Monday, 3 August 2015

Cambridge FIRST Use of English - Keyword transformations


Here are a few keyword transformation exercises to get your Use of English juices flowing. I write these all the time for my students in Dublin and thought I'd share them here.

Complete the second sentence so it has a similar meaning to the first sentence. Remember, you can't change the given word, and you must use between two and five words, including the given word.

1. It doesn’t do any good if you remind him to do his homework; he never listens.
There’s _________________ him to do his homework; he never listens.

2. Sometimes my students have difficulty understanding Irish accents.
My students sometimes _________________ Irish accents.

3. ‘Can my grandmother have the aisle seat?’ Martin asked the flight attendant.
Martin asked the flight attendant _________________ the aisle seat.

4. We haven’t gone on holiday for four years.
It’s _________________we last went on holiday.

Post your answers in the comments and I'll check back with the correct answers.

Bonus point: Which word has a silent S? Which word has a silent T?

Who said watching TV was a bad thing?

One of the most fun ways of improving your English is to start watching a series.
Here are just a few of the series that I've watched over the past few year, with links to their pages on IMDB. Some might be easier or more difficult than others, but they are all really good and I think you'll get hooked!
The nice thing about watching a series is that you can watch one episode every day or two (each episode is 45-50 minutes) and you will get used to the vocabulary and the accents that the characters have. For an extra challenge, you can watch the same episode again without subtitles.

There's no shame in watching with English subtitles - even I do it! It's the best way to help cement the new words and expressions you'll encounter in the show. 

I encourage my students in Ireland to subscribe to Netflix streaming. It's pretty cheap and I think it's really worth the money you pay, because you can get the series on demand, the quality is excellent, and there are subtitles. That's really important.

What series have you watched that you like? Leave a comment below so that other students can see your recommendations!


Friday, 5 April 2013

Understanding the difference between RAISE and RISE

I'm using Objective CAE (2nd edition) with one of my Cambridge Advanced students, and in Unit 23, there is a clip about asking for a pay rise. 

My student and I emailed about the difference between the verbs RAISE and RISE, and I thought I'd repost it here (very briefly).

The present forms are very similar. The past forms are very different.
  • raiseraisedraised
  • rise, rose, risen
The meanings are very similar. They both mean "lift up".

RAISE takes an OBJECT.   
  • You raise your hand in class. 
  • You raise you glass when you make a toast.
  • You raise a flag at a parade. 
  • You raise a point in a meeting (bring up a point). 
  • In the U.S., when you want more money at work, you ask for a pay raise. ***

<a href=""></a> via <a href="">Compfight</a> <a href="">cc</a>
Children raising their hands

RISE does not take an object. The thing does it by itself.
  • The sun rises in the morning and sets in the evening. 
  • The economic crisis is getting worse, so unemployment is rising.
  • Breads, cakes and muffins rise in the oven (get taller). 
  • From the King James version of the Bible (1 Corinthians 15:4)   And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures. 
  • In the UK, when you want more money at work, you ask for a pay rise. ***
<ahref="">Janesdead</a> via <a href="">Compfight</a> <a href="">cc</a>
A lovely sunrise in Dublin

Photo credits
Dublin sunrise: Photo Credit: <ahref="">Janesdead</a> via <a href="">Compfight</a> <a href="">cc</a>

Classroom: Photo Credit: <a href=""></a> via <a href="">Compfight</a> <a href="">cc</a>

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

What are fossilized errors, and how do I get rid of them?

The best way to understand fossilized errors is to think about dinosaurs bones. They have been in the ground for so long that they have turned to stone, and they are also very difficult to remove. Look at this paleontologist and how hard he is working!

A fossilized error is just a mistake that you’ve made over and over - sometimes thousands of times - that has never been corrected by a teacher, or perhaps because you were a little bit lazy.

It is usually caused by your native language interfering with your English. It may also be because you don’t understand a word or a grammatical construction, and so you have been doing what you think is correct, but it isn’t. 

Basically, because you have heard it “wrong” for so long, it sounds “right” to you. And now it's stuck in your head, the way those dinosaur bones are stuck in the ground. You're going to have to work very hard to get these errors out.

Examples of fossilized errors that I hear a lot
(1) A classic example for Spanish speakers is this one:
I don’t like people who is unfriendly.

It should be:

I don’t like people who are unfriendly.

But because in Spanish you say “la gente es” (singular), it makes it very tricky in English to remember to say “people are” (plural).

(2) Some common pronunciation errors that become fossilized are:

 Answer pronounced with the “s”. 
No, no, no! The “s” is silent! It sounds like “Ann Sir”.  

 Island pronounced with the “s”.
Please don’t say this! The “s” is silent here too. It sounds like “Eye Land”. 

Debt pronounced with the “b”.
Nooooooooooo! The “b” is silent. It rhymes with get, set, pet, etc. 
Just think “I need to get out of debt.” 

