Saturday, June 26, 2010

Words with Multiple Meanings, Part 3 (CAE Use of English Practice, Part 4 (b))

Anyone trying to prepare for the CAE Use of English paper can start to build up his/her vocabulary for the December exam, starting now. One fun way to do that is to pay attention to and start learning words that have multiple meanings. I put up some other examples earlier this month. Students can also sign up at the Flo-Joe site to receive weekly mini-exercises - relevant to the Cambridge exams, many of which are free. If you want to add some other Part 4-type words in the Comments section below, that would be great!

1. My brother was married for ten years, but now he's ______ again.
I haven't had a _____ bite of ice cream since starting my diet.
There's a big difference between the cost of a ______ and a suite.

2. My mind went _____ during the exam, so I'm sure I failed it.
When someone is given a ______ check, it means that they have the right to spend as much money as they want.
If you leave the space _____, the application won't go through.

3. It is often said that '_____ does not make right.'
There's a chance that the USA _____ win the World Cup.
The little girl tried with all her _____ to open the jar, but the lid was on too tight.

4. You should never ask a total stranger to keep an ____ on your bags at the airport.
A photographer has to have a good _____ for composition and detail.
He got a black ____ from a homeless woman who struck him at the bus station.

5. Thomas likes to collect old _____ and coins.
The shape of the birds' _____ is what fascinates some ornithologists.
I paid all three _____ yesterday.

Answer key:

1. single 2. blank 3. might 4. eye 5. bills

Friday, June 18, 2010

Watch What You Say!

One of my favorite song cloze activities uses 'The Logical Song' by Supertramp. Whenever I play the music, almost every student struggles with the expression, 'Watch what you say!' When I ask them, 'What would you yell if someone were about to cross the street and a car was coming?' and I give the clue, '_____ out!', they usually give me the correct word. Then I proceed to give other examples from real-life situations.

To illustrate other uses, I tell them about a very tall, non-native speaker who was boarding a small commuter flight from San Diego to L.A. The stewardess stood at the top of the staircase and told passengers to 'watch your head.' My husband was behind the guy who failed to lower his head and smashed into the top of the door. There's another incident which was related to me by one of my Korean students. He rode the bus to school and one morning decided to leave by the front door. When the door opened, he was about to step down when the driver warned, 'Watch your step!' Upon hearing the remark, the student didn't step down and turned to look at the driver. She repeated the comment, 'Watch your step.' The student stood staring at the step, not knowing why he should look at the step. He turned to the bus driver again, and she repeated the warning. Meanwhile, people were waiting to get on the bus. Finally, the student looked at the driver and commented in frustration, 'I AM watching the step!' The bus driver shook her head in disgust and said, 'Whatever....' The student got off the bus, blushing, and realized as soon as he stepped down that she was simply trying to tell him to be careful as he stepped off of the bus.

Most non-native speakers don't quite 'get' these expressions because they're brief and sometimes sound like little niceties, rolling off native speakers' tongues and correctly assumed to be ones for which there are no required responses, other than a nod of the head. My student paid attention to the expression, actually trying to understand the words and its meaning.

"Watch out!", "Watch your head", and "Watch your step" are American expressions that are used very similarly to the British English expression "Mind your head" and "Mind your step." Mind what you say. Mind your manners!

Here are some other examples in context: from Tony and Thomas's amazing Contemporary Nomad blog, and another from a newspaper article. Now maybe you won't slip and fall, step on a spiny fish, or bump your head when you see or hear these warnings.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Why have Indian Americans been winning the National Spelling Bee?

Since I recently showed the movie 'Spellbound' to my class, I was curious to find out who won this year's Scripps National Spelling Bee tournament in Washington, DC. For the seventh time in the past 12 years, a child of Indian parentage has won. Is there a reason why Indian Americans have been winning the annual Scripps Spelling Bee? Is it inspiration from Nupur Lala, of 'Spellbound' fame, the high value placed on education and a competition for learned people, or something else?

Articles abound on the topic and here is a sampling from The Imagined Universe (2010), Sepia Mutiny (2005), and an ABC report about the current Indian winning streak (2010).

Friday, June 4, 2010

English Grammar 'Rules'

Despite the fact that students seek hard and fast rules for grammar that are ALWAYS true, they don't seem to exist in reality. I used to cringe when I'd hear radio talk-show hosts on NPR use the word 'less' with a countable noun like people, probably because I had just taught my students that they should use the comparative 'fewer' in that situation. However, as is stated in this VOA (Voice of America) interview, grammar, like other aspects of language, is not as fixed as we were taught to believe decades ago. Grammar reflects the way people use the language. As has often been noted in this blog, as English becomes more and more globalized, what is accepted as standard structure will continually change with the expanding 'speakership.'

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Words with Multiple Meanings, Part 2 (CAE Use of English Practice, Part 4 (a))

It's hard to excel at the Use of English paper without paying attention to vocabulary. One of my favorite parts of Paper 3 is Part 4, where you find the one word that fits in three different sentences. You can increase your chances of success on this part of the exam if you take notice of common or simple words that can be combined to create multiple meanings. For example, the verb 'put' can be used alone or combined with various prepositions to take on different meanings: 'put on', 'put off', and 'put down.'

Here are some practice sentences that I created for my CAE students. See if you can come up with the solution. Answers are at the bottom of the page.

1. You look really run ________. You shouldn't go out tonight.
The students were worried that they might come ________ with the swine flu.
She's been feeling very _______ since her cat died.

2. Though I didn't want to go to the conference, she twisted my _____.
Many people would give their right ______for a chance to meet Brad Pitt.
The long ______ of the law caught up with the murderer from Texas.

3. That went ______ like a lead balloon.
The robber said, 'Hand _____ the money!'
My father made me turn ______ the key to the car after my accident.

4. I'm new to this area and don't know my ______ around.
My little brother always gets his _____ by crying.
Our teacher went out of her _____ to help us.

5. I was so angry that I gave him a ______ of my mind.
The violinist played that ______ beautifully.
The police had to ______ together all the evidence to find the culprit.

Answer Key:
1. down 2. arm 3. over 4.way 5. piece

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Tune Your Ear to South African English

Since the 2010 FIFA World Cup (soccer championship) is about to take place in a week, you might like to hear what South African English sounds like. What expressions are used in Johannesburg that aren't used here in San Diego? Here's a sample. Maybe some of these expressions will catch on in the USA after this global event.