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TOEFL Listening and TOEFL Reading: Vocabulary in Context

Understanding vocabulary in context is an important TOEFL Reading and TOEFL Listening skill. Today, we’ll practice this skill with entertainment news. I’ve already talked about the importance of entertainment news for English reading practice. Entertainment news can also be useful for English listening practice.

In this post, we’ll do some English reading and listening practice with a breaking entertainment news story: the divorce of the famous married actress and actor, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt.

Our activities will focus on CNN’s new article and video about this sad turn of events for one of Hollywood’s most popular couples. Click here to view “Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt Divorce: What’s at Stake?” on

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The article itself provides reading practice. You can also get listening practice by playing the video at the top of that web page. The video features an interview with an expert on divorce law and it has a lot of the same specialized legal vocabulary as the article. I’ve also created a bonus source of listening practice to go with the video and article. Click below for a read-aloud audio version of CNN’s write-up:

TOEFL Listening & TOEFL Reading Vocabulary-in-Context: Understanding the Key Terms

The audio, the original article, and the CNN video are all very good practice for understanding vocabulary in context. You’ll read and hear a lot of specialized legal terms that may be unfamiliar to you. Below are the key words and phrases from this CNN celebrity news story about Jolie and Pitt’s divorce. Listen and read for these terms. If you’re unfamiliar with these words and phrases, try to guess their meanings. What context clues help you understand these terms? After you’ve made your guesses, scroll down for the definitions of these terms.

  • physical custody
  • legal custody
  • commodity
  • contention/contentious
  • prenuptial agreement
  • spousal
  • discretion
  • representative
  • petition/petitioner (from the video)
  • reside (from the video)
  • terminate (from the video)
  • irreconcilable differences

Did you catch the meanings of these key terms? Check the definitions below to see how you did.

Note: These are the definitions of the terms as they are used in the context of this story. Some of these words also have other meanings in other contexts

  • physical custody: the actual location of the children after a divorce
  • legal custody: the legal right to make importat decisions about raising children after a divorce
  • commodity: something that can be posessed, traded, managed, or transferred form one person to another
  • contention/contentious: “contention” means argument or legal dispute; “contentions” is an adjective describing something that invovles a lot of arguing or disputes
  • prenuptial agreement: an agreement that a couple makes when they get married; such an agreement decides the terms of a possible divorce in the future
  • spousal: related to the husband or wife (“spouse” means husband or wife)
  • discretion: privacy
  • representative: a person who is allowed to speak and act for another person; often refers to a lawyer
  • petition/petitioner: a petition is an official legal request given to the courts; a petitioner is a person who makes this kind of official legal request
  • reside: to live in a specific place
  • terminate: to end an agreement
  • irreconcilable differences: a legal term referring to a married couple’s general inability to agree with each other; irreconcilable differences are often used as the reason that someone wants to end their marriage

The takeaway

The TOEFL will always contain some words you are unfamiliar with — specialized academic words that you won’t find on any TOEFL word list. You will be expected to figure out the meaning of these words from their context. When celebrity news covers certain topics, such as health or legal problems, you have a chance to practice this TOEFL skill in a fun and interesting way


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