Reading #1: Gia Long Biography

gia long biography

The ‘reading: fill in the blanks’ section of the English test in the Vietnam National High School Graduation Examination is quite similar to that of the Pearson plc’s PTE. In order to deal with this section, we can take advantage of the following two-step plan:

  • Step 1: Determine the form of the missing word.
  • Step 2: Try to fit each word in the blank and read if it makes sense. 

The most best option is the one that suits the sentence in terms of grammar, meaning, collocation, and context (register, mood, etc). Since there are 50 multiple-choice questions whereas the time is limited to 60 minutes, students should not spend more than 1 minute on a single question.

The following reading passage is taken from the exercises of unit 1 from the 12-grade English course book of public schools. It is about the life story of a Vietnamese emperor, Gia Long.

Gia Long was the first emperor of the Nguyen dynasty as well as the (1) _________ father of the modern nation of Vietnam. 

(1)  A. found B. founded C. founding D. founder

Following the two-step plan, we should first determine the form of the missing word based on the part of speech of the words that precede and succeed it. Because the preceding word is the definite article “the”, and the succeeding word is the noun “father”, the missing word could possibly be an adjective, or more precisely, it serves the function of an adjective, that is a pre-head modifier of a noun phrase. 

Glancing through the four options, we could see that all these words share one root: “found”, meaning “establish” or “begin”. So the meaning of this sentence could be interpreted as “Gia Long là vị hoàng đế đầu tiên của triều Nguyễn cũng như một vị tổ phụ lập quốc của quốc gia Việt Nam hiện đại”, and the noun phrase is supposed to mean “tổ phụ lập quốc”.

A must not be the answer because “found” is a verb, and a verb doesn’t serve the function of a pre-head modifier. Likewise, D must not be the answer, either. Obviously, a noun can go with a noun as a colloquial compound noun. However, there’s no such a compound noun as “founder father” in English language. So, there are only two options left: B and C. 

B is the past participle of the verb “found”, and thus in the passive voice; it forms the phrase “the founded father” that makes no sense at all, whereas C is the present participle of the verb “found”, and thus in the active voice’ it forms the phrase “the founding father” that means the one who establishes something. So, this should be the most appropriate option.

One more thing, if you have ever read about the history of America, you would know that those men who started the first government of the United States are conventionally regarded as “the founding fathers of the United States”, which means “founding father” has become a collocation. And so, in this case, C is the correct answer.

Born as Nguyen Phuc Anh, he was the nephew of the last Nguyen lord who ruled over southern Vietnam. (2) ____ being born into a royal family, he had to (3) ____ many difficulties in his early life as he became the (4) ____ of rival groups who attempted to (5) ____ the Nguyen clan completely. 

(2)  A. Because of B. In view of C. Despite of D. In spite of 

(3)  A. encounter B. face up C. manage D. get by

(4)  A. shield B. target C. purpose D. destination 

(5)  A. wipe off B. wipe out C. kill up D. destroy 

We can work out number 2, 3, 4, and 5 together because they belong to a complete sentence. We can guess that the Vietnamese meaning of the sentence is: “Mặc dù sinh ra trong một gia đình hoàng tộc, Gia Long đã phải đối mặt với nhiều khó khăn trong thời niên thiếu của mình vì ông là mục tiêu của những nhóm chống đối luôn tìm cách xóa xổ gia tộc họ Nguyễn hoàn toàn”.

Starting with question number 2, we can rule out the options A and B because “because of” and “in view of” have somewhat the same meaning, and such a meaning doesn’t suit the semantic logic of the clause. Since it’s common sense that those who were born in a royal family hardly face up to difficulties in their early life, we should rather choose an adverb that indicates the contrary between the participial phrase and the main clause, which should be either C or D. Moreover, “despite of” is ungrammatical, so the correct answer must be “in spite of”.

Question number 3 examines our understanding of the semantic difference between similar words. In Vietnamese, “to encounter sth” means “đối mặt”, and “to face sth up” means “lật ngửa”. For example: “The designer faced the mirror up to reflect the sunlight”; “nhà thiết kế lật ngửa tấm kính để nó phản chiếu ánh nắng”. If you want to use “face up” with the meaning “confront”, it should be followed by the preposition “to” (“face up to many difficulties”). “To manage” means “quản lý”, and “to get by” typically goes with the preposition “in”, “on”, or “with”, to mean “xoay sở để sống sót trong điều kiện thiếu thốn”. For example: “How can he get by on so little money?”; “Làm sao anh ta có thể sống được với ít tiền như vậy”? So the correct answer is A. 

Similarly, question number 4 deals with the meaning of words. “Shield” means “tấm khiên”. “Target” means “mục tiêu”. “Purpose” means “mục đích”. And “destination” means “điểm đến”. The answer must be B.

