Part of the answers to the exercise on Lexis & Semantics

Share Button

As on 24th October teachers were striking and demonstrating, and I do not want them to miss anything, here are the answers to some of the questions we made on this other post. For your own benefit, try to answer the questions yourself, first, and then come to check the answers. The rest will be covered in the classes.

(The Origins of the financial crisis, from The Economist. September 7th, 2013)

  1. Find a term and its antonym in the text. What type of antonym is it?

Downturn/Upturn: It is a reverse antonym (see p.113. Linguistic competences in English)

Rise/Fall: also a reverse antonym

2          Find synonyms in the text for the following words:

  • Turmoil = upheaval
  •  An excess = a glut, surfeit
  • Background = backdrop
  • Weak  = feeble
  • Interest = returns, yield
  • Unreliable = dodgy
  • Generic term for shares, stocks, bonds, etc. = securities
  •  a rise = a surge
  •  a group = a pool
  • failure to fulfil and obligation (specifically, to pay back a debt) = default
  1. organisations = outfits

 3. Collapse: /kǝ’lӕps/. Even though it has sometimes been translated wrongly into Spanish as “colapsar” this is a FALSE FRIEND.

The English term “collapse” means in Spanish “derrumbarse”, “hundirse”, o “venirse abajo” when it functions as a verb, and as “el derrumbe” o “caida” when it functions as a noun. It is thus an example of conversion in English. So we say: “The collapse of Lehman Brothers”, “the building collapsed  because its foundations had been damaged”, etc.

As may be noted, the verb “collapse” is intransitive in English. In Spanish, the above sentences would be expressed as “la caída de Lehman Brothers” o “el edificio se vino abajo/se derrumbó/se hundió porque los cimientos se habían visto dañados/porque tenía los cimientos dañados”.

Of course, there is the Spanish verb “colapsar” and the noun “colapso”.

Let’s start with the verb. In Spanish, this is a transitive verb which often appears as a past participle in cases like “las carreteras estaban colapsadas por la lluvia” o “la administración de justicia en España está colapsada”. This, in English would be “blocked” or “seized up”: “the roads were blocked because of the rain” or “the administration of justice inSpain has seized up”.

Another use of the word “colapso” in Spanish is related to a medical condition. Thus, we say: “tuvo un colapso”, which in English would be “he lost conciousness” or “he had a blackout”.

It is essential, therefore, to point out that the English words “to collapse” and “a collapse” have no connection in terms of meaning with its Spanish cognates.

The word and phrase analysis will be done in class or we’ll share a google+ doc among all the class members.

With regards to the listening we did, it will be uploaded as a different post.

Helping our students… Cómo ayudar a nuestros alumnos…

Share Button


To finish writing the closing chapter in this book on Linguistic Competence in English, I was considering how to answer questions such as:

  1. What makes people become competent language users?
  2. Is it true that some people are particularly gifted for languages while others will never learn one?
  3. Can we really teach our students a language if they do not want to learn it?
  4. Do they learn the language by teaching them grammar and vocabulary lists and using Spanish as the communication language because “they do not understand English”?
  5. How do we learn in general and, more specifically, how do we learn a foreign language?
  6. Are native speakers more suitable than non-natives to teach the language?
  7. What can we, as teachers, do to help our students develop their linguistic competence in English?

Serendipity led me to an article which I found among the “Latest from The Guardian” Section on this blog (right-hand side…right at the bottom). Here is the link to the article:

I am going to use the article –at least in part– to suggest the answers to those questions.

  1. It seems obvious to conclude that people become competent language users by putting into practice the language knowledge and skills they have learnt or acquired. Practice, therefore, is essential: If you don’t use it you don’t get it.
  2. Although a few people may be particularly gifted for languages, Susanna’s & Benny’s cases show that this is not necessarily so:
    • Susanna’s teachers did not think she was particularly gifted for languages, yet she now speaks 7.
    • Benny Lewis only spoke English until he was 21, thought he did not have a “knack” for languages, but then decided to try and learn Spanish and he now speaks several languages at various levels of competence.

