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Practice English Speaking&Listening with: How to Summarise a Text in English - Improve English Comprehension

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Hi, Im Oli.

Welcome to Oxford Online English!

In this lesson, you can learn how to read and summarise a text.

Summarising a text is a vital skill for your English reading.

If you cant make a short, clear summary of the main ideas of a text, then you almost

certainly havent understood it fully.

Understanding what you read in English isnt just about the words; its about understanding

the ideas, how theyre organised, and which ideas are more or less important.

Here, youll see some strategies you can use to improve your English reading, read

faster, and improve your reading comprehension.

Before we begin, check out our website: Oxford Online English dot com.

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In this lesson, well work with a sample text.

Youll see it in the video, but you can also find it on the full version of this lesson,

which is on our website.

You can find a link in the video description.

We recommend reading it before you continue watching.

Now, lets look at the most important reading strategy you need to use.

To understand and summarise a text, you need to find the main idea.

Every coherent text has one central idea, which connects the different parts of the


You need to know what this is.

But, every text is different, and there isnt one way to find the main idea.

Instead, you need to look at the whole thing.

Here are some things you should look at:

One: is there a title or headings?

These will often highlight the most important points.

Two: what is the first sentence about?

Often, the first sentence of a text or paragraph will summarise the main ideas.

Three: what does most of the text talk about?

Look at each sentence and paragraph.

Is there a single topic which connects them?

Look at our sample text and think about these questions.

Pause the video if you need more reading time, and remember that you can also read it on

our websitejust follow the link in the video description.

So, what do you think the main idea of our sample text is?

Well show you three possible summaries.

Which do you think is best?

What do you think?

The best is number three.

Lets see why.

First, you should look at the title.

The title tells you that the text will be about Guugu Yimithirr, but it also mentions

that this language isunusual’.

You should immediately focus on this word, because it shows that this language is different

in some way.

Also, ‘unusualcould mean many things.

What does it mean here?

Unusual how?

Second, whats the first sentence about?

Here, it gives background information.

It doesnt help you to find the main idea.

Thats OKin this case, the background information is helpful, because most people

dont know what Guugu Yimithirr is.

Third, what does most of the text talk about?

Apart from the first sentence, every sentence is about the same topic: the fact that Guugu

Yimithirr uses compass directionsnorth, south, east, westfor all directions, because

there are no words forleft’, ‘right’, and so on.

This answers the question you found in the title: why is this language unusual?

Now you have a reason.

However, analysing the text in this way is complex, and there are other sub-skills you

might need.

Lets look at an important example.

To summarise a text, you need to find which ideas are general, and which are details or


The general ideas will give you the overall meaning.

If you confuse general ideas and details, you might misunderstand the overall meaning

what youre reading.

Unfortunately, there are no clear markers which show you whats general or not.

A single sentence might mix general ideas and details together.

You need to use context and other clues to work out which ideas are general and which

are details.

Look at five extracts from our sample text.

What do you think?

Are these general ideas, or details?

Which do you need to understand in order to find the overall meaning?

Sentences one, three and four are general.

Two and five are details.

One is general because it introduces the topic by giving background information.

This is like a topic sentence, which tells you what the rest of the text will be about.

Two is a detail.

Its more background information; you dont need it to understand the overall meaning.

Three is a general, important idea.

This sentence highlights the unusual feature of the Guugu Yimithirr language.

The rest of the text expands on the idea introduced in this sentence.

We said that four is general; however, its kind of in the middle.

It explains the exact meaning oflacking egocentric directionswhich is referred

to in sentence three.

Technically, this sentence isnt necessary to understand the main idea.

On the other hand, most peopleincluding educated native English speakerswouldnt

know whategocentric directionsare.

This sentence explains it, and so it *is* important for understanding the whole text.

Five is a detail.

It adds an example of how Guugu Yimithirr speakers talk about position and direction,

but it isnt necessary to understand the main idea.

So, what do you need to focus on here?

First, its a good idea to skim a text first, reading fast and trying to understand the

overall idea in a simple way.

In order to separate general ideas from details, you need some context.

Until youve read the whole thing, you wont have this.

Second, look for linking phrases likefor example’, ‘for instance’, ‘specifically

orin particular.’

Linking phrases like these show you that what follows is an explanation of a more general

idea that was mentioned before.

Third, remember that one sentence can contain both general ideas and details mixed together.

For example, this sentence contains both a detailabout the wordkangaroo’—and

a general point.

Now, why not do some more practice?

Look at the rest of our sample text.

Which ideas are general?

Which ideas are details?

Pause the video and try it now, if you want.

Did you do it?

Heres a shorter version, with all examples and details removed.

If you can do this, youll be able to read much faster.


Because you only need to focus on the general ideas to understand the overall meaning.

Here, you only need to understand 76 words, instead of 230.

This saves you time, which could be helpful if you are under time pressure, like in an

IELTS reading exam.

Theres another related, skill which can help you to understand a text.

Lets look!

If youre a non-native speaker reading in English, youll probably have this problem

often: there are words which you dont understand.

Maybe there are several words which you dont know.

Dont panic!

This makes things more difficult, but there are strategies you can use.

First, look for proper nouns, which start with a capital letter.

Sometimes, we see that students think they dont understand a word, but they dont

realise that thewordis actually a proper noun, like a persons name, or a

place name.

Can you find three examples of proper nouns in our text?

Pause the video if you want time to think about it.

You could sayGuugu Yimithirr’, ‘Queensland’, ‘Hopevale’, ‘EnglishorBrisbane’.

Generally, if a proper noun is important or not widely-understood, it will be explained.

For example, ‘Guugu Yimithirris obviously important, and its explained in the first


If a proper noun isnt explained, you can usually ignore it, or try to work out the

meaning from the context.

For example, look at the first sentence.

Even if youve never heard of Queensland or Hopevale, you can work out that theyre

place names.

Next, look for words that tell you that an idea is important.

You could look for words likeimportant’, ‘notable’, ‘significantoressential’.

For example, you saw this sentence.

The wordnotablehighlights something important about the language.

This means you should focus on this sentence.

If youre under time pressure, you should spend extra time on this sentence.

Also, look for words which were also used in the title, or possibly which appeared in

the first sentence or paragraph.

Remember that writers might use paraphrase, so you might not find the exact same words.

There was a key word from the title used in the text.

Do you know where?

Pause the video if you want time to find it!

The wordunusualappears in this sentence.

You heard before thatunusualis a key word in the title.

So, when you see it, you should pay extra attention to this sentence.

In fact, this sentence gives you one of the key general ideas.

Depending on your situation, you might have different options to deal with unknown words.

If you have unlimited time, unlimited patience and access to a dictionary, then you can check

the meaning of every word.

However, this strategy is not possible in most cases.

No one really has unlimited time or unlimited patience.

Plus, there are often restrictions; if youre taking an exam, youll have a time limit

and you probably wont be able to use a dictionary.

This is why its important to focus on the general ideas, and then find key words within


If there are 50 words you dont know, thats difficult to deal with.

However, if you can focus on a smaller number of more important sentences, there will be

fewer unknown words.

At this point, you should know how to read and summarise a text in English.

We have a challenge for you!

On the full version of this lesson, which is on our website, youll find a second

text to practise with.

If youre watching on YouTube, you can find a link in the video description.

Can you write a summary of the second text?

Your summary should be maximum two sentences, or ideally just one.

Use the reading techniques you saw in this lesson.

Post your suggestion in the comments, and read other peoples ideas.

Thanks for watching!

See you next time!

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