14 Oct 2015

The power of adjectives in descriptions: cities

Hi there!

These days we've been talking about cities and we've learnt some very useful vocabulary to describe them. Below I include some of these words (remember to check their pronunciation!). Can you add any other?

Now, today I didn't want to focus solely on these adjectives, but rather highlight the effect  and crucial importance that adjectives have in our writing and speech: being able to be specific and choose the right word adds value to our language, and colour to our descriptions.

Have a look at the following text about Mexico:
Mexico City is Mexico's capital city and one of the most important political, cultural, educational and financial centres in North America. With a GDP of $411 billion US dollars in 2012, it is ranked as the eighth richest city in the world. Settling on an altitude of more than 2,000 metres, tourists are instantly enamoured by the city's glamour, cultural heritage and contemporary development. Every corner of the city is sprinkled with stories to tell of famous personalities and ancient tribes. While the Aztecs discovered and gave the city its culture and heritage, the Spanish revamped and added their touch. Today, the cultural amalgamation is mirrored in every landmark of Mexico City, be it the Templo Mayor, El Zócalo square, Catedral Metropolitana or Frida Kahlo museum.
  • What feeling do you have when you finish reading?
Now compare it with the text below, about the English city of Middlesbrough:
  • What kind of adjectives are used the most: positive, negative or neutral?
  • How does this affect the impact of the article?

(Note: No offence intended to the people in Middlesbrough. It is deliberately wildly exaggerated to show the power of negative adjectives in an English text.)

The text is evidently extremely negative, something which is mainly achieved via the adjectives used. Now, do the following:
  • Highlight all the negative adjectives/expressions.
  • Replace them with some more positive ones.
  • When you have finished, check the impact the text has on the reader now. Has it changed?
This exercise would be a very good opportunity to start using an antonyms dictionary. Check the entry "Back with dictionaries again! Enrich your vocabulary fast and easy" to learn how to do it!

7 Oct 2015

Natural disasters: Chile's earthquake


Today I post a quick listening activity with a video from Reuters News Agency. It covers the earthquake and later tsunami that affected Chile last September 2015. As you know, the topics of "cities", "natural disasters" and "the environment" are included in our curriculum, and therefore in the contents of the different levels.

I ask you to find some time to do this listening activity, and write down some interesting words you could learn. Remember:

  • Watch once for general understanding (forget about the activity at the beginning)
  • Do the activity in the second listening
  • Finally, check your answers in the last listening

As usual, remember that the answer key is at the end of the document :)

Thanks for watching!

After watching this video and doing the activity, you might want to visit: "School reopens after Oklahoma tornado".

2 Oct 2015

Back with dictionaries again! Enrich your vocabulary fast and easy

Several posts have already been published in this blog about dictionaries ("There is life outside word reference!"; "Using monolingual and collocations dictionaries"). Today we're going to focus on yet a different type of dictionaries: dictionaries of synonyms and antonyms. Have you ever used them??

To start with, a synonym is a word that has a similar or the same meaning as another one in the language, whereas an antonym is a word that has an opposite meaning. I include some examples below:

Examples of synonyms:


Some more advanced examples include:
Beautiful: Attractive, Pretty, Lovely, Stunning
Fair: Just, Objective, Impartial, Unbiased
Funny: Humorous, Comical, Hilarious, Hysterical
Happy: Content, Joyful, Mirthful, Upbeat
Hardworking: Diligent, Determined, Industrious, Enterprising
Honest: Honorable, Fair, Sincere, Trustworthy
Intelligent: Smart, Bright, Brilliant, Sharp
Introverted: Shy, Bashful, Quiet, Withdrawn
Kind:Thoughtful, Considerate, Amiable, Gracious
Outgoing: Friendly, Sociable, Warm, Extroverted 
Examples of antonyms

Working on our synonyms and antonyms will incredibly help us to enrich our vocabulary. (I also talked about this in an earlier post: "learn how to be more descriptive!"). But how can you do that? Well, there are many ways, from writing lists in your notebook, to designing flashcards or categorizing your vocabulary. But today we're only going to focus on one: dictionaries of synonyms and antonyms.

There are two main dictionaries of this sort online:

I personally prefer the second one, and here I'm going to show you an example of how it works. Extremely useful, and dead easy, you'll see!!

The homepage looks like this: (make sure it says "synonyms" on the left)

As an example I have introduced the word "sad". To start with, something very useful is that the words are coloured according to their relevance/frequency, as you can see below:

More than that, you can also activate the options "common" or "informal" on the right, so that the corresponding words are highlighted. This is extremely important, since when you learn a new word, you should also know if you should use it in formal or informal contexts. These differences of register are essential for advanced students.

If you scroll down a bit more, we find the antonyms. Again, they're highlighted according to their relevance and you can activate the options "common" and "informal".

Awesome, huh? :)

Well, now you just have to start using it!