English Vocabulary - Reading Web Symbols
Even for intermediate and advanced students, it can sometimes be a challenge to share something as simple as your email address! That's because of all these funny symbols and their funny names that we need to read.
It's important to note that these same symbols have different names when we are not talking about the internet. For example, [.] is called a dot when it's in an email address or website, but in math we say point and in English we call it a period. Similarly, [-] is a dash when we're talking about the internet, but we call it a hyphen when it connects two words in English!.
Here are six of the most common web symbols and how to say them aloud:
|Symbol||What to Say||IPA||Example||Example Sentence|
|@||at||/ætemail@example.com||My email is John at Gmail dot com.|
|-||dash||/dæʃfirstname.lastname@example.org||It's Carlita dash Cole at Yahoo dot com.|
|_||underscore||/ˌʌndərˈskɔremail@example.com||It's Carlita underscore Cole at Yahoo dot com.|
|/||slash||/slæʃ/||www.ginse.ng/blog||Go to W-W-W dot G-I-N-S-E dot N-G slash blog for English resources!|
|#||hashtag||/ˌhæʃtæg/||#TBT||Use hashtag TBT for Throwback Thursday.|
|.||dot||/dɑt/||uber.com||The website is Uber dot com.|
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Silent L Words
A lot of the silent letter posts we've shared have followed simple, repeatable patterns; Silent K always comes before an N, for example. Silent L is a little harder. We find it in lots of different words, and they are generally very common words. Many students try to pronounce these Ls, but in all these words, the L is completely silent.
In walk, chalk, and talk, the L comes after an A, and the vowel is pronounced like a short O. Half and calf have an AL, too, but the vowel is pronounced like the short A in staff. In could, should, and would, the L comes after OU, and the sound is exactly like the OO in good.
|walk||/wɔk/||v.||to move with the legs|
|calm||/kɑm/||adj.||not angry, upset, or excited|
|folks||/foʊks/||n.||people in general|
|half||/hæf/||n.||one of two equal parts|
|talk||/tɔk/||v.||to express thoughts in words|
|chalk||/ʧɑk/||n.||a soft rock used for writing|
|could||/kʊd/||v.||the past tense of can|
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English Vocabulary for Parts of a House
Let's take a look at some common words to describe parts of a house!
To go into a house, you use the door. Many houses have a front door and a back door. When you want to look outside, you can look out the window. Windows bring in lots of light and make a house brighter. If it's too bright, or if there's a storm, your house might have shutters on each side of the windows. If you shut the shutters, the windows are protected, and it becomes darker inside.
On the top of each house is a roof. The roof keeps you dry if it is raining! The roof is supported by walls.
Some houses have a fireplace inside so that you can have a fire to keep warm. But if you have a fireplace, it is important to have a chimney, too! The chimney takes smoke from the fire outside so your house isn't smoky!
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Silent K Words
Just a quick graphic to share some tricky words starting with a silent K. Notice that in every word, the K comes before an N. If you see a word that starts with KN-, it's a safe guess that you only pronounce the N.
|knock||/nɑk/||v.||to hit sth with the knuckles|
|knight||/naɪt/||n.||a soldier who wore armor|
|know||/noʊ/||v.||to have in your mind|
|knot||/nɑt/||n.||the part where rope is tied|
|knuckle||/ˈnʌkəl/||n.||a joint in the fingers|
|knee||/ni/||n.||the large joint in the leg|
|knit||/nɪt/||v.||to make something from yarn|
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Learning English is tough. And it's even tougher because there's lots of bad information about what makes good education. Today, let's look at five myths—things that many people believe, but that are not true—about learning English.
1. We learn vocabulary and grammar in the order that we study.
Many students assume that there is a logical order to the English grammar items and vocabulary words that you should try to study. They think that if we arrange things from "simple" to "complex" and study them in that order, we will learn them in that order. Most English textbooks are designed around this idea, but that simply isn't how it works.
Research shows that, yes, there are some basic patterns. But many factors, such as your first language, can really change the order that you learn grammar or vocabulary. This does not necessarily mean that we should not study grammar or vocabulary directly, but most experts now say that the curriculum should be based around something other than grammar topics.
2. Native speakers are better teachers
There are English schools around the world that advertise, "English Lessons with Native English Teachers!" These are especially common online (see below). And many English learners seem to share the idea that native speakers are the best teachers. But why?
