Monthly Archives: October 2010

C2.2 – Collocations with ‘expectations’

Some activities based on collocations with expectations.  You can find answers at the bottom of the post.

1)  Verbs that collocate with expectations.  Complete the table with the appropriate words from the list:  exceed    surpass    fulfil    meet    fall short of    match    come up to    go beyond    live up to    satisfy   defy

An experience is worse than anticipated An experience is as good as anticipated An experience is better than anticipated

2)  More verbs that collocate with expectations.  Odd one out:  Which verbs in each group have similar meanings? which has a different meaning?

a)       Expectations have been raised by promises made in the elections.b)      Expectations have soared since the club won promotion last season.

c)       Expectations for the festival were dampened by the news that some of the bands due to perform had pulled out.  

a)      The news aroused expectations that the Prime Minister would announce her resignation later today.b)      Latest figures from Wall Street continue to confound analysts’ expectations of a fall in share prices.

c)       Expectations of a large election victory for the party have been built up by comments from key political commentators.

a)      The Union continue to hold high expectations that the government will return to negotiations in the near future.b)       One of the keys to retail success is to shape customers’ expectations of what your business can provide them.

c)       One of the new President’s challenges is how to manage the high expectations that accompany his ascent to power.

a)      Expectations of economic recovery have been heightened by the latest financial reports issued by the government.b)      If expectations are successfully lowered during times of economic downturn, society is less likely to experience upheaval and dissent.

c)       With the new album due to be released next month, the lead singer tried to water down fans’ expectations of a repeat of their best selling first record.  “We’ve moved on, the new record is much harder and the songs are less catchy – we’ve developed a much more mature and experimental sound in the last two years.”

3)  Prepositional phrases with expectations.  Complete the following sentences with one of the prepositions given.

a)  _________ all expectations, Usain Bolt could only finish in third place in the 100m semi-final.  (under/against/lower/above)

b) The preparations for the Olympics appear to be running to schedule, contary ____ expectations.  (of/beyond/against/to)

c)  The latest company results are way ________ expectations with a fantastic 17% profit increase reported in the last quarter.  (beyond/at/into/far)

d)  The team has performed ________ their fans’ expectations this season and currently sit in an underwhelming 16th place in the league.  (between/out/below/bottom)

e)  We have high expectations _____ the future of this organisation.  (of/for/over/in)

f)  Expectations ____ success have never been higher.  (in/for/of/on)

g)  What the company has spent is more or less ____ line with expectations.  (in/of/on/out)

4)  Adjectives that collocate with expectation.  Think about the following questions paying attention to the adjectives in each example.  Feel free to leave comments in response to any of the questions.

a)  Have you ever fulfilled a dream that went beyond your wildest expectations?

b)  Can you think of any examples of situations in which widespread expectations were over-high/unreasonable/over-optimistic?

c)  In what ways have traditional family expectations changed over time?  Has this been a change for the better in your opinion?

d)  Will passing the Proficiency exam change or help you meet your career expectations in any way?  How? 

5)  Reading.  Read the blog on the link below about the link between happiness and expectation.  If you’d like to leave a comment with your thoughts on this site, I’d love to read them.  How do you think what the writer says about Denmark compares with life in Spain?

References:  Eric Weiner blogs about expectation and happiness for the NY Times:

Answers:  1)  Column one:  fall short of  / Column two:  fulfil, meet, match,  come up to, live up to, satisfy / Column three:  surpass, exceed, go beyond.  Defy could probably go in column one or two.   2)  Different meanings:  Column A:  to dampen, Column B:  to confound, Column C:  to hold,  Column D:  to heighten.  3)  a)  against, b)  to,  c)  beyond,  d)  below,  e)  for,  f)  of


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C2.2 – Writing (Letter) – The value of higher-education

CPE Writing Exam

Part one of the CPE writing paper is a compulsory task in which you write an article, essay, letter or proposal of between 300 and 350 words.  It is common for the letter to be one written to a newspaper in response to something that has already been published.  You are often given an extract from the piece and a question to respond to.

Task Introduction

In this post I’m going to set up a writing task based on an original web article on the topic of university degrees that you can read before writing your response.

First of all, think about the following statements.  Which do you agree with?

  • A university degree is a passport to a rewarding career and financial security – you are closing doors of opportunity on yourself if you don’t get one.
  • University study may be expensive but the cost is justified when you consider the quality of the courses on offer.
  • A university education does not prepare people for the reality of the world of work.  More can be learned about business and life in six months working than in three or four years studying.
  • What’s the point of studying hard and paying for a degree and masters when all you are doing in reality is becoming over-qualified for the first job you’re likely to be able to get when you finally start working?
  • The quality of university teaching is in a state of continuous decline.  A degree today is worth less than one ten, fifteen or twenty years ago.
  • If your objective is to own your own home, drive your own car and gain financial independence and security for your retirement, you’d be better off leaving school before you are 18, finding a job, working hard and working your way up in that company.  You’ll find that by the time your contemporaries are finishing their university degree, you’ll be well on the way to achieving your goal while they are up to their necks in debt.
  • In the future we’ll see a reversal in the growth in the number of people going on to study at university.  Not everyone needs a degree.  Practical apprenticeships for skilled labour jobs like carpentry and plumbing will become more popular again.

