Harder to learn, Easier to Remember?

forgetica I was halfway through creating an exercise working with complex sentences, when I was distracted by news of a new font designed to help people remember information.

Now, I love a good font as much as the next book geek, but what really interested me was the principle behind the font.  The researchers believed that if we have some difficulty while learning new information, we are more likely to remember it.

How could you apply this principle to learning language?  Could you make a vocabulary list where the words were in this font, and the definitions in normal fonts?  Maybe use a badly hand-written version if you keep a vocabulary notebook? Play some loud industrial music while trying to hear yourself practising pronunciation of new words?

Read the article, and you can download the font if you’re a Chrome user.  As the article says, if you use the font too much, your brain will get used to it and it won’t work for you.

Sans Forgetica Font

Some phrases:

Geek:  originally, a circus performer.  Today, it’s a person who is extremely interested in a particular hobby or idea–but not usually a cool one.  There are many Star Wars geeks, but no Love Island geeks.

what really interested me was: what adj+ed me BE…  A good structure when you want to emphasise part of an idea or experience.

get used to it: it becomes normal for you.  (Not the same as “I used to…” which is for talking about what you did in the past but do not do now.)

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What’s in your top 1000?

One of my students isn’t seeing any progress with his English, but I had an idea to help build his confidence.  “We’ll look at a list of the 1000 most common words in English.  You’ll see how many important words you know, and you’ll realise how much you’ve learned in the past few months.”

Off I went to the Internet–and found 1000s of links for lists of those 1000 words.  Suddenly, I realised that this wouldn’t be so easy.

  • British or North American English?
  • Written or spoken?
  • Academic or general?

There are hundreds, maybe thousands of these lists, but many don’t give us any information about how the list was created, or the list probably won’t help you.  For example, I found one list which is very popular, but it is based on 29 literary novels.  The words are a little old-fashioned, so it may not be a very useful list.  (Unless you plan to read a lot of novels!)

This list is nicely organised.  It’s from the British National Corpus, which uses a combination of computers and human researchers to study how words are used in our language. If a word has a [2], it is from the top 300 spoken words, and it if has a [3] it is from the top 300 written words.

Feeling confident?  Time to grow!  This link will give you a list of words based on the top 1000.  You may need a dictionary to help you, but you’ll understand many of the words by looking at the prefixes and suffixes.

You could also try a course on Memrise, to help you remember this group of words.  Again, there is more than one course!  The search function on the Memrise website/app is not very good, so here is a link to help you start:  Course links

(If you would like to search for a different type of course, in the Google box type “site:www.memrise.com Pharmaceutical Japanese)

Making connections

Making connections

connection

Improve your Lexical Resource score, at the same time as your Coherence and Cohesion score.

 

 

 

 

When I look at new vocabulary with my students, I encourage them to find other forms of the word.  So sweet can become sweetness or sweetly or sweeten. Verbs can easily become nouns, and this process is called ‘nominalisation.’

Here are some examples:

  • poor→ poverty
  • discuss→ discussion
  • popular→ popularity
  • transport→ transportation
  • intelligent→ intelligence
  • fail→ failure

We use these special nouns because they make it easier to write about abstract concepts.  We could write, “The government wants to stop people being poor.”  Or we could write, “The government wants to stop poverty.” This means we can actually use a simpler, more direct, sentence.

One problem students have with writing is that they use the words from the exam question, graphs, and diagrams repeatedly, and they use too many linking words (conjunctions).  Nominalisation can help you improve your Lexical Resource score.  Nominalisation can also give us a simple way to connect our ideas within a paragraph, which is an important part of your Coherence/Cohesion score.  

Imagine you have a Task 1 graph showing different ways people go to work: trains, busses, bicycles, walking, cars. On the graph is the word ‘transport.’

What I often see from students is this:

The graphs show changes in the most popular transport choices from 1997 to 2017.  For example, trains were popular with the same amount of people from 1997 to 2017. However, cycling became a more popular transport choice.

There is repetition of words from the original question, and linking words at the beginning of most sentences, which is unnatural in academic writing.  Let’s use a little nominalisation.

The graphs show changes in the most popular transport choices from 1997 to 2017.  Transportation by train has remained constant, while the popularity of cycling has increased steadily over the 20 year period.

I’ve connected my ideas but removed the extra linking words so I can use them somewhere else, and improved my vocabulary.  My final score for Task 1 will be higher.

The other thing to remember is that these nouns are usually used in writing, not speaking. So use some of them in your Writing Task 1 and 2, but not in the Speaking exam.  You can also use them in business emails, or formal letters of complaint.

But be careful!  When a person uses too many nominalisations, we joke that they have swallowed a dictionary. Watch Helen Sword’s excellent little video to see what can go wrong when we overuse nominalisations.

