It goes without saying that vocabulary is one aspect language acquisition that plays an important role when learning one mother’s tongue, let alone a foreign language. I have often had learners saying that they can fairly get by grammatical structures and the real factor holding them back is how to put words within this lexical construct. Unfortunately, there is no magic formula through which one can get by learning new lexis, being it from the word level to the sentence level; however, memory seems to be one key element...

At the beginning of a new semester, learners are usually excited to get started, enthusiastic about learning and with high hopes of finally achieving that much sought-after fluency. As the course unfolds, so does life: learners have to juggle work, school and their own personal lives, coping with everything at the same time. And as that happens, one of the most common comments I hear from my learners is that they wish they had (more) time to study English, do homework, listen to podcasts, watch the news, you...

'Trousers' or 'pants'? 'Lift' or 'elevator'? 'Colour' or 'color'? 'Theatre' or 'theater'? Which lexical item do you use? Which form of spelling do you opt for? Do you teach 'American' or 'British' English? Or both? How do you decide what to teach? Does it matter? Well, according to some recent research, it does matter, and if current trends continue, it might matter even more in the future. The study, called The Fall of the Empire: The Americanization of English, analyzed over 15 million digitized books published between 1800 and 2010,...

I want to talk about Spaced Repetition. What it is, how it applies to language learning and what we can do to cater for it in our teaching. First of all, let me tell you how I normally acquire new vocabulary in Portuguese. I come across an unfamiliar word in a conversation or in a text I am reading or listening to. If I am feeling suitably inclined, I might bother to clarify the meaning of the new word, using whatever resources are at my disposal. And then, more often...

A couple of years ago, Damian Williams wrote a post explaining why he doesn't like teaching idiomatic expressions. I wrote a response to that, as I strongly disagreed with him. However, a recent conversation with another teacher made me rethink that a bit. Here's the situation: I have two private students, both of whom work for multinational companies. One of them works for a German company, the other for a Dutch company. As you'd expect, English is the international language used for communication between workers but, and this is...

There are some funny thoughts that occur to us,  language teachers. We want our students to become fluent speakers, we want them to be proficient readers, we want them to become effective listeners, and finally, we want them to be great writers in a foreign language. All four skills neatly packed and delivered in a single integrated skills lesson. We are teachers and this mindset has us believing that we should take all matters into our own hands for the sake of our students, but we soon realize...

There was some interesting news last week. Scientists at Berkeley University in the United States have mapped out how the brain organises language. Their 'semantic atlas' shows how the meaning of  vocabulary is organised into different regions of the brain. In the past, it was believed that information about  words' meanings was represented in a region of the brain called the 'semantic system'. However, this recent study shows that this intricate network is spread right across the outer layer of the brain called the cerebral cortex, which plays a key...

Olá a todos e todas! Para este post de hoje, resolvi trazer um pouco à baila um assunto que tem a ver com uma das minhas atividades profissionais relacionadas à língua inglesa. Sou tradutor, atualmente trabalhando mais com livros de RPG (para saber um pouco mais sobre isso, leia meu post). Entretanto, sempre que posso, trago para as minhas aulas algumas referências e/ou atividades relacionadas à tradução. Antes que me apedrejem por estar usando Grammar Translation Method e não alguma técnica mais comunicativa, deixe-me explicar que não é isto...

Something a student of mine said recently got me thinking. She told me that her English teacher at school had told her, and the class, that you should never translate the names of monuments and landmarks into the target language. Therefore, according to the teacher, the Pao de Acucar must never be translated as Sugar Loaf and Cristo Redentor must never, under any cirmcumstances, be translated as Christ the Redeemer. Upon hearing this, a number of questions popped into my head. Why did the teacher limit his dictate...

  In Part 1 of this text, I went over 2 tips about using dictionaries and 1 tip about corpora and Google NGram. In fact, nowadays, there is no question that Google is a teacher’s BFF… if and only if we know how to use it. So here are more tips for looking up vocabulary using our contemporary oracle. 4. Be a good language detective: don’t stop at the first sign that you’ve found something. Just the other day a friend of mine saw the expression “parted the cake” (instead...

Although attempts to define ‘fluency’ and ‘accuracy’ when speaking a foreign language abound in the specialized literature, there still does not seem to exist a consensus regarding a single, ultimate definition of either one of the terms. One of the reasons which could partly explain the lack of common ground among authors is the very subjective nature of the two words in the context of learning/mastering a foreign language. Any given language is a complex structural system whose components include, but are not limited to, rules, vocabulary and pronunciation....