You are now going to read a summary of an article on this topic which appeared in The Week (18th September 2010).  Which points above does the writer agree or disagree with?

Like the housing bubble before it, “the higher-education bubble” is about to burst, says Michael Barone.  Over recent decades, yearly tuition fees at most of America’s private universities have climbed far beyond the rate of inflation, to $30,000 and above, on the widespread assumption that a college degree guarantees a successful life.  Many young people and their parents have taken on debts of $100,000 or more, only to find that in our new economy, graduates can’t find the high-paying jobs they assumed would be there – or any jobs at all.  More troubling still is that many graduates emerge with subpar educations, as colleges water down standards and squander millions on administrators and star professors who do little teaching.  For many students, two years in a low-cost community college might make more economic sense; for others, training in a specific trade, such as carpentry might provide a more secure future.  “America leads the world in higher education”, but this success has led colleges to assume they are immune to the business cycle and the law of supply and demand.  “Turns out that’s wrong.”  The skyrocketing cost of college “is not sustainable” now that people are starting to “figure out they’re not getting their money’s worth”.

Writing Task

Having read the article summary, you decide to write a letter to the editor of the newspaper, commenting on the article and giving your own opinions.  You should write between 300 to 350 words.

Preparing to write (ideas)

In preparation for writing, here are some steps you might like to follow:

  • Brainstorm your own opinions on the topic.  Identify the key points the writer makes about higher education in the U.S.  Do they apply to Spain?  Europe in general?  Can you relate any of the points to current debates about education in Spain?  How do they relate to your own experience and that of people you know?  Note down your opinion to each of the key points – do you agree/disagree with them?  Why?  What examples can you give to support your opinions?  What are the effects of the points the writer makes on people today and their implications for society in the future?
  • Read the original article in full here.     Add any further ideas to your notes.
  • Read some of the comments offered by readers at the bottom of the article.  Which of them agree or disagree with your original ideas about the article.  Can you ‘borrow’ any of these ideas and use them in your letter?
  • Evaluate your notes.  Do you now have enough ‘content’ to write a response of 300-350 words?

Preparing to write (planning the text)

  • Try setting out a paragraph plan for your letter based on your notes.  This may help you produce a letter which is suitably coherent.  You could start with giving a reason for writing this letter (Paragraph One), and end by rounding off your ideas in a summary paragraph.
  • Think about the key vocabulary you will need.  You could brainstorm words and expressions related to the topics of higher education, value for money, the world of work etc.
  • Get writing!  If you want to, it would be great if you could write your answer in the comment box on this page.  That way I can offer feedback on your text and other readers can compare their ideas to yours.  Please don’t be shy!  Feedback will be constructive and we are not aiming for perfection yet.  We are practising.  Don’t think of the piece ‘finished.’  It’s always a work in progress that can be edited, amended and improved on.

Post-writing evaluation

When you have written your text, before posting the response here, it might be useful to check…

  • Spelling.  Look up and check any words you were not sure about as you wrote.
  • Word choice.  Look back at your text as an editor.  Look out for words/expressions/phrases which you think may not fit the overall register of your text (e.g. slang expressions in a semi-formal/formal text) – can you substitute any of these?  Evaluate how cohesive your letter is – do the sections link together clearly?  Have you used suitable linking expressions to help you do this.
  • Read your text through for clarity.  Are your opinions about the topic clearly stated?
  • Ask for feedback – is there something in particular you want me to focus on when I give feedback (e.g. how can I make my writing more engaging to the reader?  Do I use prepositions correctly?)

Happy writing, I look forward to reading your responses.


Summary of Michael Barone’s article from The Week (18 September 2010) (Dennis Publishing)

Original article by Michael Barone, Higher Education Bubble Poised to Burst from The Examiner (Washington) (

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B2 Professional English – Companies and Social Networking

In our class last week we discussed different forms of communication which companies use.  One of the media we mentioned were social networks.   Here are some activities based on a text from the BBC News website called Why companies watch your every Facebook, You Tube and Twitter move.  Click here to read the text and watch the video interviews.