3. Obviously nobody will learn anything against their will. Indeed, research has shown that we “learn what we already know”. What happens is that we make connections in our brains with knowledge we already have, and expand on it when, for whatever reason, we are interested in or feel the need to do so. So motivation is essential. But with the Internet, videogames, social media, music, films, computers, etc. surely there are ways to arouse, however mildly, the interest of the most adamant of our students? Is there something they like doing where most of the information or something special comes in English? Then, they can feel the need to learn.

4.  In principle, the answer is CERTAINLY NOT. The key to learning is doing and if they are not given the opportunity to put into practice the “grammatical knowledge” the only thing we are going to achieve is putting them off the language. “Knowing” complex grammatical structures and vocabulary is totally useless if students don’t know how or when to use them. And learning about grammar and vocabulary is not or should not be the objective of our teaching, but one of the tools.

5. We learn by doing and people like Cristobal Cobos, John Moravec, et al. argue that while in the industrial society of the 19th & 20th century what you knew was important, in the 21st century’s knowmad society it is more important how you learn than what you learn (see The Knowmad society and El Aprendizaje Invisible). In any case, to learn a language you must use it, make mistakes and learn from them, as anybody who speaks more than one language knows and as the 4 people in the article from The Guardian point out. Apart from this, Anna stresses how she uses music to help her learn the intonation patterns, new words or even “boring and complicated grammar rules”.  Richard uses the knowledge he has of other languages to make connections and find common patterns. For Alex, pronunciation is very important and so he makes use of the new technologies to focus on difficult basic sounds and spelling, while Benny uses his body language. In other words, it seems that they make use of their multiple intelligences… and they use the language whenever they can.

6. Being a non-native English teacher myself, it seems obvious that, contrary to what some Education ministers and presidents or former presidents of some Autonomous Regions in Spain have stated, I do believe that what is required is being a good teacher and enjoying what you do. Allow me to answer this question in more detail in the second part of the series on Communicative Competence, when I deal with English as an International language.

7. My aim is to answer the last question in the ensuing parts of the final chapter of “Linguistic Competence in English” (Part I of “The Components of Communicative Competence). Some parts of this have also been posted on this blog: here, here, here & here.


Cognates between English and Spanish: “good” or “false” friends?

Share Button

1. What are cognates?

 Cognates are words which have the same or very similar spelling in both languages (e.g. television, nation, actually)

 2. How would you classify cognates in terms of teaching their meaning?

 Cognates sometimes mean the same in both languages, and we could term them as “good friends”. Some other times, their meaning is totally different and we then term them as “false friends”. Finally, there are those which sometimes mean the same, but at other times don’t, depending on their context.

Thus, words like nation, television, analysis or hibernate are “good” friends because they mean the same in English and in Spanish.

 But words like “to assume” or “sentence” sometimes mean the same in both languages, while other times they mean something different.

Indeed, the verbto assume” is a “false friend” in 90% of the cases and translates as “suponer” as in “Let’s assume the papers are a fake, who would’ve been interested in leaking them?”. The other 10% of cases is “ good friend”, translating as “asumir”. 

Sentence,  on the other hand, is a “good friend” in “pass sentence on” = “dictar sentencia”, and a “false friend” in “This sentence” = “Esta oración/frase”

False friends are many, among them:

Lecture “Conferencia”, “charla”
Actually “de hecho, por cierto, en efecto, por extraño que parezca, efectivamente”
Sensible “sensato”
Conductor “cobrador (de autobús), revisor”, “director de orquesta”
To collapse “hundirse”, destruirse”, venirse abajo”

How would you say the following Spanish words in English?

disponer de

 Consider now the following:

1. How would you teach cognates when they have the same meaning in both languages?

2. To which levels would you present false friends? Give reasons for your answer.

 The answer to the questions above, with some further examples, can be found in our Inglés: Volumen Práctico, together with other questions on verbal idioms, idiomatic expressions, hypernyms, synonyms, antonyms, etc. 

Cognates are also part of topic 11 of the 1993 list.