Help! Confusing Dictionary Entries!

Resultat d'imatges de photos of help

 

Yes, I know. There has been a long pause between posts. Some students kept reminding me to update the blog. I would make a lame excuse : “I’m not inspired”, which although sincere, wasn’t quite justifiable, nor believable. After a while, they just gave up.

The new school year started off well and yet my mind was blank and I couldn’t think of anything worth sharing! It wasn’t until yesterday that my inspiration came back and this was, once more, a result of a class discussion.

A student of mine  was learning a set of idioms and was quite upset by an explanation given in the textbook for the expression: “For the time being”. It was: ” For the present time, until later”.

She insisted that the part “until later” was confusing. “Well “, I said, ” this expression implies that in the future , or later, things may change”. For me , of course , it was clear  but it made me think about the way words are defined in dictionaries and how confusing dictionary entires may be depending on the learner’s  first language or his/her cultural background.

Funnily enough, in the many years that I have been teaching, this has never crossed  my mind! Mind you,  she was the first student to have said: ” Are dictionary definitions written like this on purpose, to make things more difficult for us learners?” This was a joke, of course, but it did show the depth of her frustration.

As always , I recommended reading examples of idiomatic expressions in context and then deducing their actual meaning and not relying so much on the definition itself.

Later on, out of curiosity, I decided to see how a few dictionaries define the same expression.

Here are the results:

  • oxforddictionaries.com : for the present; until some other arrangement is made.
  • collinsdictionary.com : for the moment; temporarily
  • dictionary.cambridge.org: at this time

To be honest, I don’t really see the difference between saying :” until later or  “until some other arrangement is made”, although the latter seems more precise, doesn’t it?

Anyway, as we went on talking about the subject, I told her about the fact that some words in English have two completely opposite meanings. These words are called CONTRONYMS or AUTO-ANTONYMS or JANUS WORDS and there is a fair number of them in English.

Luckily, my student has already reached a solid level of English, but even so, I could see the spark of despair in her eyes. She left the classroom with a  bitter feeling that she will never master this impossible language.

On the other hand, I rushed to Mr Google to find out how many contronyms  there are and started thinking of  ways to help my students work around their vocabulary related doubts, some  of which are so rarely mentioned in the classroom.

At the same time, I’ve got a new topic for my next blog post!

I will help my students.

I can’t help  feeling happy about it!

spoiler: I just used a contronym!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Adverbs: still

In our last post we explained the usage of ” just”, as it is  just one of the adverbs difficult to translate into Spanish . We mentioned then that there are more short adverbs with a tricky usage and even trickier translation into Spanish,  i.e.  only, even and still.

Today we will focus on the meaning and usage of “still” as an adverb.

The most common and easiest meaning to understand and translate is the following:

still : up to and including the present time, or the time mentioned previously (aún,todavía):

Are you still working for the same company?

He still hasn’t replied to my email.

He is still alive.

Nevertheless, still can be used to express the following, more specific  meanings:

  1. emphasizing a comparison (even):  More worrying still is that it’s only a month away.
  2. saying what remains to be done:   I still need to bring it all together.
  3. saying you continue to wait for something that is overdue: He still hasn’t got back to me.
  4. offering a contrasting viewpoint (nevertheless): Still, there was one place that was quite interesting. ( aún asi, de todas formas)
  5. referring to a possibility in the future:  That should still give you time to revise your report.

Moreover, where to place an adverb in a senteces sometimes seems to be confusing.

Still usually goes in “mid position”, meaning after auxilliary verbs and before other verbs:

She is still working.

He still loves sports.

When used to emphasize contrast, meaning nevertheless, it is in the initial position ( at the beginning of a clause):

e.g. Still, another option would be to close the restaurant.

To sum up, here’s a nice, smooth song to illustrate its usage at it’s best!

Have a nice weekend!

 

 

 

Just about just

My advanced level students keep having doubts when it comes to understanding and using certain adverbs such as: even, just, still or only. While having no problems grasping the general meaning of longer texts, sentences involving these words don’t seem to be easily translated into Spanish or Catalan and this fact often causes a great deal of confusion and a misinterpretation of details.
Quite often it is not really important that the learners get the whole message across, but what I am concerned about most is that such sentences might become a serious obstacle when they are doing a reading comprehension task in an exam, especially when reading for specific details is being tested.

