Tag Archives: vocabulary



In 2006, my wife and I packed up our things and moved to Lithuania. One of the first things we did was to purchase a small apartment near the city centre. It was an old German building with only six apartments built around the time when the area was known as East Prussia. The apartment also had a cellar with storage for each apartment and the pipes and services for the whole building. The main door didn’t have a buzzer and need someone with a key to open it. Beside this door was a sign with the phone numbers of those who had keys in case someone needed to get into the cellar such as service personnel.

One day, I was at home getting ready for class when I got a phone call. I hated getting calls since inevitably I wouldn’t understand them and would feel really stupid afterwards. Here is what I heard during that call (in English since it wouldn’t make sense to you otherwise): Continue reading Listening



Image courtesy of Phil Roeder

This is the final instalment of my first #444ELT project. To find out more about the project and to read the other three posts, here they are:

In this final week, I explored the concept of extensive reading. I have used extensive reading in my classes in the past, so I wanted to find out what the research says on the topic. Here is what I found. Continue reading Reading



Image courtesy of Taryn

A few days ago, I posted this ‘challenge’ on Twitter:

Project #444ELT: Helping ELT professionals connect with ELT research

  • Read 4 journal articles every week for 4 weeks (a total of 16 articles)
  • Each week, write a blog post that has:
    • a reference to each article
    • a short summary of each one
    • your remarks or thoughts on the content
    • a list of questions raised after reading each article.
  • Share your post on Twitter using the hashtag #444ELT
To be totally honest, I thought it might catch a few people, but instead the response via retweets and favourites has been really surprising. I mostly did this to keep myself accountable, but I was secretly hoping a few people might join in as well. It is a little different than a blog carnival in that the person joining in can do it at any time instead of setting a deadline. This is meant to be ongoing as a means to promote the use of ELT research in the classroom. By forcing yourself to participate in this short challenge, it is hoped that this will create a routine of sorts that will carry on throughout your career.

I decided to choose a theme for each week. This week’s theme revolves around vocabulary learning/acquisition and the use of intentional and incidental means. Each study is different in many ways, but the common thread shows amazing continuity in the results with some solid applications for the language classroom.

So, without further delay, here is my first entry: Week one of #444ELT Continue reading Building



Image courtesy of Steven Mileham

I hate shopping. If I was to describe my experience as a shopper, for clothes especially, it would best be summed up in one word: survival. I am not one to go from shop to shop to find the best deal. As a result, I’m not terribly picky. If the clothes generally fit and they don’t clash too badly, I’ll get them. Therefore, my closet is a terrible mishmash of things that don’t necessarily go together, but I try to make it work. This shirt is blue, these pants have blue in them, and this tie is greyish-blue so they must go together. I have gotten pretty good at finding combinations that ‘work’ and I just grab those ‘sets’ in the morning. No wasting time checking to see if something else might work better. It’s “good enough”.

I sometimes wonder if we are like that with words. We grab stock phrases and throw them together as collocation ‘sets’. They are “good enough” for what we need to accomplish. We rarely stop to think about what we are saying and how it may be interpreted. It often takes someone bold enough to speak up to help us better understand the consequences of our words. Continue reading Choosing



Image courtesy of Premshree Pillai

I really enjoy being a language teacher, but I make a terrible language learner. When I was younger, I barely scraped by in my French lessons, but when we moved to another province in Canada when I was in grade nine, I found out how far behind I was in regards to the other students. One of the biggest things I noticed was how small my personal lexicon was compared to my classmates. Sure my grammar was bad, but since I didn’t have the words to put together meaningful sentences, no one really noticed.

Fast forward a number of years to when I had moved to Lithuania and was taking Lithuanian language lessons while working as an English language instructor. There was this initial rush of learning as my vocabulary grew while taking lessons and living my day-to-day life shopping, working, and socializing with others. My confidence grew as did my vocabulary, but it was somewhere around the six month mark that I started to notice a levelling off in my lexical growth. I decided I needed to take action, so I bought myself a set of CDs that promised to help me learn a pile of new words. I transferred the audio files to my iPod and listened intently as I walked to and from work each day. It was at that time that something hit me. The words I had learned in my first six months were sticking in my brain much better than the ones I learned while walking. At first I thought it was the fact I wasn’t seeing the words, so I wrote them out to look at as I walked. That didn’t really help. “Okay,” I thought, “what else could it be?” Then it hit me — context. That is what I was missing. Continue reading Acquiring



Photo courtesy of  Piotr Bizior

Growing up in a bilingual country such as Canada has some real benefits. Oh sure, there is the vast spaces and the diverse landscape, but most of all, I love our culture. I love the fact that we embrace our linguistic diversity and, even though it can be difficult at times, I love that fact we have access to so much in two languages. I always find it odd when I visit the United States and find only English on packaging, signs, and announcements. I remember as a child sitting at breakfast and reading the cereal box, comparing the English to the French and seeing how word order and word choice was different between them. Even though I was required to learn French in school, I never was able to ever learn it properly (it’s a long story involving moving from one province to another and getting a nightmare of a teacher) which is really sad. There are so many times I wish I had stuck with French and had practiced it more. Ah, c’est la vie.

A number of years later after finishing my university degree, my wife and I moved to Lithuania and I started work as an English language instructor for a shipping company. During that time, we made a commitment to take Lithuanian language lessons from the university in town. We had started with an intense summer language course and then moved on into the regular program in the fall. Our teacher was extremely nice and very knowledgeable, but her experience in teaching was primarily focused on historical linguistics, especially the history of Lithuanian as an Indo-European language. Her approach to teaching us involved a great deal of time learning word lists and memorizing charts for declensions and conjugations. Over time, I was able to define a large number of words, mostly nouns and verbs, and I could spout off the declensions or conjugations for those words as they were laid out in the chart. The problem was I couldn’t speak. Someone could talk to me and I could mostly understand them (although, that took time and practice on my own) if they talked a little slower and didn’t use a lot of colloquial language. Funny thing is, I couldn’t answer making it a fairly one-sided conversation. I couldn’t even call for a taxi, but I knew all of the endings for house!

As an English teacher, I have often thought about how I can help my students increase their productive skills. It is the balance between learning and acquiring a language [see Earl Stevick’s comments on this here pp. 29-30]. In my case, I learned a ‘whack sack’ of vocabulary (or is plethora more appropriate here, Dean Shareski?), but couldn’t make the necessary connection to real life, that is, being able to acquire the language. I knew the definitions for words, but not the application of them.

Continue reading Defining