#coronaversary: rollouts and re-entry

It’s a year today since we went into our first lockdown here in the UK. As someone with lots of contacts in countries who’d gone into lockdowns earlier, I was already being quite cautious, so I don’t have a last pre-lockdown photo gathered with friends doing ‘normal’ things to share. It has been a chance to reflect back on the last 12 months though personally, professionally and of course, linguistically.

In my series of ten blog posts last summer, I examined some of the new language to come out of the pandemic – or coronavocab – and in my latest post, I give a bit of an update on some of the new trends and expressions that are coming to characterize the kind of language we’re using to talk about what’s going on in 2021. I look at coronavirus vs. Covid, jabs vs. shots, rollouts and re-entry.

Read the full post here.


A.S.Hornby Dictionary Research Awards

In recent months, I’ve become involved with the A.S. Hornby Educational Trust as a member of their expert panel for the A.S.Hornby Dictionary Research Awards initiative (ASHDRA). It’s an interesting new role and something I’m really looking forward to being part of it. The scheme aims to facilitate innovative research into areas of lexicography that will feed into practical benefits for learners of English.

We’re particularly interested in research in the following areas:

  • Research into low-cost lexicographic resources to improve the learning and teaching of English in under-resourced classrooms in public education contexts
  • Classroom research into how learners currently use dictionaries with a view to making recommendations to improve classroom practice
  • Research geared to the development of teacher and / or learner training in the use of dictionaries and other lexicographic resources to enhance English language learning
  • Critical evaluation of available lexicographic resources (electronic or paper) with proposals and accompanying materials for improving their pedagogical effectiveness
  • An investigation of the potential role of dictionaries and/or other lexicographic resources for pupils in schools in English-speaking countries for whom English is an additional language, with proposals and accompanying materials.
  • Research geared to the development of lexicographic resources which go beyond the scope of conventional dictionaries and are of practical use for EL learners

The call for proposals for the 2021 award is now open and we welcome proposals for both academic and practitioner research. So, if you’re interested in dictionaries in ELT and have an idea for a research project, find out more on the Hornby website. I’m really looking forward to seeing the range of proposals that come in.

2020 Projects

It’s that time of year when we all tend to look back on what we’ve achieved in the past 12 months. Working in publishing though, it’s often difficult to talk about what you’ve been working on. Most projects are confidential until they’re published, which is generally quite a few months after you’ve finished work on them, so you mostly end up talking about what you did last year.

In some ways, that’s been the case in 2020, with quite a few projects I worked on in 2019 coming out this year. The year started off with the publication in paperback of How To Write EAP Materials – previously only available as an ebook, now in print and in an updated edition. And in case you missed it, I also created a linked series of videos about some of the things to consider when writing materials for EAP teachers.

Cover image of How to Write EAP Materials

March saw the publication of a position paper I wrote for OUP about the updated Oxford 3000:

Image of position paper entitled "The Oxford 3000 and Oxford 5000: The most important words to learn in English"

And in June, new editions of the COBUILD Idioms and Phrasal Verbs Dictionaries, which I’d been involved in updating, came out:

Cover images of the COBUILD Idioms Dictioary fourt edition and the COBUILD Phrasal Verbs Dictionary fourth edition

While in December, the new edition of IELTS Common Mistakes (CUP), which I’d worked on updating earlier in the year, was published:

Cover image of IELTS Common Mistakes for bands 6.0-7.0

Unusually, I can also talk a bit about some of the things I’ve been working on this year, even though they haven’t quite been published yet. I’ve worked on two series of books which have at least been made public already, so I think that means I can mention them.

Throughout the year, I’ve worked on various stages of a series for Cambridge English aimed at pupils in international schools whose second language is English; Global English. It’s the second edition of a coursebook series that goes through primary to lower secondary. I’ve worked on 6 levels in the series in total, researching common learner errors in the key markets for the books to feed into usage notes and targeted practice for the workbooks. For some levels, I carried out research and prepared reports to pass onto workbook authors and for several levels, I did both the research and the writing. The books are due for publication next year, so look out for more news then.

Image of Cambridge University Press Global English series with cover images of three books in the series

I also worked on two levels of Oxford Discover Futures, aimed at secondary level EFL students. I was involved in creating writing workshops for students’ books at the two highest levels, again forthcoming early next year, so watch this space for more details.

Still making the same mistakes … Common Mistakes 15 years on

Back in the early 2000s, I was working primarily as a freelance lexicographer on learner’s dictionaries. I loved the work, but I was starting to think about branching out more into other ELT materials.  One of my first breaks came when I was asked to do some learner corpus research for a new series of books for CUP, Common Mistakes at … and how to avoid them.