 

If you would like to read more about this topic, you can go here, Stephen Bruce is talking about a study done by Liardet with Chinese students learning how to use nominalisation.

 

How old are your ears?

YouTube is a great place to find interesting people and ideas. But if listening to English is difficult for you, how can you understand the videos?  Here are some tips to help, and an example exercise.

First: Baby steps. It’s a good idea to choose a short video. The example I’ll show you is less than 2 minutes. You may need to listen several times. That’s OK!

Second: Ask yourself questions.
Watch the video without sound. Do you see any images, or words? Write them on a paper. Ask yourself why they are in the video. Does the speaker looks angry, or happy, or sad. Why? Now listen to the video without watching. Do you hear those words, or a description of the image? Can you write down some information about each one? Next, listen and watch to check.

Third:  Checking your answers

Some people use subtitles, but if the speaker has a non-standard accent, or speaks quickly, the subtitles will use the wrong words. For example, here the subtitle says send but it should be sending.

subtitle

A better way to check your answers is to use the speed function to slow down the speaker.

settings

 

Click on the little wheel for Settings.

 

 

menu

 

Click on Speed.

 

 

speed

 

Click on 0.75, or 0.5,  then play the video.

The speaker may sound a little drunk! After you check your answers, you can repeat the sentences with the speaker. Then, go back to normal speed, and try repeating those same sentences. Which sounds are difficult for you? Practise those.

 

 

Phone a friend!
Ask a friend to watch the same video. Choose different parts of the video, and write True or False questions for each other. Listen twice. The first time, write down where the answer is (ex, 1:02, 2:33). The second, check if the sentence is true or false.

Here are some exercises to practise these ideas. I’ll write the answers at the bottom of this page. No peeking!

To watch this Youtube, you should have good earphones. Check the settings, and set ‘quality’ at 1080.

How Old are Your Ears?

Number the body parts as you hear them.

__ Skin     __Tiny nerve cells     __Inner ear       __Brain       __Liver      __Hair cells

What words do you think go in the spaces?
Write your ideas. b. Listen at normal speed. c. Listen again at a slower speed.

Little verbs: 0:43
If you _____________ hear all of those frequencies, you_____________ probably under 20 years old.
But that _____________ last forever.

Little words: 0:55
_____________ are responsible _____________ picking _____________ different frequencies and sending the signal _____________ the brain _____________ it’s processed.

Now, check your answers, below.
Where are your mistakes? Why do you think you heard the wrong thing? Listen again–can you hear the correct word now?

PS: If you enjoyed this topic, you can listen to better examples of the tones  here.
You won’t need earphones. Ask your colleagues to listen too. Who has the youngest ears?

ANSWERS:

–liver, skin, inner ear, tiny nerve cells, hair cells, brain

–If you could hear all of those frequencies, you’re probably under 20 years old.
But that won’t last forever.

These are responsible for picking up different frequencies and sending the signal to the brain where it’s processed.

Want to waste some time?

Ignore the panic. There’s little point learning languages at school

Wow. I read this opinion piece a week ago, and I’m still angry. Where do I begin?

The author gives some reasons why teaching foreign languages is a waste of time. In his view, the main reason to learn a language is for work or to move to a new country, so we should wait until we’re adults before learning a language. He also makes some rather confusing remarks about the digitisation, reminding us that the computer does not help us learn to speak, or listen, or debate, or build confidence.

Well.

You probably need to learn the  language if you move to another country, but there is plenty of evidence that language learning gives us other benefits–more empathy, improved decision making, and lower risk of dementia. Why deny children all these gifts to the brain?

Also, why deny children equal opportunities to learn about foreign languages?  Children from well-off British families will likely go abroad for holidays and learn a little bit of French or Spanish or Thai, which could spark an interest and lead to them choosing, as adults, to study a language.  But children from poorer families won’t go abroad, so they will have less drive to learn as adults–and thus fewer opportunities for work.  We need our schools to help children from all backgrounds, to show them the world outside their doorstep and inspire them with possibilities.

Learning a language teaches us to listen carefully to the words around us, and to think carefully about what we choose to say. And confidence! Can you think of anything that builds your confidence like the moment you know you have the ability to communicate with strangers who don’t share your first language?  Computers may not be able to teach these skills, but language learning certainly can.

Finally, I think what I found the most offensive about this opinion was the unspoken idea that everything we need or want is available in English. English speakers, he implies, can expect everyone else to translate anything they want shared, but we have no responsibility to return the effort.  It is up to the rest of the world to bow before English, as a tree bows to the hurricane.  He should remember that one strong tree will outlive a hundred storms.

I’m glad I wasted school time learning a language.  I hope you are, too.