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:

  • : for the present; until some other arrangement is made.
  • : for the moment; temporarily
  • 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!









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:

This house is just right for our family.


She isn’t a woman. She’s just a girl.


I’ve just tried phoning you.


I’m just making a cake.


You know I just might do that!


I just want you to leave the room.


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


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


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!









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.


Resultat d'imatges de cheers

Don’t forget to check out these lists!


Like a Bear with a Sore Head

In one of our last blogs, I mentioned our students’ genuine interest in idiomatic expressions and similes. What I find really intriguing though, is that the very same students don’t really use many idioms when speaking their first language. I guess that in many cases it’s the image of the expression that we make in our minds that we may find  truly fascinating, and not the fact that we could actually one day use the expression. A bear with a sore head  might look something like this:

Resultat d'imatges de a bear with a soar headResultat d'imatges de a bear with a soar head

But the history behind many an expression is not as funny as its visualisation may be.

In Collins’s ” Dictionary of Curious Phrases” I found the following entry for Like a Bear with a Sore Head:

Groses’s Classical Dictionary of Vulgar tongue, which appeared in 1785, illustrates the word ‘grumble’ with the sentence:’ He grumbled like a bear with a sore ear.’ Bears with sore ears would certainly have been found in bear gardens, where bear-baiting took place. This was a popular spectator sport in England between the 14th and 17th centuries. A bear was chained to a stake and had to defend itself against the dogs who were set on it.

Resultat d'imatges de a bear baiting

The riotous atmosphere at such events led to ‘bear garden’ becoming a  term to describe a place where confusion reigns….Eating People is wrong, by Malcolm Bradbury, has:

‘”It’s a mad,crazy world we live in.” Jenkins nodded sagely.”It’s a bear-garden”.’

Frederick Marryat  seems to have been the first writer to amend Grose’s ‘bear with a sore ear.’ In The King’s Own he uses the expression ‘ as savage as a bear with a sore head.’ Ten years later, in a work called Poor Jack, Marryat changed the simile to ‘ as sulky as a bear with a sore head’. Marryat’s stories were immensely popular in the 19th century, and his words would have been widely noted. He was probably responsible for making most of us think automatically, when someone is behaving with a mixture of savagery and sulkiness, of bears with sore heads.

So, next time when you find a certain simile or expression interesting, look it up and find out where it comes from, and how and where  it was used first.  You might be (un)pleasantly surprised!

Time flies

It’s September again. School has begun. Holidays are over.The saddest of sad facts-time flies.

No matter who I ask about their holidays these days, they unmistakably answer; ” What holiday?”” or ” I can’t even remember it !” or ” It’s so long ago.”

“Ok. Just try to remember so I can see how you’re using the past tenses.”Soon I give up wanting to chat away the first class of the new school year with my students and just focus on the practical.They think hard and get started. A task is a task after all and they want to get their money’s worth. There’s no way out.

Some have more to say and others really seem to have suffered from amnesia and just summarise their holidays  in  a few words: ” It was fine”,  I enjoyed myself” or “They were too short”.

It made me think. Time is relative, as we all know, from school or from life, but after  summer holidays it just seems to be even more so!

Before leaving we are full of expectations, counting down the days that will lead us to freedom; freedom from work ,study, our  daily chores. Then , all of a sudden we’re back again and  in the blink of an eye  routine sinks in, memories of the time spent away become blurred, details too difficult to remember and a deep post- vacation depression sinks  in.

I also feel like my holidays were a very long time ago so I religiously go over my  summer photos, time and again, and  I smile whenever a memory of a trivial but wonderful moment of holiday bliss flashes back  into my memory.Because I completely agree with the following quote, in spite of being a teacher:

The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time. - Bertrand Russell

But school is back and I owe you some ideas to practice your English.This time , TIME is our leading idea as you’ve must have assumed, and here’s an oldie to start with:

Our blog can’t do without some idiomatic expressions.Most of our advanced students just love collecting them. Using them is quite a different story.

I’ve come across this marvelous animation explaining relativity.

I can go on and on. Time really is an inspiring topic. I might  even spread it over a few more blog posts.

But, I gotta go now! I’ve got some real work to do. It’s September again!  Remember : time flies, but at least it’s relative, so holidays are just around the corner!

Have a nice week!

Building your vocabulary skyscraper

21st Century Guide to Building Your Vocabulary by

In 1995, I bought a book called ” “21st century guide to building your vocabulary”.It has been sitting on my bookshelf for ages and I thought it’s worth reminding the world of its existence. Here’s the download:

The idea of its authors was that we will need excellent communication skills in order to prosper in the following, 21st century. This idea still seems to be valid, just think about the US president who is, by all means, a true example of a  perfect orator.

However, what happens in classrooms is quite different.Students of all ages tend to be reading less and less and teachers are much more preoccupied by having fun classes, which should miraculously lead to effective learning, than by their students really understanding the contents being presented. The issue becomes even more serious when it comes to remembering vocabulary of a foreign language. Mind  you, this is just a personal opinion based on  years of experience  and there are always resplendent exceptions to the rule.

Many secondary school students, and even college students, doing our language courses have a limited vocabulary range of their own mother tongue. Many times they just don’t know the simplest of nominal  words, not to mention abstract nouns explaining more complex ideas.

As a solution, I  usually tell them to make lists with a definition in English, and example sentence and then the translations, in this case into Catalan and/or Spanish if the word is completely new to them followed by a Catalan/Spanish definition and example sentence.

You can imagine how many student actually do this! The most they would do is write a Spanish/Catalan translation, which makes no sense, of course , as they don’t know the word in the first place.

Needless to say, my suggestion of having their own glossary, which they could consult before doing any language exam, is not fun. So we start on a vicious circle of vocabulary games, vocabulary exercises and so on just to avoid the easiest way of expanding vocab, which is READING and taking out some of the words and expressions you find important or you might want to use in the future or for t writing  tasks and presentations.

I am aware of the fact that the grammar translation method has been dead and buried for decades. However, in the times when a great deal of teaching is done by using new technologies, I think students might be double challenged by aiming  to improve their overall  language skills using one of the oldest teaching materials – a book.