Chinese learners of English have a greater difficulty when it comes to picking up a new word or expression. Well, I guess that's speaking the obvious.
Native speakers, you see, pick up a new word or expression via hearing it first from other people. They hear, watch and see others use it, in conversation, over television or via the print media. They see others use it till one day they themselves become comfortable with it.
And they use it. The process is simple.
Most Chinese learners of English however, have to use a dictionary. And thereby all sorts of new problems arise. Every time they confront a new word or expression, they look it up. That's obviously a lot of work, especially for beginners. And a lot of people tire themselves out so quickly looking everything up that they eventually give up the dictionary entirely – and with it, the language itself. Many an English major at school have said they have all but forgotten the language five, ten years into a regular job.
Others who believe in the dictionary have other problems. One is when they have a new word or expression to look up, they don't happen to have a dictionary with them. Another problem is when they do have a dictionary with them, the word or expression they are looking for is not listed in the dictionary. What to do?
The thing to do is, again, risking stating the obvious, to do what the native speakers do. And that is, to acquaint yourself with a new word or expression by hearing it first from other people, either directly in conversation or via newspapers and magazines, television and of course the Internet. You can't always depend on the dictionary, especially with colloquial expressions that may not even be listed in YOUR particular dictionary, either a pocket-sized dictionary that doesn't have much of anything or a 1995 edition of a Longman Contemporary (mine) that's getting older by the year, or a Kingsoft online dictionary that's even more unreliable whenever it comes to the nitty-gritty.
What you have to do is to hear it and hear it if hearing it one time doesn't get the job done. Be patient, you'll meet it again soon – many have also spoken of the experience of learning a new word today and seeing it again the very next day.
Take the American vogue expression "go figure", for example. First time you see it, you'd probably think of it as a typo or some poor grammar. That's alright. Wait till you see it a second, third time.
Example 1: The prepositions are strangely the last thing almost all the children learn in a language. Go figure!
Example 2: Women and children are the first targets of war. Go figure.
Example 3: Go figure: Weight loss is one of the worst reasons for exercise.
Now, if your definitions of "go figure" run along the lines of "wow, isn't that right?" or "who'd have thought?" or "how come", they're all correct.
Think of "go figure" as short for "go and figure it out for yourself". It is used more like an exclamation, though, punctuating an unexpected fact. Oh yeah, that's right.
If, however, after reading this article, your reaction still runs alone the lines of "but I'm not a native English speaker, how I can be expected to learn like one", oh everyone, please have mercy on you.