SAT Reading Tips: Decode Vocabulary Words with a Foreign Language

SAT Prep

Are you currently takingForeign_Language-1 language classes for Spanish, French, or Italian? If so, you may have an edge on the SAT. Since these languages have many words with Greek and Latin roots, you can often apply translations to English word counterparts.

 For example, take the English word friend. In French, it’s ami. In Spanish, it’s amigo. And in Italian, it’s amico. Two common SAT words, amiable and amicable, share the root ami and both mean friendly.

 Foreign words for good and bad can also help you decode SAT words:


      English: good       Spanish: bueno       French: bien       Italian: bene

      Related Words: benevolent (charitable), benefactor (a person who helps),

         benediction (good wishes), beneficial (helpful), benign (favorable)


      English: bad       Spanish: malo       French: mal       Italian: male           

      Related Words: malevolent (evil), malefactor (a person who does harm),

          malediction (a curse), maleficent (evil), maladroit (unskillful),

          malignant (harmful), malfeasance (harmful act), malcontent

          (dissatisfaction), malodorous (having a bad smell), malnutrition (lack of

          nutrition), malaise (illness)

These are just a sampling of the roots and affixes that translate from foreign languages to SAT roots. Can you think of others? If so, list them in the comments below.

It’s important to remember that you are always taking a guess when selecting a word that you do not know, but by using your knowledge of foreign translations, you are making an educated guess that is much more likely to earn you points on the SAT. It’s also essential to note that these connections should take you mere seconds to make. If you spend 15 seconds or more decoding a word, you are wasting too much time and will be unable to finish the reading passages. If you cannot decode a word, you cannot eliminate it, and you must leave it as a contender. But if you quickly decode its meaning, you can either eliminate it or select it as the correct answer.

Want more tips and tricks for the SAT Reading section? Check out the SAT Reading Bible.

Photo: "Get down and speak in tongues," courtesy of Jes.