Bought pronounced in all kinds of crazy ways.
It’s a very simple, clear vowel sound. “Bought” should sound like “robot”. 
Just say to yourself: “I bought a robot.”  

(I find that phonetic transcription sometimes can be confusing for students, so I always try to teach words that rhyme. Do what’s best for your learning.

(3) Our final example for today is one that is particular to one of my students. She uses the word “back” to mean go back, come back, etc. For example, she’ll say:

I back tomorrow.

She should say:
I’ll be back tomorrow.

This fossilized error is a MUCH bigger problem than the “people” example because it makes it hard for the listener to understand what she means. The first few times she said this to me, I had no idea what she was talking about. She’s working hard to correct it and she’s improving, but it is taking some time.

What kinds of fossilized errors do you make? It’s important to identify them and start trying to correct them now, rather than later. You can ask your teacher to do drills with you, but you also need to take responsibility for your English and think BEFORE you speak.

I find that students who make an effort to correct a fossilized error usually can do it, but it takes perseverance (a big effort over a period of time).

It’s also important to work on just one or two at a time. Ask your teacher to choose the two most important things that you personally need to work on, and start there.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Cool word of the day: LINGER

A Spanish student of mine and I were talking about the differences between Italian and Spanish culture, especially regarding coffee. (His girlfriend is Italian, and so is my husband.)

In Italy, you drink coffee as though you were taking a shot. At the most, it's a ten-second experience, and you're out the door. It's more of an individual experience, we decided.

In Spain, however, coffee culture has the possibility of being a shared experience. Two friends might meet for a coffee and spend hours talking. You linger over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine in a cafe. You stay there longer than the time it would normally take you to drink a cup of coffee, almost as if you didn't want to leave.

Imagine you go out for an enjoyable meal with two or three good friends. You order dessert and coffee, but you take your time, chatting and reminiscing. You linger over dessert.

(Even President Obama has lingered over a meal. Check out this blog post.)

Or you might have a romantic relationship with someone and then break up with that person for whatever reason. If your emotional connection with that person was particularly strong, those emotions can stay with you over time. Those feelings linger

In my opinion, the best example of feelings lingering is illustrated in the 1993 hit by Irish band The Cranberries, "Linger." It was also my favorite song my senior year of high school, and it brings back a lot of memories, memories which have stayed with me over the years, memories that linger.

Great example of present simple vs. present continuous (to express a plan)

I was just skyping with a student from Spain, and we were talking about Christmas and how it would be less stressful if we didn't have to give gifts. Neither he nor I have bought gifts for our "significant others" yet, and the pressure is mounting!

We both agreed that we should get our families to institute a "no gifts rule," though I imagine that would be hard at my house, considering that "Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus" still think my brother and I are five years old (and I haven't been five for 30 years).

While we were talking, I thought of a perfect example to show how we use the present continuous to talk about future plans between people. Have a look...

Present simple (habitual actions, common facts):

> People usually give each other gifts at Christmastime.

Present continuous (to express future personal arrangements and plans)

> My family have all agreed that we're not giving each other gifts this year.

(If only that were true... ha ha)

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

IELTS Academic Writing Task 1: Line Grows Long for Free Meals at U.S. Schools

In today's New York Times there's an eye-opening article about the rising number of U.S. students who receive free or low-cost lunches. It's more tangible proof about how the Great Recession is pushing people who were once middle class into poverty or near poverty.

The article is supported by some very interesting interactive graphics, and it's full of good IELTS Writing Task 1 vocabulary.

I am re-posting the full text of the article here in order to highlight the structures that IELTS examiners look for in Academic Writing Task 1. Those structures which would be good to use in your IELTS writing are in bold.


Line Grows Long for Free Meals at U.S. Schools

(This article appeared in the New York Times on 29 November 2011. By Sam Dillon)

Millions of American schoolchildren are receiving free or low-cost meals for the first time as their parents, many once solidly middle class, have lost jobs or homes during the economic crisis, qualifying their families for the decades-old safety-net program.

The number of students receiving subsidized lunches rose to 21 million last school year from 18 million in 2006-7, a 17 percent increase, according to an analysis by The New York Times of data from the Department of Agriculture, which administers the meals program. Eleven states, including Florida, Nevada, New Jersey and Tennessee, had four-year increases of 25 percent or more, huge shifts in a vast program long characterized by incremental growth.

The Agriculture Department has not yet released data for September and October.

“These are very large increases and a direct reflection of the hardships American families are facing,” said Benjamin Senauer, a University of Minnesota economist who studies the meals program, adding that the surge had happened so quickly “that people like myself who do research are struggling to keep up with it.”

