The occasional ramblings of a freelance lexicographer

Friday, November 30, 2007


Over the past 10 years or so I’ve been to lots of ELT talks and presentations at conferences and various other events. They’re sometimes entertaining, sometimes deathly dull, depending on the style and verve of the speaker, but in the past few years, I’ve found that they rarely include ideas that I haven’t come across before. I go along to events, primarily for the opportunity to network and if I go to a talk that sparks my interest, then it’s usually a bonus.

Earlier this week though I went to a talk at Bath University which left me buzzing with new ideas and actually had me trying them out on my class the very next day. The talk was by Diane Schmitt, co-author of Focus on Vocabulary and explored the use of the academic word list for teaching vocabulary in EAP.

I’ve long been involved in the area of vocabulary, especially with my work in lexicography, but I’m a relative new-comer to EAP. Over the past couple of years I’ve been becoming more and more involved in teaching EAP at Bristol Uni and also dipping my toe into writing EAP materials. I’ve mostly been grappling with the concepts which I hadn’t had to deal with in my previous ELT career - the structure of academic texts, using sources, plagiarism, higher level grammar, etc. - and hadn’t really had time to squeeze much in the way of vocabulary teaching in amongst everything else.

Diane’s talk made me think about how to include a bit more explicit vocab teaching and in a more systematic way. I’d come across the Academic Word List before, but hadn’t really thought about how to make use of it. She also demonstrated a fantastic website, the Compleat Lexical Tutor, which appealed enormously to my techier, corpus-loving side, which among other things, allows you to input a text and pick out those words which are on the AWL, apparently around 15% of most academic texts. It’s a really simple starting point for picking out vocab worth focusing attention on in texts used in class.

It’s always nice to get a bit of re-inspiration - thanks Diane!

Friday, November 09, 2007

Winter Blues

I’m not a ‘winter person’, not only do I suffer from the winter blues, but the cold, damp weather brings out all my aches and pains more acutely. So as the days get darker, I increasingly find myself sat here at my desk feeling sorry for myself.

I originally started working freelance because of health problems. RSI and other chronic pain issues made it difficult for me to get through a 9-to-5 day and by working for myself at home, I developed ways of coping and managing to work enough hours to keep me going. And in general, it does work very well. I’ve got my desk and computer set up to make me as comfortable as possible, I can pace my work and take lots of breaks. When I start to get achy I can relax, stretch out on the floor, do a few exercises or even go out for a swim and a sit in the sauna at the gym round the corner. And when things are really bad, I can just give in and take painkillers that make me drowsy. All infinitely better than trying to struggle through in an office.

The one drawback though is that being on your own, it’s easy to dwell too much on how rotten you feel and start feeling sorry for yourself. Chronic pain is an odd thing in that although it has a very clear physical component, it has a large psychological element too. It’s definitely true that distraction can play a big role. If you can do something to take your mind off the pain, you can often (although not always) push it into the background for a while. So in some ways, going out to work, having demands and responsibilities and interacting with colleagues might provide more distraction and perk me up a bit.

You can’t win either way … I’m seriously considering heading to the southern hemisphere next winter!