I don’t usually use my blog to ‘plug’ products I’ve worked
on, but a couple of things lately have prompted me to think again about a book
I was involved with a few years back.
my recent trip to Munich, a teacher came up to me in the break and asked if I
ever recommend a thesaurus to my students. I started to tell her about the Oxford Learner’s Thesaurus
… only to
find that she was already a convert and couldn’t understand why it doesn’t have
a higher profile.
The OLT has the usual sets of synonyms you’d expect in a
thesaurus, but it also has lots of information for learners to help them
understand what each of the words means and, more importantly, where their
meanings overlap and how they’re different. It was one of my favourite ever
projects to work on – I spent months and months poring over sets of synonyms
and trying to tease out all the subtle differences … language nerd paradise!
Anyway, I think it’s a great book, especially for more
advanced learners, like the EAP students I teach. They really need to vary
their vocabulary, especially when they’re writing longer pieces, to avoid just
repeating the same old words and expressions time and again. Letting them loose
on an ordinary NS thesaurus though can be a bit of a recipe for disaster as
they come up with all kinds of inappropriate substitutions!
I generally try to introduce my classes to the OLT, usually
via an example that’s cropped up in class, and encourage them to try it out as
I even managed to squeeze
it into my most recent project; OxfordEAP C1/Advanced
in a module on synonyms (p. 070 if you’ve got a copy).
But I also use it quite a bit as a reference myself both
when I’m teaching and when I’m writing. Which brings me onto the second prompt
for this blog post … I’ve read a few interesting things on hedging in EAP
lately (from Nathan Hall
and Ken Paterson
- looking forward to his webinar on hedging
tomorrow), which for those of you not familiar with the term, is the
way we use language to show how confident (or otherwise) we are about what
we’re saying, or to be more EAP about it, to moderate the strength of the
claims we’re making. A lot of work on hedging tends to focus on modals (could, might, would
), so-called hedging
verbs (appear, seem, tend
perhaps, relatively, significantly
) and a few other adverbial expressions (to some extent, on balance
). But writers
also convey a lot about their stance and evaluation of ideas through their
choice of other vocabulary too.
Consider the difference between:
The effectiveness of
the programme has been queried/questioned/disputed/criticized/attacked.
It’s an area that you’d probably only tackle explicitly with
pretty advanced students, but it’s worth being aware of and picking up on when
it crops up (as is the nature of much language work in EAP). Anyway, when I wanted to include some work on
this in Oxford EAP, it was OLT I
turned to in search of ideas for the practice exercises (p. 143). Lots of sets
of synonyms vary in strength, so when you’re deciding which word to use to
express a particular idea, you might make your choice based on how confident or
tentative you want to come across as … that’s hedging too.
I'd be interested to hear whether other people use a thesaurus (or the thesaurus facility of some of the learner's dictionaries) - either with their students or for their own reference?
Labels: EAP, hedging, Oxford EAP, Oxford Learner's Thesaurus, synonyms