A native speaker of English did not have to study and learn the language as an adult. They haven't necessarily experienced all the same challenges and struggles as someone who learned the language at a later age. Native speakers can often follow English grammar patterns without knowing what that grammar pattern is, so they can do it but they cannot teach it.
They can probably pronounce TH, but they might not be able to tell you how to pronounce TH. In other words, a native speaker might have the ability to speak English very well, but they often don't have the skills needed to teach English well. As linguist David Crystal puts it, "All sorts of people are fluent, but only a tiny proportion of them are sufficiently aware of the structure of the language that they know how to teach it." In many ways, a non-native English speaking teacher can be more helpful than a native speaker! Of course, there are very good native and non-native teachers, but skill and qualification as a teacher is much more important than your first language.
Check out this article at TEFL Equity Advocates to learn more about how we select the best teachers at Ginseng.
3. Accuracy is the most important thing
So many of my students tell me that they want me to correct them every time they make a mistake in their speaking or writing. My response is, "No, no you don't want that." When students ask this, they assume that English is all about accuracy, and that improving your English means eliminating errors from your English.
But English is about a lot more than accuracy. In fact, focusing too much on accuracy can really limit your fluency, your ability to speak rapidly and naturally, and fluency is an important part of language learning. If you are too worried about making mistakes, you might also avoid more challenging, complex structures, and complexity is another important part of language learning. As your understanding of the language develops, you need to try more complex sentences and structures, and you will make mistakes as you experiment. Those mistakes are important, and if you have someone correcting you every time you make a mistake, you won't experiment as much!
Accuracy is important but it's not everything! We need to balance accuracy, fluency, and complexity as we learn English.
4. Learning English should be a constant challenge
Learning a language can be a challenge, but that doesn't mean that everything you do in English class should be as difficult and challenging as possible. Generally, you just want small challenges: new language that is just a little above your current level. This is called comprehensible input. Comprehensible means you can understand it. Input is language that you take in.
But there is also a lot of important language acquisition that happens when you are doing things in English that are not challenging at all! Extensive reading, or easy pleasure reading, is very important to developing your English. So is casual conversation, which can really develop fluency!
Make sure that you spend some time challenging yourself with English that is just above your level, and some time using the English that you already know. Again, it's all about balancing those two!
5. Progress in English is linear
This can be really frustrating, but learning English is not a straight line from no English to fluent English. Some parts of the language you will learn quickly. Others will take years. Generally we learn a lot in the first year or two that we study, and our learning slows down after that. Sometimes it will even seem like your English is getting worse! Don't worry. All of this is common and part of the process.
There is a really interesting new interactive article up at the New York Times (NYT). The NYT has a section called "Modern Love," and it is written by their readers. People write essays, send them to the NYT, and some of them are published each week.
For this newest article, they did some research using all the essays that people have sent in for the past 4 years. They looked at the most common words, and then they mapped them based on gender. They found some very interesting patterns. Men and women tend to use different words to talk about love.
Take a look at some of the results in this chart and in the original article!
English Idiom - The Ball is in Your Court
Today's English idiom is the ball is in your court. This is a simple one. It actually comes from tennis, though it could apply to several different sports. We say the ball is in your court to tell someone that it is their turn to take action, that it is their responsibility to take the next step.
I sent them an two emails last week, so now the ball's in their court.
Well, I apologized and she said nothing, so now the ball is in her court.
They made me a job offer. I'm still thinking about it. I guess the ball is in my court to make a counter-offer.
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English Idiom - Singing a Different Tune
The idiom for today is singing a different tune. To sing a different tune is to change your opinion or attitude about something. We often use this idiom when we are judging someone's first attitude and think the new attitude is more appropriate. Take a look at some examples to see what we mean.
Notice that the phrase is often used in the continuous verb form: singing a different tune.
You think you don't need to save for retirement, but you'll be singing a different tune when you're 70 and still working.
When I was younger, I used to judge parents that I saw, but I was singing a different tune after I had my own.
Charlie said he didn't care if Monique left him, but he sang a different tune when she actually broke up with him.
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Basic English Vocabulary - Parts of a Car
Welcome to the first post in a new series on basic vocabulary from the Ginseng English Blog: Parts of a... Today, let's look at some useful vocabulary for the outside of a car!
