Saturday, March 10, 2007

learning everyday words

When I first arrived in France, the first thing I had to do was build a kitchen in the apartment where we were living. It was at this time that I realised just how many everyday words I hadn't learned whilst trying to study French in England. I would find myself in some hardware store gazing around wondering how to say "emulsion paint" or "sealant" or "washers". Even a simple word like "paint" can generate dozens of possiblities: vinyl, matt, eggshell, gloss, paintbrush, roller, paint tray, dilute, stir, drying time, undercoat, sandpaper, filler, finish, washable, etc.

If you are planning to go live in an foreign country, then start thinking about the possible word groups you are likely to encounter. Have a look around your kitchen and see what words you may need when abroad - not just the obvious ones like names of food items, but others. I know a lot of French people who have an excellent level in English but have never learned words like "sweep" "broom" "mop up" or "do the hoovering"!

If you are going to collect word groups like housework or DIY, then you could try making mindmaps. Go to my mind map pages for more information.


Keith said...

Hey Jonathan,

After reading your blog, I thought of a good, fun resources for your students eager to learn English. It's a website called Anyone can sign up, make a profile and learn conversational English with other ESL students. The sight also has vocab and grammar quizzes. was founded by an American who taught English for a few years in Japan. His experience inspired him to create the website. Check it out sometime.


Jonathan Lewis said...

Thanks for this. There is so much great stuff for learning English on the net it's hard to know where to begin. English-only sites are difficult for absolute beginners, however, as word definitions in English don't help very much.
Which brings me to my old rant: whether we should be tranlsating or doing it "immersion" Oh no,here we go again...

TESL-TEFL Teacher to Teacher said...

Hi Jonathan,
I like your blog. I've just launched a blog and it's in the same field (ELT). I'd like you to have a look at it and leave comments on my first subject.

Prof Français Italien Espagnol Anglais Néerlandais said...

I just read your message where you say basically " don't trust an English teacher who's mother language is not English : they make mistakes !"
and I read in your message "hardwhere" shop. I understand you are not some kind of alien but a real human being. Errare umanum est.
That was just the first contact.
I created a few weeks ago a blog about English (and Dutch), called, and I would be thankfull if you could have a look at it and write some comment.

Jonathan Lewis said...

thank you for pointing out my mistake, 'hardwhere', of course should be 'hardware' - a good exercise for those who are interested in homophones!
If you get a chance, have a look at the blog by Willem, who posted a comment above, you will see that I am not against non-native speakers teaching English, on the contrary, as most English speakers are non-native, it's a good idea to practice with them, and not only the minority Brits and Americans.
What I objected to in a previous post was French-language sites about learning English that focus too much on traditional grammar based learning, and even then I've found basic errors.

If you want an example, go to, run by a French teacher of English. His first lesson for beginners is entitled "the auxiliary, to be" and shows how to say things like 'I am French' 'I am hungry' etc. You know as well as I do that here the verb to be is not an auxiliary, but a full verb(of state)

What the hell is the point of explaining all that anyway?

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