Another situation in which  not understanding such words may have a more serious consequence is in a business context.

 
For this reason, I’ve decided to dedicate this post just to just.
Just has several meanings:
1.EXACTLY

This house is just right for our family.

2.ONLY

She isn’t a woman. She’s just a girl.

3. VERY RECENTLY

I’ve just tried phoning you.

4. RIGHT NOW

I’m just making a cake.

5.ACTUALLY, REALLY

You know I just might do that!

6. SIMPLY, ONLY

I just want you to leave the room.

7.EQUALLY, NO LESS

You’re just as bad as the rest of them.

8.TAKE THE OPPORTUNITY

Could I just ask how you found out where he was hiding?

9. SOMETHING THAT IS NEARLY NOT POSSIBLE

I can just reach the top shelf.

 

There’s more. Sometimes just doesn’t mean very much.It just emphasizes what you’re saying:

Just what do you think you’re doing?

It’s just unbelievable!

So now that you’ve got these notes, I recommend trying to translate these sentences into your mother tongue as precisely as possible in order to visualise how just is translated in each situation.

After a while you might want to take your translated sentences and translate them back into English. Comparing your results will help you to use and understand just better.

Well, that’s just about everything  I’d like to share with you today.

After the work you’ve done you might want to listen to some music. I have chosen just two songs, but there are many more which will help you think about this little big word!

Watch out for other key adverbs in our next blog post!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reading lists

 

In the search for a new book to read, most of us just scroll down the list of bestsellers and  choose the latest. Today’s bestsellers seem to be a revival of 19 century novels; stories told over a thousand pages and often ending masterfully,  urging the readership to anticipate  an imminent sequel, just like a Holywood movie hit.

If you are happy with this situation, and bestsellers fulfil your reading demands, you needn’t read on. Mind you, choosing to read bestsellers  provides you with a topic to discuss over dinner with friends or over coffee with workmates. Personally, I share the opinion of  one of my favourite authors, Ian McEwan:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/11067429/Author-Ian-McEwan-Very-few-novels-earn-their-length.html

Language teachers often recommend reading as one of the most efficient ways of improving overall language skills, especially when the objective is passing a crucial language exam. Needless to say, I am the first to encourage  my students to read as much as possible, and am often asked for advice on which  book to choose. In the case of lower levels, there is an easy answer: choose a graded reader on whichever topic you like. However, when it comes to reading originals, recommending becomes a difficult task. A taste for literature is as personal as a taste for wine or food. Moreover, there is the  ongoing obstacle of me refusing to read books that are too long or too widely read, further worsening the prospects of finding the right option for my students.

As I’m quite choosy and, like most people, have limited time for reading, I often look for reading lists.Here are some you might find useful  when reading for pleasure, or reading  in order to improve your English skills:

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/dec/29/the-best-book-weve-read-all-year-guardian-writers-and-readers-look-back

http://www.modernlibrary.com/top-100/100-best-novels/

https://penguinchecklist.wordpress.com/later-series/great-books-of-the-20th-century/

http://www.nytimes.com/pages/books/index.html

You may or not be convinced by this piece of advice, as it’s likely many of the books mentioned are of no interest to you or you have already read them.

For this reason, I’ll share my little secret with you. What I did this year is use Goodreads. I rated some books that I have read and liked, in order to receive a personalised list of recommendations. Although I have friends on Goodreads, I have always been reluctant to use it, as it is directly associated with Amazon. However, this time I have overcome my prejudice.

To my surprise, I have actually been presented with a  number of interesting titles and am now working on my reading list. I will try to buy the titles  in my local bookshops, though, as I’m terified by the notion of Amazon and similar websites wiping bookshops out of my city’s map forever.

If  you  think this might work for you, I encourage you to try it out. Good luck!

https://www.goodreads.com/

 

 

Make vs Do

I know. We repeat ourselves. We write about collocations over and over again. Our excuse? Time goes in circles. It’s a new year, a new circle. Let’s face the sad truth: collocations are unavoidable, just like new years and just like the doubts we have about correct collocations!

Most learners of English, here in Spain, get frustrated when having to use “do” or “make”, as both words have the same translation into Spanish. So today we are going to study one specific collocation:  TO MAKE A LIST.

“That one is easy”, you’d say, “It’s one of the first studied at elementary school or sometimes even at pre-school”.  Good. So we’ve got that. It’s easy. The collocation is easy, but what about the actual list writing?

