The occasional ramblings of a freelance lexicographer

Friday, July 10, 2020

10 ways to tackle coronavocab: #10 My Corona

Over the past nine posts, I've been exploring some of the ways the coronavirus pandemic has changed not just our lives, but our language. I've looked at new coinages, new uses of existing words and phrases, and words that have suddenly spiked in use.  If you've missed any of the posts, click on the links below to see what we've covered:

#1 Coronacoinages: coronacoaster, isolife, infodemic 
#2 Trending terms: isolation, hand sanitizer, face masks 
#3 The Science: pandemic, PPE, herd immunity 
#4 New compounds and contexts: social distancing, lockdown, shielding 
#5 Learning and teaching: homeschooling, remote learning, asynchronous
 #6 Metaphors: the unseen enemy, perfect storm, spread like wildfire 
#7 The Stats: flatten the curve, pass the peak, second wave 
#8 Phrasal verbs: lock down, ramp up, ease off 
#9 Work:  WFH, remote working, furlough

As I said at the outset, not all students will want to spend their ELT classes talking about the pandemic. Some may want to switch off from it completely, others may be happy to dip into coronavocab for 10 minutes here and there but not get too bogged down in it. Hopefully, the tips and angles I've suggested have provided ideas for those occasional dips. I've tried to deal with the new vocab along with general language points too where possible so that it isn't just a throwaway activity focused on a bunch of potentially transient buzzwords, but it helps reinforce more generally transferrable knowledge.

Many of the activities I've suggested involve students talking about their own experiences of the times we've been living through, whether that's studying or working from home, or the practicalities of day-to-day life in lockdown. So I wanted to finish off with a set of vocabulary that isn't new and isn't unique to the current situation, but is, nonetheless, really important. To digress for a moment, a couple of years ago, I wrote a unit for a vocab book about health. It was B2 level and some of the target vocab went a bit beyond trivial coughs and colds, with items like cancer and mental health. As I started putting the material together, I realized that if learners were going to talk about these things, it was important that they had not just the key words, but the language to talk about the way those things affect people too. And after some discussion with my editor, I included words like experience and support as equally important target vocab. Which is a slightly long-winded way of introducing some vocabulary to wrap around the other topics to help students express the way everything that's happened and is still going on has affected them, to talk about their own experiences, feelings, hopes and expectations for the future.

ELT publishers are always keen to emphasize the positives, to avoid topics (and language) with negative connotations and to make their materials 'aspirational' … but life isn't all about the positive stuff and I think learners need to be equipped with the linguistic tools to deal with the downs as well as the ups. That's not to say you want a lesson that's all doom and gloom or that you feel equipped with the skills to deal with a topic that turns into a counselling session! With that in mind, the suggestions below are a mix of language to acknowledge the challenges but also express the positives. Which language you choose to focus on will, of course, come down to a judgement call about your individual students, their age, context, etc., but I think some of these could provide a springboard from some great language work and mixing some of them in with the previous vocab sets will give learners the tools to really express the realities of their own coronaverse.

Examples in context:
I do really miss going out and being with lots of people.
Many of us have found lockdown frustrating.
Even though everyone's experiencing things in different ways, there is so much overlap.
Some people are still wary of returning to campus
Customers who are struggling with the impacts of COVID-19 will be allowed to defer loan payments.
Teachers reported working long hours to support these students during remote learning.
I can't wait to get back to playing football.
If anything, being without baseball has made us appreciate it more.
One local fitness instructor decided to make the most of the outdoors to help her neighbours keep fit.
We have a deeper appreciation for social activities that may have been taken for granted in a pre-lockdown world.
The pandemic has changed the way we work almost overnight.
We're all adapting and adjusting to the new normals.

