Wednesday, January 25, 2006

What they don't teach you in class part 2

Last time I wrote about difficulties understanding spoken English, this time I'm going to tell you about vocabulary items that we almost always forget to teach you in class but are nevertheless essential if you spend any time in an English speaking country.

If you heard someone say, "fancy going for a drink?", what would you reply? The correct answer would be "OK,let's go" or "no thanks, another time perhaps". So now we know that "fancy" means avoir envie and that we should say "do you fancy", but often it's too much effort so we just say "fancy".

That's one vocabulary item. But what about "for a drink"? This might seem strange for a student of English who has learned that "drink" is a verb. But it's also a noun, "une boisson" or in this context, "un verre". No amount of grammar knowledge could help you to produce a sentence like "fancy going for a drink?". You just have to learn them by heart. Try using my cards method to help you assimilate this kind of language. By the way I would translate this question as "Ca te dirais d'aller boire un verre?" (correct me if there are any mistakes!).

You see, when we learn grammar, we learn fixed formulas that are largely ignored by native speakers. A language that had no idioms would be kind of easy to learn. Alas, there aren't any languages like that.

So you learn that the past tense of "ride" is "rode". Great. Now what? Someone asks you what you did last weekend and you proudly answer, "I ride my bike". I'm sorry, but that wasn't the answer I was looking for. It doesn't tell the information I wanted. You told me that you rode you bike. You rode you bike for one minute, you rode your bike to the baker's to buy some bread...what? The correct grammar tells me nothing. So just like "go for a drink", if you want to tell me that you actually spent some time on your bike for pleasure you would say, "I went for a ride on my bike. I tell my students to use this all the time, because no-one has ever told them before.

Here are a few more examples in case anyone should ask you about your weekend, holiday, trip etc:

I went for a swim in the sea
we went for a meal in a posh restaurant (it's stupid to say "we ate in restaurant", what else do you do there?)
I went for a drive in my car
We went for a pizza
We went for a walk in the town centre

Use the gerund for other things:

We went skiing, shopping, horse-riding, rollerskating (don't say "roller") carting, bungee-jumping, hiking, etc.

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