Activating Your Vocabulary: Be Proactive!
HELLO FROM SAMANTHA
Hello to Lidia and all of our World Service Readers
Well, today I’m going to get down to work straight away, and look at ways of activating your passive vocabulary! The difficulty that I face here is that I don’t know how many of you get the opportunity to speak regularly in English, so you will have to choose the advice that is most relevant to you. I hope you won’t find today’s blog too boring! Don’t worry, tomorrow will be an ordinary blog! Before I start, I should tell you that “checking in” means reporting for work, giving an update, letting the people around you know that you are back! So yesterday, I was just letting you know that I was back on my blog!
Recycle your new words and phrases
You have to see a new word many times, in different contexts, before it becomes part of your active vocabulary. So, as well as keeping a notebook (see yesterday’s blog), you should try to do some of the following:
i. Have a regular time to learn vocabulary (bus journey? lunch hour? before sleeping?). As well as learning new words, build in review sessions of older vocabulary.
ii. Organise your new words into spider diagrams (also called mind maps) which show relationships between words.
iii. Organise words into tables or charts: organise words by grammar: noun / adjective / adverb / opposite meaning. Eg. success / successful / successfully / failure.
iv. Try to write sentences or a paragraph which includes the new words. Many of you already do this in your comments, when you use vocabulary from the blogs. This is an excellent technique, and if you haven’t done it yet, do it today!
v. Categorise your words. Write down a title on a piece of paper, such as politics, then write down as many words that you can think of related to politics. Now find a piece of published writing relating to politics. Do a Google search, or look at the bbc website, or look at an on-line newspaper. How many more words can you discover related to politics?
Use your new words: be proactive
If you don’t have the opportunity to speak English in your everyday life or job, some of these hints will be difficult for you, but see hint (iii)! The fact that you are reading this blog now means that you are already proactive, so transfer this skill to a different area of language study!
i. Try a game! Make individual word cards for ten new words you would like to learn. Put them in your left pocket in the morning before you leave the house. Now, the difficult part! Before you go to bed, you must try to use all of the words: in a conversation, in an email, or in a comment sent to Learning English. After you have used a word, you can put the word card into your right pocket. Repeat the process until all the word cards are in your right pocket!
ii. Make word cards with whole phrases or sentences on. Research shows that learning “chunks” of language is more useful to us. Sometimes I give my students six cards with different discussion phrases that they have to use in the lesson. You can memorise and practise generic phrases (Why do you think that? What makes you say that? Could you rephrase that for me? ). Children learn their first language in “chunks”. A child of two can say “What’s that?” with the correct question intonation, or “Where’s daddy?”, but he or she does not understand that each question is made up of three words. So, think about chunks!
iii. If you don’t have anyone to speak English with, find someone! And no, I don’t mean go for private English lessons. There will always be some sort of club or society you can join which has an international clientele. Usually these societies use English as the method of communication, because of the range of nationalities. When I lived abroad, I was a member of an association for international families, and I had the opportunity to talk to people from all over the world (Japan, Australia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, USA, UK, Canada, Hong Kong). In the university I teach in, there is an “International Society” which regularly organises events, trips, concerts and so on. If there is no such organisation in your area, start one! Remember, attending an association is not just about practising your English, it’s about befriending people who may be isolated in your country.
iv. Remember Lidia's advice, don’t worry about making mistakes. Making mistakes is natural and it shows that you are pushing your grammatical limits!
Read actively and analytically
From now on, when you read something in English, look at it analytically.
i. Underline all of the verbs in a section of the text (a page, or around 250 words).
Look at the verbs: what tenses does the writer use? Has the writer used verbs with a similar meaning (eg. increase / develop / expand / improve). Are there any verbs with the opposite meaning?
ii. Now, underline all of the adjectives. Do you understand all of them? Is there a theme to the language use? Are the adjectives positive or negative? (eg. cautious / limited / uncertain / disastrous would all be negative if the article was a business report!).
iii. Now do the same with adverbs. I did this in my blog on Friday. Adverbs add emphasis; sometimes they may be used to exaggerate or overstate. Look at these adverbs in your text. Are they objective (factual) or subjective (emotional)? If you have access to English language newspapers, this is a very useful task. Although you may think newspapers are always objective in their reporting, you may be surprised!
Well, I think I have probably bored all of you for too long, so I’m going to end this now!
USEFUL WORDS AND EXPRESSIONS
chance to do something
check in (verb)
i. here, means report for work, give an update
ii. register at a hotel or for a flight
use again, use repeatedly
here, means language background or situation
review session (noun)
time spent looking at previous work
spider diagram or mind map (noun)
diagram which may look like a spider, with a word in the middle (spider’s body) and lots of legs going outwards with related words on their feet!
table or chart (noun)
unfortunately, I can't draw one here, but just think about the chemical table of elements that you studied at secondary school!
put into groups
when you make a positive effort to be active
word card (noun)
small cards with word and definition written on it
whole phrase (noun)
meaningful clause or sentence
piece of language / group of words
international clientele (noun)
people from all over the world
here, club or group
attend an association (phrase)
go to / take part in a club or group
make friends with
draw a line under
give importance to something
to make something more important / exciting than it really is
to make something more important / exciting than it really is
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