One of the most frequent activities at the end of one and the beginning of another year is to resume and plan. Lists are made on the most watched movies of the past year, the most widely read books, the most seen YouTube videos, the classiest hotel rooms, the craziest stunts, the best holiday destinations , etc.

These are just some of the lists made and published, exclusively focusing on THE BEST, as the worst of our world shouldn’t yet be mentioned.  After all, we are still digesting the holiday season.

For the same reason (holidays), we don’t question much the objectivity of these opinions. After all, the glass of red wine in our hand makes the year  we’ve left behind seem a pretty blurred.

After browsing through and often laughing out loud at the best of what’s over,  we  can then decide on our hopes and dreams for the future. MAKING PLANS involves making another list, the well-known  “New Year’s Resolution list 2016”.

As a teacher , I usually make this list in September. Doesn’t really make any difference. One has the freedom to choose when to make a new start , at least mentally. Feel free to make yourself happy or disappoint yourself whenever you please.

So, most of us just “copy” our last year’s list, and some decide to finally take action, but the sad truth is that  resolutions are  made, but not kept. The fact that we haven’t managed to change at all or have made very few or insignificant changes, will never ever discourage us from making a new list  at the end of the year.

Here, at Idiomestarradellas, we hope that learning and improving  your level of English will always stay on your  New year’s resolution list.

Cheers!

Resultat d'imatges de cheers

Don’t forget to check out these lists!

http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2015/dec/29/best-read-travel-stories-of-2015

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/best-in-travel

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/top/bestofrt/?year=2015

 

Inspiration or Nostalgia?

For some time now, I’ve been trying to get inspired, but whenever I think I’ve come upon an exciting or at least mildly interesting idea for our language blog, I google it and find at least 1.0000000000 similar entries (approximate estimation). It’s a turnoff.

There’s no doubt : we are all caught in a matrix, a spiderweb interconnecting our minds, and same ideas seem to be flowing around eternally, no matter the topic, our geographical location,  our cultural background or even the age we are living in. We are defined by our human condition.

Nothing new. It’s just that  this fact has been  blatantly shoved into my face time and again. Unfortunately, neither this feeling of despair is unique.

Anyway,  when I  googled “phrasal verbs in comics”, I was faced with numerous funny images and , surprisingly, they triggered my inspiration, or was it nostalgia? No matter what it was, I’m starting off this blog`post, without checking out if anything similar has been written. I’ll leave that investigation to you!

Let’s start.

I still remember telling my students to write letters to a pen friend  in a foreign country. At that time i.e.century,  mostly snail mail was used, as Internet connections were costly, and teachers had to do lots of work before connecting students with their peers in The States or Britain, which were usually our first options. If one out of twenty students kept writing for at least one school year, we thought it was worthwhile. Yes, we were  young and enthusiastic.Nostalgia again!

Nowadays, keeping in touch is much easier. Teenagers travel more and connect faster and easier with people from other parts of the world. They don’t need a ball pen  and, sadly, many don’t even learn how to hold one properly…

Resultat d'imatges de photos of holding a ballpen.

…not to mention that they don’t even bother to write (type), but just send a selfie and their geo-position marked on a map. However, I still keep telling my teenage students  TO WRITE  emails to their friends abroad in order to practice their English.

Mind you, how do you say  PEN PAL  nowadays? Does this concept exist anymore?

Next:

Yes, it  used to cheer many generations up. And now? Does downloading a song have the same effect? For me it doesn’t, but then, I was young in the last century. Millennials, you are missing out on holding the  OBJECT, a RECORD in your hands, having to take care it doesn’t get scratched when your younger brother learns how to work a RECORD PLAYER  and having to save up for the new record of your favourite band. For those  of you who are to young to remember – a record player:

Resultat d'imatges de photos of a recor player

And the last nostalgic image:

Yes, today even though a child can’t talk or walk or read, they will already be holding and smart phone or tablet, staring at pictures. Judging by the look on this toddler’s face, he might be “reading” the news Lucy’s talking about!

Resultat d'imatges de babies with smartphones

There it is, a post inspired by nostalgia. It was fun looking back. As long as I don’t check out what others have written on this topic, I’ll be fine. Thank you Peanuts for the memories.

Have a nice weekend!