  • There are lots of possible quickie activities here: 5 things you miss(ed), hate(d), find/found frustrating during lockdown, 5 things you're looking forward to when things get back to normal, 5 things you've appreciated more, etc.
  • Many of these verbs and phrases are followed by particular colligational patterns (look forward to + ing, can't wait + to do, be bored of + ing, help sb do), so start off with an activity matching sentence halves where students have to think about both meaning and grammar. Then get them to take the first parts of the sentences and add their own personalized endings.
1 I do really miss … 
2 Some people are still wary … 
3 I can't wait …
a of returning to campus. 
b to get back to playing football.
c going out and being with lots of people.
  • If you want to deal with some of the negatives without getting bogged down, get students to use the vocab to create pairs of things they've found difficult or missed and things they've appreciated more or are looking forward to doing again. They could just be simple sentences or you could get creative and get students to make them into social media posts.

  • The new normal is a term that you hear a lot at the moment, but what will it be like? If you've been dealing with the language of future predictions (will, modal verbs and adverbs), then there's plenty of scope here for students to make their own predictions about how we'll probably all have to adapt and adjust and change the ways we do things.
This series of posts was prompted, in part, by the work I did on ETpedia Vocabulary which is also grouped into sets of 10 tips about different areas of vocabulary teaching. So if you're looking for more ideas …

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Thursday, July 09, 2020

10 ways to tackle coronavocab: #9 Work

The world of work has inevitably changed hugely over the past few months for many people and those changes have thrown up both completely new language and a spike in frequency of words and phrases that students may not have encountered before.

Which vocabulary you choose to deal with and how will, as ever, depend largely on your students' context, their interests and experiences. Many adult learners, on both General English and Business English courses, will have first-hand experience of the impacts the pandemic has had on their own working lives. Whether they've suddenly had to work from home, whether they've been furloughed or whether they're tentatively getting back to work and having to comply with new restrictions, they'll have stories to tell.

Some students (of Business English or EAP students studying business, economics, etc.) may have a wider take on how the pandemic's affected the economy as a whole or particular industries – a great opportunity not only to delve into the new vocab here (furlough, hibernate, bounce back) but to revise other relevant language too – there's lots of talk currently about the on-going effects on sectors like retail, hospitality and tourism, for example, will staff be laid off or made redundant when furloughing and other government support comes to an end?

Or with younger learners or those looking for a slightly lighter angle, there's lots of scope for exploring the more amusing side of remote working – has anyone experienced zoombombing or abandoned much of their usual workwear in favour of upperwear only? Has anyone experimented with Zoom backgrounds?

Some examples in context:
Surveys show that people are investing in their WFH setups even as reopening progresses.
Many employees are not in occupations that allow remote working.
Staff can work remotely but are allowed to travel into the office for essential work where social distancing is practised.
(noun) He has been on furlough since March but has now been asked to attend a redundancy consultation meeting with his employer.
(verb) In early March, the retailer said it would furlough around 130,000 employees nationwide.
Our engineers are classed as key workers and continuing to do their jobs to find and fix problems like this.
The team has taken the decision to hibernate the project until the pandemic has passed.
He has had weekly Zoom calls with the production staff.
We're all currently suffering from Zoom fatigue.
We are working in groups of four that are isolated. We fondly refer to these groups as quaranteams. 
I think our tops make great upperwear as you nail your Zoom meetings in the comfort of your home.
We are following all government regulations carefully.

  • There are plenty of discussion topics to use with Business English students which this vocab could prompt around how the lockdown has affected their own working life, their company, their industry or even their country's economy. Take a look at my last post about phrasal verbs with back to prompt a discussion about how learners think the economy or their sector will recover - will they bounce back or will they ease back slowly?
  • What collocates with Zoom? Make sure you go beyond the buzzwords and explore with students the language we’re using to deal with the new realities of working remotely.

  • There are plenty of memes around about the perils of working from home – is the cat your new co-worker? These could provide a fun starting point for a discussion. Or if you have students who are working or studying from home, get them to share photos of their workspace (or just a detail if a wide shot feels too intrusive) and describe some of the problems – along with Zoom fatigue, you could elicit other relevant phrases like too much screen time, ergonomics, distractions, etc. 

Photo credit: Peter Fullager and Felix
  • Everyone loves a moan – has anyone experienced zoombombing or zoom fatigue? What other glitches and drawbacks have students experience on video calls (work or non-work) – a rich area for drawing out new vocab (the screen froze, accidentally unmuted my mic, backgrounds, interrruptions, etc.).

