When you’re working on a book, you end up so caught up in the details, especially towards the end of the editing and rewriting process, that it can be difficult to step back and ‘see the wood for the trees’. I often find that even when a book’s published and I’m holding a copy in my hands, I’m not the best judge of whether it’s come out well because I’m still wondering whether the illustration on page 68 was the best choice or not!
So it’s really nice when you get some independent feedback. ETpedia Vocabulary has just appeared as the Book of the Month with a glowing review in the January edition of EL Gazette (free to read online).
Thanks to my co-authors Fiona Mauchline and Stacey H Hughes along with the rest of Pavilion team for helping to create such a great resource. #glowingwithpride
As we come to the end of 2019, I’ve inevitably been reflecting on the past 12 months. From a work perspective, the year got off to a bit of a slow start, but then picked up and turned out to be incredibly busy with a fabulous mix of different types of work, meeting new people, tackling new challenges and also just having lots of fun playing with words! Rather than an end-of-year blog post, this year I’ve put together an infographic of my working year in numbers:
At the end of last year, I had the fascinating task of being involved in researching recent trends in language usage for the new edition of Collins COBUILD English Usage which has just been published.
For those not familiar with the book, it’s neither a grammar book nor a dictionary, but instead takes a wider look at language usage. Aimed at upper-int/advanced learners and teachers, it lists words alphabetically and explores how they are typically used.
For this new edition, I explored several areas where language usage has changed since the last edition (in 2012). Some of the areas I looked into included new coinages, social media, identity, gender, mental health and disability, drawing on data from the ‘New Monitor’ corpus (part of the Collins Corpus containing recent data from news and social media) and a whole variety of other sources. The research turned up some fascinating shifts in usage, as well as leading me down some odd, and sometimes disturbingly dark, linguistic alleys!
Find out more about the project on the Collins Dictionary website (note: if you’re not reading this in Oct 2019, this link may have changed!) and scroll down to read two blog posts I wrote about ‘identity and gender‘ and ‘mental health and disability‘ (these links shouldn’t change).
At the weekend, I was lucky enough to visit St Petersburg – a city I last visited on a school trip way back in 1986! Unsurprisingly, it’s very much changed and is now a vibrant, cosmopolitan city with a wonderfully friendly, buzzy feel.
I was there to deliver a day of workshops on the topic of Teaching Advanced Writing Skills to a group of local teachers. They were a very knowledgeable, receptive audience who were both open to new ideas and eager to share their own thoughts and experiences. Thanks to the organizers and to the participants for making it such an enjoyable day.
I’ve written up a few thoughts on how running training workshops for teachers is so valuable to me professionally and how it feeds into my materials development work – over on my blog here.
A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to give a guest lecture to an international group of ELT teachers on professional development courses run by Oxford University’s Department for Continuing Education. It was a great excuse to get away from my desk for the day, they were a really friendly, engaged audience and I got to talk a bit more about vocabulary … what’s not to like?!
The Saïd Business School, Oxford
My session was focused around the important split between receptive and productive vocabulary. It’s a topic I believe is really key in understanding vocabulary development and vital for planning classroom activities. In a nutshell, I argued that if we’re focusing on vocabulary that we would like students to understand receptively (i.e. when they’re reading or listening), then activities should revolve mainly around comprehension. If we don’t expect students to be actively using a word (either just yet or possibly ever!), then it’s a waste of everyone’s time getting them to use it in productive activities. However, if we’re focusing on productive vocabulary that we do want learners to try and use for themselves, then giving them input about how the word is used and plenty of productive practice is essential.
Whenever I talk about this though and give participants language and possible activities to discuss and comment on (not just on this occasion, but during my recent webinar too), teachers have a strong urge to teach everything. They want to practise – and I suspect test! – all the new vocab that comes up, and they’re very reluctant to skip over even the most obscure of words … often words that I, as a proficient L1 English speaker, hardly ever use myself and which their learners are highly unlikely to ever need. Of course, it’s natural to deal with whatever language crops up in class and to explain the meanings of unknown new words, but my point is that not all words deserve equal class time. Low frequency words and words from genres that students are unlikely to produce themselves simply don’t merit taking time and energy away from more useful, high frequency words that learners really need to get to grips with and which need regular reinforcement and recycling. Honestly, I promise you, your learners can live without stroll and stalk as part of their active vocabulary!
At the weekend, I was in Birmingham speaking at the NATECLA annual conference. It was my first time at the conference, which is aimed at UK ESOL teachers, and I also got my first look at my latest publication, ETpedia Vocabulary which was literally hot off the presses, with copies only delivered the day before.
For those not familiar with the ETpedia books, they’re collections of 500 classroom teaching tips around a theme, in this case vocabulary. I worked on this collection together with Fiona Mauchline and Stacey H. Hughes and we covered a whole range of vocab teaching topics from understanding basic vocab-related terminology to teaching collocation, using dictionaries, teaching vocab at different levels, exploiting images, video and flashcards, using corpus tools … 50 different topics in fact, with 10 tips per topic.
For my workshop, I focused on the theme of how students’ L1 affects the way they learn English vocabulary. Based on two units from the book, I looked at both some of the issues to take into account, such as false friends and different alphabets, and also some of the proactive ways you can explicitly bring students’ L1 into play when teaching vocab. I had a great audience who really engaged with the ideas and offered lots of suggestions about how the things we discussed might relate to their own teaching context. I especially loved a comment from one participant when we were talking about translation and using bilingual dictionaries who said they shouldn’t be “a dirty little secret”!
Thanks to everyone who came along and especially to those who bought a copy of the book afterwards – I hope it provides lots of ideas and inspiration for your own creative vocab teaching activities.
My latest post on the OUP Global blog considers some of the specific challenges involved in teaching vocabulary at higher levels. It suggests four areas to consider when planning vocabulary activities for more advanced learners:
- Choosing which words to teach
- Narrowing the receptive-productive gap
- Teaching about vocabulary
- Usage is everything
Read the full blog post here.
I’ll be talking more about all these points and giving lots of practical examples of classroom activities and techniques in a webinar on 16 & 17 July. I’ll be running the same webinar in three different slots across the two days. If you’re interested, you can find more information and sign up here.