  • As you read and watch the video interviews on the same page, find examples of how a) social networking media can damage companies and b) how companies can use social networking media with positive results.
  • Language focus:  Try to match some of the words or expressions from the text with the alternatives below according to the context in which they appear.
Words / expressions in the text Alternative expressions
a grumble (verb) 1 unclear
b courteous (adj) 2 amusing (perhaps in a sarcastic way)
c witty (adj) 3 change
d snowball (verb) 4 significant financial resources
e shift (noun) 5 frightening
f fuzzy (adj) 6 experimenting
g deluge (noun) 7 current feelings held by an increasing number of people  
h deep pockets 8 The opportunity to see something before it is released to the general public
i trends (noun) 9 escalate (getting bigger all the time)
j cagey (adj) 10 fashionable
k all the buzz 11 cautious
l dabbling 12 flood (large quantity / large amount)
m meltdown (noun) 13 complain
n fake (adj) 14 very popular / fashionable at the moment
o hip (adj) 15 false
p sneak previews 16 polite
q creepy (adj) 17 a large problem


  • Leave a comment – Do you know of any companies which have suffered good or bad P.R. from social networks?  Share the story here.   Can you think of any examples of companies putting content online which you thought added value in some way?  What was the content?  Can you post a link and explain why you liked it or thought it was effective?

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C2.2 – What’s in a word? old-fashioned – dilapidated – quaint

In our first class we explored some synonyms of or words with a similar meaning to the adjective old-fashioned.  Here’s a summary of the list we came up with in class:

With a more positive meaning:  quaint  /  antique  / old-world (olde-worlde / oldy-worldy) / charming

With a more negative meaning:  dated / out of date / outdated / outmoded / rickety – jolting (especially in the context of old trains)  / dilapidated (with i not e!)  / run down / on its last legs / antiquated

Here are some more words which have similar meanings when used in a more negative sense:  out of fashion / old hat / passé / behind the times / archaic / obsolescent / obsolete / defunct / medieval / square / prehistoric / backward-looking / anachronistic / not with it / out of the ark


  • Which 4 words / expressions do you think are the most colloquial?
  • Categorise the words above between those that could describe:  Ideas    Places    Objects (e.g. consumer products)

We also looked in more detail at dilapidated in the context of describing places and buildings.  Here are some more words which express a similar idea:  tumble down / ramshackle / in disrepair / shabby / battered / shaky / crumbling / in ruins / ruined / decayed / decrepit / neglected / uncared for / untended / the worse for wear / falling to pieces

Clearly, these words communicate a more negative idea about the place they describe.  Here are some examples from Giles Tremlett’s book Ghosts of Spain.  The first describes the Calle Carmen in San Fernando, birthplace of Camarón de la Isla…

Here in the shabby end of the shabbiest part of town, in a two-room house that shared a small patio with several neighbours, José Monge Cruz was born in December 1950.

The second example is from a description of the town of Dos Hermanas near Seville…

We drove up to Cerro Blanco, a gypsy barrio of crumbling, one-storey houses in Dos Hermanas.  Serrano ushered us into a dilapidated, single-bedroom house furnished with nothing more than a bed, a kitchen table, a few plastic chairs, a loudly humming refrigerator and a rusting sink.

Here’s another set of examples in context.  This is from a website description of Lisbon…

The whole city is crumbling.  Peeling plaster and missing tiles made for some interesting textures on the walls.  Unfortunately, Lisbon can’t pull off the elegant flaky-paint look the way Venice does.  Lisbon just looks terribly dilapidated, it’s glory days over, deteriorating as we watch.  Its structures are still grand, but they’re dressed like homeless derelicts, with the same empty-eyed glower, all dignity and self-respect burned off by neglect. 

But, however negative the connotations of these words, we can’t take for granted that something described as shabby, crumbling or dilapidated  is necessarily done in a negative way.  Depending on context, the target-audience of a text and purpose for writing or speaking, we can present these characteristics in a completely different way.  Take a look at some more examples…

Cadiz  A beguilling air of genteel decay pervades this old sea town, one of the great cities of the Spanish South

Once you’ve got through the tedious modern suburbs on its eastern flank, inner Cadiz, built on a peninsula-island entered via the Puertas de Tierra (Land Gates) – a substantial remnant of the eighteenth-century walls – looks much as it must have done in the great days of the empire, with grand open squares, sailors alleyways and high, turreted houses.  Literally crumbling from the effect of the sea air on its soft limestone, it has a tremendous atmosphere – slightly seedy, definitely in decline, but still full of mystique.

The old city looks quite Moorish in appearance and is intriguing with narrow cobbled streets opening onto small squares.  The golden cupola of the cathedral looms high above long white houses and the whole place has a slightly dilapidated air.

These descriptions of Cádiz, the first two from The Rough Guide to Andalucía and the third from the website andalucí, I think, show how seemingly negative words can be put to work by writers to present something in a much more positive light.  The ideas of dilapidation, seddiness, decline and decay are used but still paint an attractive portrait of the city as somewhere mysterious and atmospheric.  The examples from Ghosts of Spain and the description of Lisbon may use similar words but the effect is very different.