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Wednesday, July 08, 2020

10 ways to tackle coronavocab: #8 Phrasal Verbs

Love 'em or hate 'em, phrasal verbs get everywhere and the coronavirus pandemic has been no exception. At the end of last year while working on the new edition of the Collins COBUILD Phrasal Verbs Dictionary, I had a hand in adding a new entry for lock down and its noun form lockdown. At the time, it was mostly being used in the context of mass shootings and terrorist incidents … little did I know the significance it would take on just a few months later … and how glad I'd be to have included it!

I recently wrote a post about how ease up/off/out of (lockdown/ restrictions) has spiked in use. In the post, I explored why phrasal verb forms are often used in preference to the simple verb, ease, which means much the same without a particle. The answer seems to lie somewhere in the more emphatic/dramatic/conversational nature of phrasal verbs when compared to single-word verbs which can feel rather formal and unemphatic. The phrasal verb ramp up, for example, was much used by UK politicians to emphasize their efforts to do more of everything, especially testing. Compare: We're ramping up testing. and We're increasing testing. And it was much criticized (at least in the sorts of social media circles I move in!) as empty hyperbole, alongside roll out and double down.

Whilst those subtle nuances of register and connotation might be too much for all but the most advanced ELT students, some of these trending phrasal verbs could be used as a way of engaging students with an otherwise slightly dry (and often frustrating) aspect of vocabulary. Personally, I'm not a big fan of presenting lots of phrasal verbs together, especially not new ones, as I think they're too potentially confusing. These especially lead themselves to short 10-minute activities focused on just a couple of items. One or two of the phrasal verbs here could be used as a hook to revise more familiar phrasal verbs with which they share characteristics or to highlight the meaning often carried by particles. Zoomed out is a fun one where the particle indicates that you've had enough of something/reached your limit (think partied out). And as we start to think to the future, we're seeing more combinations with back (meaning return/again) proliferate; bounce back leads the way, but there are also the optimistic snap back, spring back, flock back, jump back, race back, rush back and the more tentative inch back, ease back, phase back, transition back, trickle back, venture back. Not to mention the slightly odd to my ear but surprisingly common return back and revert back.

Some examples in context:
The country successfully contained the virus by locking down its borders and its economy.
The coronavirus pandemic shut down U.S. sports in mid-March. 
They've been supporting the elderly during the coronavirus outbreak by delivering care packages. 
High-traffic facilities are doubling down on ways to make their spaces safe and virus-free.
The contact-tracing app will be tested locally before it is rolled out to the wider public. 
Wipe down all surfaces you have touched after use.
By the end of the day, I find myself a bit Zoomed out - it's easy to let the constant screen time consume your day.
Here's what you can expect when you're ready to venture back into stores.
Some airlines are hopeful they can bounce back if they set up new safety procedures.
We can't allow hotspots to flare up* and effect our communities.
Now they're cooped up in their homes, unable to go out anywhere, except for groceries.
*I missed that one as part of Monday's fire metaphors!

  • Pick out one or two of the meaningful particles and get students to explain what phrasal verbs with the same particle have in common. For example, ramp up, flare up (up = increase); lock down, shut down, close down (down = stop activity); bounce back, venture back, etc. (back = return). Start off with a few example sentences to establish the meanings first, of course, or better still pick them out of a short text if you can find one.
  • Look at how phrasal verbs often have noun equivalents (lockdown, shutdown, rollout, outbreak, flare-up). Get students experimenting with sentence transformations or checking which combinations exist – you can talk about a roll-out, but can you have a ramp-up? They could use a dictionary to check which ones are listed or a simple corpus tool like SkELL.
  • Zoomed out presents all kinds of possibilities for students to create their own phrasal verbs to describe things they've had enough of; homeschooled out, Netflixed out
  • Get more advanced students to group some of the back combinations above into optimistic and tentative categories. Explore the imagery a bit (bounce, spring, snap are sudden movements like a branch that's been bent over, race and rush conjure up a crowd of people running, inch and trickle describe slow movements). Elicit possible contexts and collocations (tourists/visitors flock back, businesses/the economy bounce/snap back).

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