I carried out much of the research for the new series looking at the most frequent errors made by learners in different Cambridge exams, starting with First Certificate, PET, CAE and Proficiency, then in a second batch, KET and IELTS.

As I was doing the research, it occurred to me that I’d quite like to take the next step and write the material, so I approached the commissioning editor and asked if they had authors lined up for all the books. It turned out that they were still looking for someone for the Proficiency title, so after producing a sample, I got the gig and my first book as an author was published in 2005. I then went on to author the IELTS Advanced book published in 2007.

Since then, the books have proved popular with students as a simple revision aid to help them tidy up some of those common errors and with luck, nudge up their exam marks. The books have gone on to be published in a number of versions, translated into Japanese and Chinese editions, and more recently bundled together with practice tests.

Earlier this year, CUP came back to me to update the IELTS Adv book for a second edition. When we reviewed the material, it turned out that the language errors that students make really haven’t changed much in 15 years. We did though need to go through and update many of the examples to get rid of references CDs and phone boxes and the like. And of course with lots of examples of data in the IELTS exams, there was a bit of research needed to update some of the stats and dates that got mentioned, as well as a few minor tweaks to account for changes in exam formats.

Cover image of IELTS Common Mistakes

The resulting new edition has just been published, with a very slight name change, as IELTS Common Mistakes for bands 6.0-7.0, available here.

InnovateELT 2020: talking about language change

For me, one of the big disappointments of this strange year has been the cancellation of a number of ELT events I’d been due to attend and speak at. It’s always great to get away from my desk and to meet people face-to-face, whether that’s chatting to teachers, getting to know others in ELT publishing or catching up with old colleagues. I also enjoy the opportunity to talk about what I’ve been working on. Preparing and giving talks is a great way to develop my own thinking in different areas as I have to consider how to best explain my ideas, setting them against the background of the existing ELT landscape. It’s a process that makes me really think and often sends me off to do extra research just to check that I’m on solid ground before I open my mouth!

So I was really pleased when one of my planned talks got moved online. The InnovateELT conference was due to take place in Barcelona in May, but will now be an online event at the end of this week – 18th and 19th September. Yes, I’m going to miss catching up in person with all the other attendees and of course, I’m missing out on a trip to gorgeous Barcelona, but at least I will get to present perhaps my favourite of the talks I had planned for 2020.

The title of my talk is Changing language for a changing world and it came out of some corpus research I’ve been involved in over the past couple of years for Collins COBUILD to feed into a number of new editions of their reference resources. I’ll be talking about just some of the language trends we identified – and a few that have come along since! – how new language is (and isn’t) relevant in the ELT classroom and suggesting some practical ways of tackling new language in class. Click here for a short video I made to introduce my session

If you’d like to join my session and the range of other fascinating-looking sessions happening over the course of the two-day event, click here to find out more and to register.

Tackling coronavocab in ELT

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been involved in something of a blogging marathon, posting 10 blog posts in 10 days entitled: 10 ways to tackle coronavocab. It was partly inspired by my work on ETpedia Vocabulary – which consists of sets of 10 tips for tackling different areas of vocabulary teaching. But this time, I looked at different ways in which the coronavirus pandemic has affected the way we use language and ideas for bringing that language into the ELT classroom. It aimed to highlight some of the new and trending vocabulary as an interesting starting point for short vocab activities, but it also explored ways in which that could act as a springboard for looking at more generally transferrable language points, such as word formation, collocation and phrasal verbs. In each post, I look at some of the key vocab and the stories behind it, give plenty of examples in context and suggest ideas for 3 or 4 different activities to try out with students.


Below are a list of the angles I covered – click on the links to read each one:
#1 Coronacoinages: new words that have been coined to describe the coronacoaster we’ve all been on over the past few months.
#2 Trending terms: words that have suddenly spiked in frequency as we get used to the new normal of face masks and hand sanitizer.
#3 The Science: some of the technical terms that have become so familiar to describe the pandemic and what the epidemiologists are telling us.
#4 New compounds & contexts: words that aren’t new but are being used in new ways and new combinations, think social distancing and social bubbles.
#5 Learning & Teaching: the language being used to describe the new realities of homeschooling and asynchronous teaching.
#6 Metaphors: Have we been fighting a war against the virus, hunkering down and waiting for it to pass or trying to dampen it down and snuff it out?
#7 The Stats: Do you know your R rate from your exponential growth? A look at the terms behind the numbers.
#8 Phrasal Verbs: whether things are ramping up or easing off, it seems phrasal verbs have proved popular in a crisis.
#9 Work: WFH and what collocates with Zoom – investigating new ways of working and new words to describe it.
#10 My Corona: the importance of equipping and enabling students to express how the virus has affected them, what they’re struggled with and what they can’t wait to do.

