Posts Tagged ‘ESL’

Lit Links: for the lexically lacking

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

Recently I’ve been getting quite a lot of compliments on how good my English is. On a recent trip to Birmingham (West Midlands,  not Alabama) a shop assistant told in me I had a lovely Dutch accent, and how clever I must be to have almost entirely gotten rid of it.

I could have been very flattered were it not for the fact that I’m British.  I spent years losing the Birmingham accent I picked up while studying there, and even more years before that trying to shrug off the Geordie accent I grew up with in the gray and green wilds of Northumberland.

But the lovely people who praise my command of English may have a point. Since I’m immersed in Dutch language most of the time, finding the right word in English is becoming more and more difficult, to the point that I have to ask my Dutch husband to translate for me sometimes.  I appear to have stopped picking up new words in English too.

So here, for myself and the other lexically lacking ex-word nerds, are some lit links to help repair those broken down English language synapses.

Eggcorns are similar to malapropisms in that they are examples of using the wrong word in a familiar phrase. Where malapropisms produce nonsense, eggcorns sound so similar to the original word that they appear to make perfect sense, to the extent that some are eventually are absorbed into the language. Here’s a fascinating essay on eggcorns, which suggests that “this process of the masses’ getting it wrong until it becomes right is common, ongoing, and unstoppable.”

WordPower is a simple but addictive vocabulary game that can be played online, or as an iPhone ap. I’ve tried quite a few vocabulary games recently, and this is the only one so far that has a nice interface and uses words I didn’t already know.

There’s another (slightly easier) vocab game online, that has the added incentive of donating ten grains of rice to the World Food Program for every answer you get right. Ten grains may not seem like much, but it can make a real difference.

Want to make those new words stick? Here are Ten Tips to Improve your Vocabulary.

As a fun exercise at school in my teens, the best English teacher I ever had taught us how to avoid ambiguity in our writing by having us spot misleading newspaper headlines. Soon  the wall of her classroom was papered in perfectly awful examples of headlinese, like “McDonald’s Fries the Holy Grail for Potato Farmers.” :-) There’s a wonderful term to describe these headlines: crash blossoms.

And then there’s the Cupertino Effect, the tendency of a spellchecker to suggest inappropriate words to replace misspelled words and words not in its dictionary, to which even the New York Times has fallen prey. It may also have inspired Candidate for a Pullet Surprise, also known as The Spellchecker Poem. has a surprisingly good blog, full of trivia about etymology, word meanings and the written word. The scope is broad, the topics are hot,  and the presentation is fun: you can find out out why New York is called the Big Apple, what to call the biggest numbers in existence, and where the word ‘hello’ comes from.

It’s fifty years since To Kill a Mockingbird was published.  I think a fitting way to mark the occasion would be by learning to cuss like Scout Finch.

If you feel that your command of English is just fine, thanks – and of course, if you’re Dutch then it probably is - how about working on your vocabulary in a few fictional languages, like Avatar’s Na’vi, Star Trek’s Klingon or Tolkien’s Sindarin?

Lit Links: Our irregular round up of random book stuff

Sunday, June 7th, 2009

If like us, you’re a regular user of the Internet Movie Database you might be interested in something Sigrid found: there’s now a similar tool for books. You can search in the usual way with author, ISBN, title and so on. But it’s also searchable by subject, and browsable by Dewey Decimal numberperiod or movement, and even imaginary place!

Maarten, ever an afficionado of the small and adorable, loves the dinky little Easter Island Desktop Heads we have on the second floor in Amsterdam. Some of us are like kids in a candy store when we see Running Press products, while some more grown up ABCers fail to see the attraction of geeky trinkets in little boxes. But everyone seems to think these are cute!

Teachers! We have lots and lots of educational workbooks in stock in Amsterdam at eenie meenie prices. Most of them are on English but we have a good few on maths and a couple of other subjects too! Check the crates in the children’s corner. ( We also have a little ESL section for children section. Ask our staff to point it out!)

The one millionth word is about to enter the Oxford English Dictionary.  Which word will it be? You won’t believe some of the words that they’ve already allowed in.

After all those words, a literary dessert: one of our favorite websites is Cake Wrecks, a site dedicated to professional cakes gone wrong. Except on Sundays when they showcase some amazing works of edible art. My favourite Sunday edition so far just has to be this one on children’s books.

Books With Bite: perfect titles for your students

Monday, July 21st, 2008

At this time of year, teachers often ask us to find ‘good’ books for their students. Something with a little ‘bite’.

Books with ‘bite’ – vampire stories  – are hugely popular now, and books from autuhors like Stephenie Meyer and Darren Shan are fantastic fun for teens. But if you’re looking for books with literary bite, substantial titles to engage your more able or older students, it can be hard to find the right ones. You need stories that students will enjoy, with quality writing and accessible language. We asked Hester, one of our Amsterdam Fiction buyers,  put together a list of some her favorites. If you’re having trouble coming up with texts for your classes, give her a call!