Friday, August 27, 2010

Variety is the spice of life - part II

This is a follow up to my previous post.

As well as nouns and verbs, you can also apply to adjectives the idea of exploring similar and opposite words. For example, you can describe an idea as being new, but you can alternately describe it as innovative, original, fresh, brand-new or cutting-edge. Conversely, an idea can be tired, conventional, ordinary or worn-out.

Likewise, you can qualify an idea as silly, but the same idea can be ridiculous, asinine, preposterous, absurd or lame. On the other hand, an idea can be sensible, reasonable, or suitable. All these adjectives, synonymous and antonymous alike, are close in meaning.

As far as adjectives, another good idea is to arrange continuums of intensity from one extreme to the opposite extreme. Take the adjectives hot/cold. You can insert a number of other adjectives in between, and even beyond, those two extremes and end up with a wider selection of words:

hot > cold

hot > warm > cool > cold

hot > warm > tepid > cool > cold

boiling > hot > warm > tepid > cool > cold > freezing

This exercise provides with more nuances of meaning to your target words, and consequently a richer vocabulary. Another example:

embarrassed > proud

embarrassed > pleased > proud

humiliated > embarrassed > pleased > proud > boastful

Similarly, you can apply continuums to basically any class of words in English. Take the verb "to talk":

talk > whisper

scream > talk > whisper

scream > talk > murmur > whisper

shriek > scream > talk > murmur > whisper

In the future, I’ll be providing more continuums. It’s up to you now. This can be done either mentally or in writing. Start by thinking of antonyms and synonyms of the words you are learning. Then move on and try to come up with a continuum using those words.

The most important thing is to keep a curious, inquisitive mind. See? I too am using synonyms! As I pointed out in the previous post, it’s an easy and fun exercise to do. Start now!

I’ll be writing more about ideas to help you boost your vocabulary. This is goodbye for now!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Variety is the spice of life

I am of the opinion that an essential aspect of acquiring a foreign language has to do with how well you master the vocabulary of your target language. And by vocabulary I don’t mean separate words only, but entire phrases. In the future I will be writing more about word combinations in English. For now, let’s focus on the word level.

There is a lot to be said about the importance of vocabulary in English language learning. Especially considering the fact that English has arguably one of the largest vocabularies in the world.

In my experience, when compared to Portuguese, English vocabulary does seem to be a particularly tricky point for students. And it’s not only about the sheer number of words that learners have to cope with, but the fact that, more so than Portuguese, English language allows for a variety of ways to say exactly the same thing.

Take the verb ‘to walk’. In English, you can not only walk, but you can stroll in the park on a sunny day or step into your boss’s office for a minute, you can saunter out of your house and into the sunlight, or stride across the room to open the door, you can pace back and forth or tread a tightrope.

Similarly, you can run, but you can also bolt, hurry, rush, dash, jog, speed, scurry and scramble. It is possible to look at something, but also stare, gaze, gawk, goggle or glance at it, and even eye someone.

These are all common verbs used to describe everyday activities. Their synonyms are equally important and frequent, providing various shades of meaning that are useful and fun!

So, here's a piece of advice for those looking to enlarge their English vocabulary: pay special attention to the words that have similar meanings to the words that you are learning. Conversely, try to come up with words with opposite meanings. This kind of exercise is interesting and easy to do, and will hopefully help you build what I like to refer to as vocabulary networks.

I believe that organizing vocabulary items in this fashion (=in this manner) is one sure way to make it easier for you to pull up words from your memory when you need them.

In English, variety is the spice of life. Keep that in mind!

On this blog, I will be providing more examples of similar/opposite words. In the meantime, I will just leave you with that thought: when working on your English vocabulary, take a minute or two to consider the synonyms and antonyms of the words that you are learning or have learned.
That's it. Till next time!

Sunday, August 1, 2010


At a certain point at the café (see this post), a server stepped up to the plate and shut off the TV show, much to the joy of the customers present, many of whom (myself included) cheered and thanked the good soul who had saved us all.

A lady sitting next to us then turned and said in English, “They’re so boring!” My student/friend and I had been talking in English all along, and that was the lady’s way to let us know that she too was relieved that Chitãozinho & Xororó had finally been shut off.

The only problem was her word choice. I understood that she meant to say that the music was ‘chata’. As it turns out, the adjective ‘chato’ in Portuguese has a multitude of meanings, each calling for a different translation in English.

Let’s look at some possibilities:

1. chato = entediante; monótono; desinteressante; sem graça.

What a boring class. I almost fell asleep.
[Que aula chata. Eu quase dormi.]

I don’t like the living room. It’s boring. We need to get some decoration.
[Não gostei da sala de estar. Ela está sem graça. A gente precisa arrumar alguns enfeites.]

2. chato = irritante; enervante; incômodo; azucrinante.

I have this annoying pain in my feet. (to annoy = irritar)
[Estou com uma dorzinha chata nos pés]

3. chato = embaraçoso; desconcertante.

I couldn’t remember her name. What an awkward / embarrassing situation!
[Eu não lembrava o nome dela. Que situação chata!]

4. chato = exigente; difícil de satisfazer.

My daughter is a picky eater.
[Minha filha é chata para comer.]

5. chato = pessoa inoportuna.

What a pain that guy is. Why does he always have to tell his stupid jokes?
[Que cara chato! Por que será que ele sempre tem que contar uma piada sem graça?]

As for the lady sitting next to us at the café, what she probably meant to say about Chitãozinho & Xororó was that they were annoying. A possible phrase she could have used is:

“How annoying they are!”

That’s it, folks! Till next time!