Keeping my word (of the day)


Sir, why are you wearing such warm clothes in 35°C weather?


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 relearning it. Daily.

But I had a point — I assure you. I mean, other than publicly shaming myself into keeping my New Year’s resolution. What I am getting at is my answer to a question Luiz Otávio Barros once asked in BreltChat (a fortnightly chat in a Facebook community that is dedicated to English language teaching professionals in Brazil): What kind of words and expressions do you take notes of in your vocabulary notebook?

Well, honestly, I don’t have much of a filter, I replied. I truly don’t, I realize, as I go over my vocabulary notebook to update my lexical microblog. There’s a little of everything in it: rare words I’ve seen in print, phrases I’ve heard in sitcoms or movies, a turn of phrase a friend has employed, collocations or prepositions I found counter-intuitive, idioms, sayings… The whole shebang!

(And the most depressing type of entry of all: the ones I don’t remember ever having written. Sometimes it’s as if I’ve never seen the word in my pitiful lifetime. *sighs*)

However, while choosing the words to post on Facebook and “relearn”, I’ve noticed I have a soft spot for a certain type of entry: the type you can casually slip into informal conversation (which incidentally I think was the kind Luiz Otávio was drawing our attention to).

My penchant, though, has a more mundane motivation. When I take that long hard look in the mirror of my English language proficiency, that’s the ugliest part I see: informal conversation. It’s when I’m slow on the uptake, words fail me, and I don’t know what to say and when to say, let alone how to say it. Informal conversation tests my vocabulary on the spot, and worse still, it assesses my (almost) non-existent knowledge of pragmatics, that social part of language competence that allows you to do things with words, be polite but not overly formal, not put your foot in it, etc. So the words or phrases that could potentially help me out in that time of need are my favorites. 


That baby is me, by the way. That picture of me serves as a reminder that it’s (nearly) time to take down your Christmas decorations, if you follow the Brazilian tradition. More to the point, it illustrates today’s #WordoftheDay: A TURN IN/OF THE EYE. Frankly, I don’t know what’s cuter: that euphemism for strabismus or 16-month-old me!


Do you keep a vocabulary notebook? What kinds of words or phrases find their way there? What would you say is your strongest suit in terms of language proficiency? In which areas are you not so hot?

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Natália Guerreiro

Natália Guerreiro has been a teacher since the year 2000 and currently works in Aviation English assessment and teaching for the Brazilian Air Force. She holds a CELTA, a B.A. in English & Portuguese from UFRJ, and an M.A. in Applied Linguistics from the University of Melbourne. She's been elected BRAZ-TESOL's Second Vice President for the 2019-2020 term.

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