On a car there are four tires, two front tires and two rear tires. Front and rear are useful words when we talk about cars. A car has two bumpers to protect you in an accident: a front bumper and a rear bumper. Above the bumpers are lights. There are headlights at the front of the car, and taillights at the rear of the car. On each side of the car is a side-view mirror, to help you see behind you. Inside the car is a rear-view mirror, too.
What other car vocabulary do you know? What do you want to know? Comment below!
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I recently came across this great infographic over at the W5 blog, called Spooktacular Halloween Costumes (notice that spooktacular is just a fun portmanteau of spooky and spectacular—more on portmanteaus in this blog post).
This seems like a great opportunity to talk about how we talk about costumes in English, which can be a little tricky. If you're talking to an American friend about an upcoming Halloween party, she might ask you:
What are you going as?
What am I going as? Going as?
It may sound like a strange question, but your friend is asking you what your costume will be, or what you will be pretending to be for halloween. Another way to say this is:
What are you dressing up as?
You could answer with:
- I'm going as a ghost.
- I'm going as a dog.
- I'm going as Wonder Woman.
- I'm going as Jon Snow from Game of Thrones.
Notice that if you are going as something generic (not a single, specific character), we use an indefinite article—a ghost, a cat, an elephant—but for specific characters, we don't need an article.
One more thing: if you're a character from a movie or TV show, it's common to add from [the movie]:
- I'm going as Jon Snow from Game of Thrones.
- She's going as the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland.
- He went as Wolverine from X-Men.
So, what are YOU going as for Halloween!?
English Verb Form Frequency
We spend a lot of time in English class studying different verb tenses. I can't tell you how many times my students have asked me, "How often do we really use the future perfect progressive???" My answer is usually that it is very rare, but it's meaningful, and it can be helpful to understanding how the past perfect progressive works as well. But that really is a good question:
How often do we use each verb tense?
Let me start by saying that there is no one answer. There are many different situations to be speaking or writing in, and in each of those situations we would see different frequencies. Even from person to person, our individual speaking style might lead one person to use, for example, the present tense more often than another person. We can, however, observe some useful patterns.
The Source Material
For this post, I looked at an interesting research study by Krámský (1969). Krámský took several different samples of three different styles (or registers) of English—novels, plays, and specialized (academic and technical) texts. He analyzed 20,000-word samples from each text, counting each form of each verb, and sharing all his data.
His results are complex, and grouped in ways that might not be too helpful, but I have tried to regroup them and show them in charts that are more useful for language teachers and learners.
Before we look at some of those patterns, I want to include a caveat, or warning. When compared to all the language in the world, Krámský's sample is actually very, very small. Ideally, we would get this information from a larger base of language called a corpus, like the Corpus of Contemporary American English. Unfortunately, information of this kind is currently difficult (if not impossible) to get from most corpora. Still, the general proportions and patterns that Krámský found should be fairly accurate. The one other warning is that the texts Krámský used as samples of spoken (or colloquial) English are actually plays, written to sound like spoken English. It is very possible that examples of actual spoken English would be different from the language found in the plays.
Ok, now let's get to the fun stuff!
Verb Tense Frequency
First, I've broken each text type down by verb tense: past, present, and future:
As you can see, there are some big differences between different text types. Spoken English is mostly in the present tense (68.9%), but fiction is mostly past tense (57.6%). Specialized texts overwhelmingly use the present tense (87.1%).
This makes a lot of sense. In fiction, we generally tell stories that take place before: first this happened, then that happened, then that happened. When we speak, though, we talk a lot more about what we think and feel and like, what we do, who people are, our experiences and all of these things are expressed in the present tense. In specialized texts, we are often writing about things that are generally true, and here again, we use the present tense a lot.
The future tense is less used in all text types: 9% in speech, 2% in fiction, and 4% in specialized texts.
Verb Aspect Frequency
The tenses are easy enough—past, present, future—but the really tricky thing about English verbs is the four aspects: simple, progressive, perfect, and perfect progressive. Thankfully, there isn't as much difference between the different styles of English when it comes to aspect. Take a look:
The charts look generally the same. In every style of English, the simple aspect—simple present, simple past, and simple future—makes up over 85% of verbs that we use. The lesser-used aspects all fall in the same order: after simple, it's perfect, then progressive, then perfect progressive gets a tiny little sliver of use.