[caption id="attachment_2490" align="aligncenter" width="421"] Sir, why are you wearing such warm clothes in 35°C weather?[/caption]   It's that resolute time of the year again. And as we are all still following through with the promises we made on New Year's Eve, here's a resolution from me: keep my #WordoftheDay tag on Facebook. Daily. "Surely," a kind soul might ask, "you don't have that many words left to learn?" I wish. I've been studying English for the better part of my life now (over two-thirds already!) and I'm still very much learning and...

I asked a student of mine recently whether he still believed in Father Christmas. He looked at me nonplussed before asking me who Father Christmas was. I replied that he was the big, fat man who delivered children presents at Christmas time. “Presents?”, he asked. “Gifts’, I said. To which he smiled and said, “Ah, you mean Santa Clause”. Does it matter? Well, maybe not for this 25 year old adult, who I presume no longer believes in Santa Clause (or Father Christmas), but it might matter to my...

A couple of weeks ago, the British defence secretary Michael Fallon claimed British towns are being "swamped" by immigrants. He made the claim in response to a question posed by an interviewer on Sky News. The Conservative Party, to which Michael Fallon belongs, was none too happy and quickly forced Mr Fallon to withdraw his comments. I am not sure if Mr Fallon himself regretted his comments and wishes he had chosen his words more carefully but what it does show is the power that words have and...

In this post, I’d like to report on some fascinating research I had the pleasure of seeing presented at the recent MEXTESOL conference in Puebla, Mexico.  What particularly interested me was the connection to the topic of meaningful learning that I have been talking about on this blog as well as the direct application of the research to the teaching of vocabulary both for classroom teachers, teacher trainers and materials writers.  I don’t know about you, but I love research that we can use in the classroom. The first...

Olá, pessoal! Depois de uma pausa meio que forçada, estamos de volta para mais um post envolvendo, de certa forma, tecnologia. Desta vez, vou falar de podcasts. Sabem o que é um podcast? É uma espécie de programa de rádio, geralmente editado, e disponibilizado em sites, blogs e assemelhados, sobre os mais variados assuntos, que podem ser ouvidos online ou baixados em formatos como .mp3 para smartphones e outros reprodutores de música. Eu, por exemplo, sou um podcaster, participo junto com meus amigos do ArgCast, sobre quadrinhos, games, cinema,...

The 9th grade students at Colégio A. Liessin recently had a lesson to revise parts of the body. Students were familiar with most of the words as they start learning them in kindergarten through the famous song “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes”. Our challenge was to find a way to make students practise vocabulary already known with new words presented in the lesson (calf, shin, heel and some others). As the Olympic Games are coming, we had the idea to ask students to create a sport using two or...

To start off with, let me just say that I have never ever liked ‘Hangman’. You know, the game where you have guess the word(s) by calling out letters of the alphabet before the man is hung up on a scaffold. It is not because the act of hanging runs contrary to my political sensibilities but because I have never found it particularly exciting or interesting as a game. Just as some people, I am sure, do not particularly enjoy a game of noughts and crosses (or tic-tac-toe...

I enjoy playing games in the classroom. And I know my students do too, especially the young learners and teenagers (even though teachers of adult students know that many times adults really enjoy playing games too.) I've recently bought a game called "Hit or Miss" to use with my students. The obvious main aim of the game is to review vocabulary, but I've thought of a couple of other pedagogical uses for it in the classroom. And I thought I'd share this game here, because I believe other teachers...

Music has always played a very important part of my life. My dad used to play in a forró band, my older brother is an accomplished guitar player and later in life I ended up becoming a professional singer. Songs were present in my classes a lot and in 2012 I decided to gather up some interesting activities I had tested in my own classes and set up a talk to give at Braz-TESOL Chapter one-day seminar in October about “fresh ways” to teach with songs. My session was called...

O termo collocation já faz parte do cenário de ensino de língua inglesa há um bom tempo. Há na história relatos sobre collocations desde o ano de 1933. Harold Palmer, linguista inglês, é tido como o primeiro a citar tal termo. Na introdução de um de seus livros, ele escreveu: "When a word forms an important element of a 'collocation' [a succession of two or more words that may be best learnt as if it were a single word] the collocations is shown in bold type." Outros autores passaram a...

Around this time, teachers and students all over Brazil are returning to their English classes. It’s time to check whether kids remember grammar topics and vocabulary or not after two months on vacation. Preparing ELT classes demands more creativity at this first moment than during the year. Teachers need to engage students in the learning process again. Games are taken for granted as meaningful and enjoyable activities for students at any level.  In my career, I have used plenty of them to motivate kids and teenagers to use language....