Question number 5 also tests our knowledge about the subtle differences between similar word choices. “To wipe off” is a phrasal verb that means “lau chùi vết bẩn” or “làm sạch”. For example: “I wiped the food off the baby’s face”. This word is not frequently used to mean “destroy someone”. Thus, the answer must not be A. “To kill off” means to kill everyone and spare no one’s life, but “to kill up” makes no sense, so the answer could not be C, either. We have two words with the same meaning: “to wipe out sth” and “destroy sth”. While “to wipe out sth” also means “to destroy”, it is connotatively more brutal and more radical, and thus it better suits the context of the game of thrones in which each clan tends to eradicate the other till the very last person in order to avoid later revenge. So although in many circumstances, the word “to destroy” still works as properly as “to wipe out”, in this very context, the more suitable word choice is “to wipe out”.

After the deaths of his father and uncle at the hands of the rival leaders, Nguyen Phuc Anh fled to the southern coastal tip of Vietnam where (6) ____ he met a French priest, Pigneau de Behaine, who would (7) ____ become his trusted adviser and play a major role in his (8) ____ to power. 

(6) A. by chance B. on occasion C. on purpose D. at stake 

(7)  A. at last B. especially C. specially D. eventually 

(8) A. raise B. arise C. rise D. rising

In question number 6, we should rely on the meaning suggested by the context, and it suggests that the missing phrase should mean “tình cờ”. “on occasion” means “thỉnh thoảng”. “on purpose” means “cố ý”. “at stake” means “gặp nguy hiểm” (e.g., “Thousands of lives will be at stake if emergency aid does not arrive in the city soon”). So, the correct is A.

Question number 7 also requires us to base our judgment on context, and the word we choose should mean “cuối cùng/sau đó”. “Especially” means “đặc biệt là”. “Specially” means “cụ thể là” (which is synonymous with “particularly”, but is regularly used in informal registers). There are only two options left, A and D. Although “at last” and “eventually” are similar in meaning, “at last” has a connotation of relief after such a long time of waiting and expecting that people almost lose their patience, and thus it is often used in verbal communication (e.g. “At last it was time to eat.”, or “They’re here at last! We’ve been waiting half an hour”) whereas “eventually” is often used in written communication to mention something that happens after various events (e.g. “After so many breakups and reunions, the couple eventually got married”). It’s pretty much like what happened between the emperor Gia Long and the priest Pigneau de Behaine. The fact that Pigneau de Behaine became the emperor’s advisor was not something that the emperor had been long waiting for, yet it seemed to be a state that they both reached after so many contingent collaborations and ups and downs of life. So the correct answer should be D.

Question number 8 is nothing complicated. It’s a colloquial phrase, “rise to power”, that means “sự lên nắm chính quyền”. The answer is C.

He escaped with the help of the priest and later on sought aid from the French in his struggle (9) ____ his rivals. (10) ____ the help of the French, and equipped with (11) ____ European armaments, he was (12) ____ in securing victories over his rivals.

(9) A. for B. against C. off D. at 

(10) A. With B. Without C. But for D. Thanks 

(11) A. advance B. advances C. advanced D. advancing 

(12) A. engaged B. involved C. successful D. attended

Question number 9 examines our understanding of the prepositions that go with the verb “struggle”. “Struggle” means “cuộc đấu tranh”; “a struggle for sth” means “cuộc đấu tranh vì cái gì đó” (“struggle for justice, righteousness, independence”); “a struggle against sb/sth” means “cuộc đấu tranh chống lại cái gì đó” (“the Vietnamese struggle against the French colonial rule”). “Struggle off” and “struggle at” seem to have no meaning at all. So the answer should be B.

In question number 10, “with” means “với”. “Without” means “không có/ thiếu”. “But for” means “ngoại trừ”. “Thanks” means “cảm ơn”. We need a preposition that means “với/nhờ vào”. The answer should be A. “Thanks to” can also suit this blank, but “thanks” cannot.

Question number 11 is quite easy. The adjective that means “tiên tiến/ cao cấp” must be “advanced”. The answer is C.

In question number 12, we need to go through these options to find the most appropriate one. “to be engaged in” means “bị lôi cuốn vào vào”. “to be involved in” means “bị làm cho liên lụy, dính líu vào”. “to be successful in” means “thành công trong việc gì đó”. “to be attended in” makes no sense. So the answer is C.

Gia Long was the first emperor of the Nguyen dynasty as well as the founding father of the modern nation of Vietnam. Born as Nguyễn Phúc Ánh, he was the nephew of the last Nguyễn lord who ruled over southern Vietnam. In spite of being born into a royal family, he had to encounter many difficulties in his early life as he became the target of rival groups who attempted to wipe out the Nguyen clan completely. 

After the deaths of his father and uncle at the hands of the rival leaders, Nguyễn Phúc Ánh fled to the southern coastal tip of Vietnam where by chance he met a French priest, Pigneau de Behaine, who would eventually become his trusted adviser and play a major role in his rise to power. He escaped with the help of the priest and later on sought aid from the French in his struggle against his rivals. With the help of the French, and equipped with advanced European armaments, he was successful in securing victories over his rivals. 

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