Phrasal verbs

Hopefully, the series makes an interesting read, a bit of a record of the strange times we’re all living through and provides some practical classroom ideas. I’d be really interested to hear if anyone tries any of them out with students and how they go down.


Researching new idioms and phrasal verbs

At the end of last year, I had one of those jobs that you start anticipating eagerly over breakfast each morning! I worked on the team updating two Collins COBUILD dictionaries – of phrasal verbs and idioms.


My colleague, Penny Hands, had done some of the initial work of compiling a list of possible new additions, then I had the fun of searching for them using the New Monitor corpus, part of the larger Collins Corpus, made up of the most recent data from both conventional sources (such as print media) and also social media.  I used the initial list as a starting point, but my research led me in all kinds of directions and threw up some new ideas too.

It was a fun job on several levels. Firstly, new language is always fascinating and because phrasal verbs and idioms both tend to be at the more informal end of the register scale, they’re often just inherently quite funny and playful. Then, there’s the technical challenge of constructing corpus searches to find what can be quite variable combinations of words (such as separable phrasal verbs where the object can come between the verb and the particle – push [it/the deadline] back, and variable idioms – drop the mic, drops mic, a mic drop). You want to come up with a search this isn’t too open so that it also finds too much ‘noise’ (examples that aren’t the target phrase), but isn’t too narrow so that it doesn’t find a wide enough range of the possible variations.

My findings then fed in as part of the updates to the new editions which have just come out. My post over on the Collins ELT blog gives a flavour of some of the types of things we found and added.

Language trends

Recently over on my blog, I’ve been looking into a number of language trends, some related to the current coronavirus pandemic, some more general.

Hibernation: I looked at the way people have started talking about hibernating businesses: pausing operations during the current crisis. It’s one of the few hopeful metaphors around that suggests a temporary and even natural suspension of normal life. Although I wrote the post a month ago and the process of the global economy stretching itself and waking up again is now looking like being more gradual and hesitant than it might have seemed then.


Photo by George Kendall on Unsplash

New ways of teaching and learning: In my second post, I looked at the terms we’re using to describe the new ways in which the world of education has been trying to adapt to the lack of classroom teaching. Are you talking about online teaching, remote learning or distance learning? And what about the new words (retronyms) we’ve had to adopt to distinguish those approaches from face-to-face or in-person teaching and learning or even Zoom classes?

Watching TV: Then in my most recent post, I looked into a longer term trend in the way we talk about what we watch. With more people watching content on their phones or other devices rather than sitting down in front of a conventional TV, I investigated the kind of language we might need to be teaching students to describe their contemporary lives and viewing habits.

A position paper on the Oxford 3000

Last year, OUP asked me to write a position paper about the revised Oxford 3000 and 5000 word lists, how they were compiled and their relevance to vocabulary teaching. It was a challenging task with input and feedback from a whole range of people to take into account, but fascinating nonetheless, especially as it involved bringing together academic research and classroom practice. It was great to work with such an engaged group of experts, including Paul Nation, James Milton and Marlise Horst, and to test both my grey cells and my mediation skills pulling everything together into a readable final draft.

Ox 3000 paper

The paper has now been published and is available to download via the OUP website here.

Writing for an audience of EAP teachers

The e-book I wrote some time ago – How to Write EAP Materials – has recently come out as a paperback with this lush shocking pink cover 💗

Pink paperbacks

It seemed to coincide perfectly with an EAP conference in St Andrews this weekend with the theme: “Anybody out there: addressing audiences in academic discourse”. It’s a great little conference that I’ve been to before and what better match than a session about writing EAP materials for an audience of other teachers? …

Unfortunately, for practical reasons, I couldn’t make it up to Scotland this year. Undeterred though, I’ve put together the session I would have delivered as a series of four short (6-7 min) videos. They’re divided into four ‘top tips’ about what you might need to take into account if you’re writing EAP materials (or to be honest, any classroom materials) to be used by colleagues. You can (hopefully!) access all four videos on my YouTube channel via this link.

Title slide

You can find out more about the book on the ELT Teacher 2 Writer website or just search for it on Amazon.