In Sylva, N.C., layoffs at lumber and paper mills have driven hundreds of new students into the free lunch program. In Las Vegas, where the collapse of the construction industry has caused hardship, 15,000 additional students joined the subsidized lunch program this fall. In Rochester, unemployed engineers and technicians have signed up their children after the downsizing of Kodak and other companies forced them from their jobs. Many of these formerly middle-income parents have pleaded with school officials to keep their enrollment a secret.
Students in families with incomes up to 130 percent of the poverty level — or $29,055 for a family of four — are eligible for free school meals. Children in a four-member household with income up to $41,348 qualify for a subsidized lunch priced at 40 cents.

Among the first to call attention to the increases were Department of Education officials who use subsidized lunch rates as a poverty indicator in federal testing. This month, in releasing results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, they noted that the proportion of the nation’s fourth graders enrolled in the lunch program had climbed to 52 percent from 49 percent in 2009, crossing a symbolic watershed.

In the Rockdale County Schools in Conyers, Ga., east of Atlanta, the percentage of students receiving subsidized lunches increased to 63 percent this year from 46 percent in 2006.

“We’re seeing people who were never eligible before, never had a need,” said Peggy Lawrence, director of school nutrition.

One of those is Sheila Dawson, a Wal-Mart saleswoman whose husband lost his job as the manager of a Waffle House last year, reducing their income by $45,000. “We’re doing whatever we can to save money,” said Ms. Dawson, who has a 15-year-old daughter. “We buy clothes at the thrift store, we see fewer movies and this year my daughter qualifies for reduced-price lunch.”

She added, “I feel like: ‘Hey, we were paying taxes all these years. This is what they were for.’ ”
Although the troubled economy is the main factor in the increases, experts said, some growth at the margins has resulted from a new way of qualifying students for the subsidized meals, known as direct certification. In 2004, Congress required the nation’s 17,000 school districts to match student enrollment lists against records of local food-stamp agencies, directly enrolling those who receive food stamps for the meals program. The number of districts doing so has been rising — as have the number of school-age children in families eligible for food stamps, to 14 million in 2010-11 from 12 million in 2009-10.

“The concern of those of us involved in the direct certification effort is how to help all these districts deal with the exploding caseload of kids eligible for the meals,” said Kevin Conway, a project director at Mathematica Policy Research, a co-author of an October report to Congress on direct certification.

Congress passed the National School Lunch Act in 1946 to support commodity prices after World War II by reducing farm surpluses while providing food to schoolchildren. By 1970, the program was providing 22 million lunches on an average day, about a fifth of them subsidized. Since then, the subsidized portion has grown while paid lunches have declined, but not since 1972 have so many additional children become eligible for free lunches as in fiscal year 2010, 1.3 million. Today it is a $10.8 billion program providing 32 million lunches, 21 million of which are free or at reduced price.

All 50 states have shown increases, according to Agriculture Department data. In Florida, which has 2.6 million public school students, an additional 265,000 students have become eligible for subsidies since 2007, with increases in virtually every district.
“Growth has been across the board,” said Mark Eggers, the Florida Department of Education official who oversees the lunch program.

In Tennessee, the number of students receiving subsidized meals has grown 37 percent since 2007.

“When a factory closes, our school districts see a big increase,” said Sarah White, the state director of school nutrition.

In Las Vegas, with 13.6 percent unemployment, the enrollment of thousands of new students in the subsidized lunch program forced the Clark County district to add an extra shift at the football field-size central kitchen, said Virginia Beck, an assistant director at the school food service.

In Roseville, Minn., an inner-ring St. Paul suburb, the proportion of subsidized lunch students rose to 44 percent this fall from 29 percent in 2006-7, according to Dr. Senauer, the economist. “There’s a lot of hurt in the suburbs,” he said. “It’s the new face of poverty.”
In New York, the Gates Chili school district west of Rochester has lost 700 students since 2007-8, as many families have fled the area after mass layoffs. But over those same four years, the subsidized lunch program has added 125 mouths, many of them belonging to the children of Kodak and Xerox managers and technicians who once assumed they had a lifetime job, said Debbi Beauvais, district supervisor of the meals program.

“Parents signing up children say, ‘I never thought a program like this would apply to me and my kids,’ ” Ms. Beauvais said.

Many large urban school districts have for years been dominated by students poor enough to qualify for subsidized lunches. In Dallas, Newark and Chicago, for instance, about 85 percent of students are eligible, and most schools also offer free breakfasts. Now, some places have added free supper programs, fearing that needy students otherwise will go to bed hungry.
One is the Hickman Mills C-1 district in a threadbare Kansas City, Mo., neighborhood where a Home Depot, a shopping mall and a string of grocery stores have closed.

Ten years ago, 48 percent of its students qualified for subsidized lunches. By 2007, that proportion had increased to 73 percent, said Leah Schmidt, the district’s nutrition director. Last year, when it hit 80 percent, the district started feeding 700 students a third meal, paid for by the state, each afternoon when classes end.

“This is the neediest period I’ve seen in my 20-year career,” Ms. Schmidt said.