The occasional ramblings of a freelance lexicographer

Monday, February 14, 2011

EAP: inspiration & confirmation

On Saturday, I spent the day at a BALEAP PIM at Bristol University - a kind of one-day mini-conference for EAP teachers. It was a good opportunity to catch up with colleagues and to meet some new people too. The various presentations also provided both some new ideas and confirmation of some of the things I'd been thinking and doing myself recently, which is always nice.

The overarching theme of the day was teaching EAP to lower level learners and Debbie Mann's mini-presentation came up with some really neat ideas for putting across important academic concepts to lower level learners using simple, strikingly designed materials. Another talk from which I'll definitely steal ideas for my pre-sessional teaching in the summer, was from Elizabeth Long who presented lots of practical ideas for helping new students adapt to a British academic context.

I also found Neil Harris's session about using the AWL (academic word list) with lower level learners really interesting, because a lot of what he talked about crossed over so much with my own recent work on the Collins COBUILD Key Words for IELTS books, trying to spread the vocabulary from the AWL across three books aimed at different levels. He pointed out that while the AWL is divided into sublists, with the most frequent words in list 1, going through to the least frequent in list 10, because the words are grouped into word families, you often find more frequent and less frequent items within the same list. So, whilst you might want to teach individual, a sublist 1 word, fairly early on and you might link that to individually, you probably won't want to confuse a lower level learner by throwing in individuality, individualism, individualist and individualistic at the same time.

When compiling the headword lists for the Key Words for IELTS books, we started off with the idea of including the most frequent AWL sublists in the lower level book and working our way up, but soon found that we had to consider individual words within word families separately, based on their individual frequencies. At the same time though, we didn't want to lose the important links between words from the same family/root. A key skill for EAP students is being able to play with different forms of a word to see what fits best in a particular context. We got around this by including an element of repetition and building, so for example we dealt with the sublist 1 word family significant as follows:
Book 1 (Starter level): significant (single basic sense)
Book 2 (Improver level): significant (two senses) + significantly + significance and insignificant
Book 3 (Advanced level): signify

It had seemed like the most logical way to deal with the problem at the time, but it's really nice to have someone else independently talk about a similar way of tackling the AWL.

Thanks to everyone involved for an enjoyable and stimulating day!

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Thursday, February 03, 2011

Happy Chinese New Year

Today, apparently, is the start of the Chinese Year of the Rabbit, so Happy New Year!

We live next door to an Asian restaurant and the staff often hang out by the back door to the kitchen on their breaks having a cigarette or chatting on their mobiles. Earlier in the week, I was walking past the kitchen door and caught a sudden waft of a sweet, but non-food smell. I looked down and noticed a little collection of incense sticks stuck into a metal casing down at pavement level. A little hidden shrine?

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