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Learn One, Get One Free

BOGOF dictionary entryIan Brookes is a freelance writer and editor based in Scotland. He has edited a number of dictionaries and has written books about spelling, writing, and punctuation. In this post, he looks at how to learn two words for the price of one.

There is something very attractive about the idea of getting two things for the price of one. One of the more striking new words to enter the English language in recent times is BOGOF. This is an abbreviation based on the initial letters of the phrase ‘buy one, get one free’; as this suggests, it refers to a special offer in a shop that allows you to receive an extra item free of charge when you make a purchase. The fact that the word is pronounced the same as bog off, which is a mildly offensive way of telling somebody to go away, makes it sound slightly rude, and this has no doubt added to its popularity.

If the idea of getting something extra for their money is attractive to shoppers, then learners of English should be encouraged by the idea that learning one word will often bring another word – and often more than one word – into their vocabulary, virtually free of charge.

If you learn a noun, you can often form a related adjective by adding a short suffix. For example, adding the ending -y creates chilly from chill, cloudy from cloud, and dirty from dirt.

Similarly, many verbs give rise to a noun that ends in either -ment or -tion: entertain, govern, and measure lead to entertainment, government, and measurement, while collect, educate, and invent lead to collection, education, and invention.

If only you could apply these suffixes to every noun or every verb then you could increase your vocabulary enormously. Unfortunately, English is rarely as simple as that. You can’t just add the ending -y to any noun. For example, there are no words booky or cuppy. And even when you can add a -y to a noun, the meaning may not be what you expect: thus catty means ‘spiteful’ rather than ‘like a cat’ and not all bosses would like to be described as bossy.

However, there are some typical patterns of word generation that are worth knowing, and in this blog I want to look at how verbs with certain endings tend to generate a related abstract noun ending in -tion or -sion.

The most common pattern here is that verbs that end in -ate will usually form an abstract noun ending in -ation: calculate/calculation, celebrate/celebration. Other common patterns are that verbs ending in -ize (or -ise in British English) form nouns ending in -ization/-isation (organize/organization) and verbs ending in -act and -ect form nouns ending in -action and -ection (react/reaction, connect/connection).

I should stress that not every single verb with these endings will form an abstract noun that ends in -tion. But most of them will, and when they do, the noun is formed in a regular way, with no change to the stem of the word.

However, there are some interesting verb endings that form abstract nouns in less obvious ways:

  • Verbs ending in -duce form nouns ending in -duction: produce/production, reduce/reduction.
  • Verbs ending in -mit usually form nouns ending in -mission: permit/permission, admit/admission.
  • Verbs ending in -cede usually form nouns ending in -cession: recede/recession, concede/concession.
  • When other verbs ending in -de form abstract nouns, the nouns end in -sion: decide/decision, explode/explosion, intrude/intrusion.

Keeping these points in mind can help learners to increase their vocabulary two words at a time rather than word by word: learn one word, get one free!


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Who is the Oxford 3,000™ actually for?

Oxford 3000Bjorn Candel is an EFL teacher in the UAE. In this post, he looks at how the Oxford 3,000™ – a list of the 3,000 most important words in English – can be used with EFL students.

Frequency-based vocabulary lists like the Oxford 3,000 are powerful language learning tools. In fact, they are way too powerful to stay in the hands of teachers and EFL publishers. That’s why I give each of my students the Oxford 3,000 in an Excel or Numbers file, with empty columns for definitions, example sentences, word family information, collocations etc.

A blank copy of the Oxford 3,000 Excel file

A blank copy of the Oxford 3,000 Excel file

Focus tool

The Oxford 3,000 is a perfect tool for focusing students on studying vocabulary. A huge amount of research and work has gone into compiling this list of vital words for learners of English, and students can take advantage of this by checking if new words they come across in a text or a language activity are on the list. If a new word is in the list, I tell the students to learn it. If not, they have to decide if they feel that word is important enough to make the effort to learn it.

Ambitious and lazy students

Using the Oxford 3,000 is a great approach to vocabulary learning for ambitious students. The list becomes a guide where these students can focus on the words they really need to know to progress in English. And it is a focus tool that helps them become more independent as language learners.

Using the Oxford 3,000 is also a great tool for lazy students. They don’t have to make an effort to decide which words to focus on. If the word is in the list, they simply learn it.

Why an empty list?

I give my students an Oxford 3,000 list with no definitions or example sentences for the simple reason that finding the definition and typing it in the list helps the learner remember it. They are actively working with the new words, not simply looking up dictionary entries. And by actively adding and compiling the information, the Excel or Numbers file also becomes a personalised vocabulary record for the student.

Collocations and word-family data is entered in an Oxford 3,000 Numbers file

Collocations and word-family data is entered in an Oxford 3,000 Numbers file

How many words did you say?

A list of 3,000 words is incredibly long (my Excel file is 310 pages). It’s easy enough to find a new word in the list by using the Find function. However, to make the list easier to work with, I’ve also added a column labelled Date. Whenever a student has worked on a particular word, they simply add the day’s date at the end of the row.

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Making the Most of Dictionaries

Students in a classroomIn this article, Margaret Deuter, a managing editor in the ELT dictionaries department at Oxford University Press, looks at why proper use of dictionaries is so important to English language learners.

It’s not the stuff of spy novels, editing dictionaries. But some teachers act as if we were producing some subversive material that should be handled with extreme care.

It’s depressing for those of us who work to make dictionaries useful resources for learners to go to conferences and hear teacher trainers telling their audiences that dictionaries should be kept out of the classroom. Or to read in a coursebook multiple strategies for getting students to guess the meanings of words and only as a last resort to look them up in a dictionary.

We all know that using a dictionary badly can lead to hilarious results – well, not so funny if as a student you get a really bad mark because of it; but funny, for example, to visitors at this hotel where in the restaurant, “regional and international courts are offered to winter garden…In the summer a terrace to the decree”.

It’s quite possible that these errors have come about by inexpert use of a dictionary, but if the choice is a) ban dictionaries or b) teach students to use them properly, surely there is a clear pedagogical answer. Equipping students with the skills to help themselves is just as much part of a language teacher’s job as imparting knowledge of irregular verbs or practising pronunciation. If these skills are not taught in the classroom, students will still use dictionaries at home, but they won’t be as efficient or proficient at using them as if the dictionary is a regular part of what happens in the classroom.

Tasks designed specifically to familiarize students with dictionaries and to build their reference skills are available to accompany learners’ dictionaries.  Even better, allowing the dictionary to take the strain when you’re doing vocabulary work in class, whether it’s by topic, or based on reading, or just items that crop up in the lesson, is not undermining the teacher, but sharing the burden – with the added benefit of helping the student to cope independently.

You know how it is when you have a special visitor who doesn’t come very often – you go to a lot of trouble over their visit and it’s very hard work. And then there are those visitors who pop in so often that they’re like part of the family – they roll their sleeves up and help with the washing up and they know where the cutlery drawer is because they come so often.

If the dictionary is like the first guest, making a special star appearance and then never turning up again, it will have made it hard work for you and been of only limited benefit to the students. But if it’s like the second type, the friend that is always popping in and out, and making themselves useful, helping with all the routine tasks, it’s not taking up your time unnecessarily; in fact, it’s sharing the burden with you and certainly helping your students.

To find ideas and activities for making the most of dictionaries visit our Dictionaries hub.

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