Friday, December 07, 2007

English word of the day

While surfing the net looking for things to write about learning English, I often come across ESL sites that have a 'word of the day' or 'word of the week' box. Some online dictionaries put up free word of the day scripts that you can put on your own site or blog. I did once think about doing it, thinking that it would be a good way for you to improve your vocabulary.

The only problem, however, was that most, if not all, the words that came up were ones that I'd never heard of. This is great for me - as a native English speaker they help me to expand my knowledge of English. But how useful would these words be to a foreign learner of English? Even if you have an extremely advanced level, these words have limited usefulness because no-one ever uses them.

Michael Lewis makes this point in his book 'The Lexical Approach'. He noted that books aimed at proficiency level concentrate on words that even native speakers never use. I have trouble completing the exercises in these books because these words don't figure in my vocabulary. Since when have 'advanced' or 'proficient' been synonyms with 'obscure' or 'useless'?

Having an advanced level in a foreign language doesn't mean knowing a lot of words that even the natives don't know, rather, it means using the same language that the natives use, including slang, idioms and word-plays. And yes, in English that means understanding that awful corrupted, vulgar version of English called 'American'!

I've had hate mail from outraged teachers accusing me of discrediting the profession by teaching things like 'gonna' and 'watcha', but that's another story for another day.


Jeff Mattison said...

This is a perfect sketch for illustrating homophones with English varieties. What success have you had with it in the classroom? Teaching on the "other side of the pond", I wonder what similar material I could find that keeps the humor with an English lesson. How did you find this sketch? Thanks for posting. Feel free to check out my teaching blog, too, sometime.

Jan Folmer said...

I am the host of the Just Vocabulary Podcast. I live in
Cape Town, but I am originally from the Netherlands. So I had to improve
my vocabulary.
I found your article interesting and made me wonder... what feedback do you have for the Just Vocabulary Podcast? I tend to pick words from the GRE list - good choice? We have flashcards (I read your post on that as well and I agree with you)

I look forward to hear from you,

Anonymous said...

I think a very good complement to this kind of sites is to practise with a real teacher like in Linkua, live language tutoring. Classes are done via videoconference

carolyn kirk said...

Yes, I know what you mean. the Longman online English dictionary is very good for learners. Most of the words are those one would already know, with the occasional exception, so it's very accessible to learners

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I think it is a great idea to have a word of the day because when it is about a language we never end learning