Lisbon - charmingly dilapidated or crumbling to ruin?

Let’s look at another example.  A good example of something old-fashioned could also be shabby, which gives us ideas of something worn, faded and not new.  A good opposite of old-fashioned could be chic, which leads us to imagine high couture, the haute couture or alta costura of Parisiene fashion houses, something new and daring and the height of fashion.  But, if you search for the exact phrase “shabby chic” in google, you get 2.25 million results.  4% of all google examples of chic collocate with shabby and about 29% of all google examples of shabby collocate with chic.  Trust the world of fashion to confuse us more with a collocation of two contrasting styles.  It presents us with all sorts of new dilemas.  Are my old trainers worn out and fit for the dustbin or are they a good example of shabby-chic?  Does shabby-chic mean the denim jacket from the second-hand clothes shop or something on the hangers in a high-street fashion store that has been designed to look old and distressed?

But anyway, let’s not get away from the main idea.  Depending on context a word with seemingly negative meaning can become something more positive and vice versa.  Take the word charming.  What kind of picture does it paint for you?  Charming narrow streets leading to a small square lined with table fronted cafés?  Behaviour which is the height of good manners?  This follows with the Cambridge Dictionary’s first definition of the word:  pleasant and attractive.  However, there’s another definition meaning the opposite!  Someone who is charming uses their attractiveness to influence people or to make other people like them.  Look at the personification of the word itself, the fairy tale Prince Charming is usually the embodiment of good manners, the walking definition of good-looking and the good guy that finally saves the poor princess from whatever terrible fate awaits her.  But sometimes we get to see the other side.  Take the depiction of Prince Charming that we see in Shrek II – he’s a charmer alright but he’s also vain, arrogant and plots against the heroes of the story.  This subversion of the norm has great comic results and was also evident in the character of Ken in Toy Story III – the charming side is presented first, the true colours are shown later on and the good characters use this against him.

So, to sum up, I guess the lesson is that words can’t always be taken on face value.  Use them for your own means.  Experiment with them.  Providing you’re clear about your message and the context is appropriate, the use of a supposedly negative word in a positive way might give your writing an extra lift and help you appeal directly to the readership group you are writing to by showing a love for something that other people might find unattractive.

More activities

Quaint is another adjective, like charming, that can have a positive and negative sense.  The positive meaning is “attractive because it is unusual or old” and the negative is “disapproving of an idea, opinion or a manner of behaviour because it is old-fashioned.”  A good example of the latter would be describing someone’s ideas on a sensitive subject as quaint.  For example, someone could express ideas about immigration that you disagree with but rather than openly-criticise their ideas to someone else you could say “they have some quaint ideas about immigration.”  The effect is less drastic and condeming than a word like “racist” or “outdated” but clearly communicates disapproval.  Old-fashioned can be used in the same way.

  • Have a look at the examples below.  Are the uses of quaint used to communicate positive or negative ideas?

“Here we find quaint, old Spain; a small town with cobbled streets and historic buildings.  Friendly people and surrounded by tree covered mountains and green…”   (

“Shops, bars, and quaint cafes with stunning views abound in Mijas, and there are plenty of resting places and view-points dotted…” (

“…there’s a danger in giving a bunch of outmoded and quaint ideas more dignity than they deserve by allowing them the power to offend you.”  (

“They (world leaders) don’t have any respect for quaint ideas like a free will of the people and they believe violence is the answer to all foreign policy questions.”  (

Also, if you’re very interested in the interpretation of words, take a look at this news story about the use of the word “quaint” in a White House memo.

  • Collocation is key to using words that might normally convey negative ideas in a positive way.  In the examples given above we have genteel decaya slightly dilapidated air and slightly seedy.  Try using some of the words from the list above in a positive way to describe places you know using some adverbs or adjectives to modify them.
  • Leave a comment on one of the ideas below or anything else that comes to mind.
  • Can you think of any widely-held ideas that are in a way too quaint for modern society?
  • What’s your reaction to the use of words like dilapidated and shabby in descriptions of places?  Do these features appeal to you or turn you off visiting a place.
  • What about fashion styles such as “shabby-chic” – do you find it just an excuse to be scruffy or does it take a sense of style to be able to pull off such a look successfully?


Giles Tremlett, Ghosts of Spain (Faber, London, 2006)

Geoff Garvey and Mark Ellingham, The Rough Guide to Andalucía (Rough Guides, NYC, London, Delhi, 2006)

Lisbon description from a website about hunting street thieves,  Follow the link to read more.

Links:  Meet Ken from Toy Story III, Patti Page sings about quaint little villages in Old Cape Cod.

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