Most Useful Tense/Aspect Combinations
I think this may be one of the most useful insights from Krámský's work for teachers and students. Though there are 12 tense/aspect combinations in English, 5 of these cover around 96% of spoken English. Notice that the simple present alone accounts for 57% of verbs. Next is the simple past (19.7%), then simple future (8.5%), followed by present
perfect (6.0%) and then present progressive (5.1%). The remaining 7 tense/aspect combinations are all under 1.5% of spoken English verbs. Of course, it is valuable to learn all the combinations, but if you want to prioritize the most useful verb tenses, this should be helpful.
Active and Passive Voice
The passive voice is another of those constructions that challenges students and leads to the question, how useful is this? Well, again, Krámský's work gives us some idea how useful they are. Here is a breakdown of active and passive constructions in the three registers:
It is not surprising that the vast majority of verbs are active. The most important takeaways that I see are these: 97.5% of verbs in spoken English are active, but the passive voice is much more common in specialized and academic texts, in which only 82.2% of sentences are active.
If you found this useful, please share the images or the link and tag us! #ginsenglish and @ginsenglish.
Apple CEO Tim Cook caused some controversy this week when he said that he believes learning coding is more important for students around the world than learning English. His exact words are below:
There were different responses to Cook's words. Some people agreed, and some think he is wrong. Fortune said, "Acquiring coding skills makes financial sense," because coding can help you get many high-paying jobs. But, as Quartz points out, "it’s very difficult to become a good or even decent programmer without working knowledge of English."
What do you think? Is coding the language of the future, or will English remain important?
Answer in the comments!
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Last week, Dictionary.com published a fun list of words that don't exist. What does that mean? Well, they're not just random letters, they are words that you might expect to exist because of other words that look like their opposites. Confused? Here's an example.
Discombobulated is a real word in English. Usually when we add the prefix dis-, we are creating the opposite of another word. For example, we can take agree, add dis-, and we get the opposite: disagree. Right? This works for lots of words: appear/disappear, approve/disapprove, believe/disbelieve, connect/disconnect. But discombobulate is funny, because combobulate is not a word. It doesn't exist.
Here's another one. We can add the suffixes -less and -ful to many nouns to turn them into adjectives. A person with no hope is hopeless. A person with lots of hope is hopeful. Something that causes no pain is painless, and something that causes a lot of pain is painful. Other examples are fear/fearless/fearful, care/careless/careful, color/colorless/colorful, use/useless/useful.
But we have another word in English: reckless. Reckless is similar in meaning to careless. Based on the pattern we looked at, you might think that reck is a noun and reckful is the opposite of reckless. But, as always, English is crazy, and reckful and reck do not exist in English.
A few more:
Disheveled is an adjective meaning not neat. But sheveled does not exist.
Nonchalant means cool, relaxed, and calm. But chalant does not exist.
Disgust is a strong feeling of unpleasantness or sickness. But gust does not exist.
Check the original post at Dictionary.com for more! Can you add any in the comments?
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English Idiom - Show Some Spine
Today's English idiom is show some spine. Your spine is your backbone, the strong middle bones that support your body. When you tell some one to show some spine or show some backbone, you are telling them to be brave or morally strong. If someone has no backbone or is spineless, it means they are a coward.
Your boss won't take advantage of you if you just show some spine and stand up to her.
Don't be intimidated by him. He's just a bully. Show some spine!
I always thought of Karen as timid, but she really showed some spine in that meeting.
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English Idiom - A Wrench in the System
Today's idiom is a wrench in the system. A wrench is a tool. Usually we think of tools as helpful things, good for building or fixing things, but a wrench in the system is actually a negative phrase. Imagine you have a big, complex machine with lots of gears and moving parts. Then imagine someone puts a wrench in the middle of those moving parts. This will cause big problems for your system, right? That's what we mean when we say a wrench in the system: it's a problem that causes a big complicated plan or system to break or fail.
We had our whole vacation planned out, but when we got food poisoning, it really put a wrench in the system.
If the new client won't agree to this contract, it will really throw a wrench in the system.
When they lost a major funder, it threw a wrench in the system for the new startup.