opinions, conjectures and anything that is not strictly scientific. In scientific reports what is done and observed is important not who did it .It is the antithesis of the world of glamour and personality cult. Naturally the passive voice is the favoured style for lab observations and reports.

Vulgarisms are expressions used by the low crowd  and they do not feature in polite society.

An educated person must pick and choose his language and style judiciously to suit the occasion and the audience. He should be able to switch easily from one mode to another. Mastery of language is essential for social success and career advancement and it is an art and a grace to be cultivated with care.

Let me ask myself

1. Do I use colloquialisms in formal writing and speaking?

2. Can I make out slang words and know when to avoid them?

3. Do I employ the right style for observation and scientific records?


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