On the course to date we have spent a lot of time looking at fixed phrases and expressions. For example, we looked at expressions related to luck (“with any luck,” “beginner’s luck,” “push your luck,” “no such luck” etc.) and age (“act your age,” “feel your age,” “as old as you feel” etc.) Why are these such a key component of our course?
As far as preparing for the exam goes, the more fixed expressions you know, the better you’ll be able to deal with “distractors” and identify the correct answers in the reading and listening papers. What’s more, in the Use of English paper, fixed expressions might be tested in parts 1,2,4 and 5. Finally, using some fixed expressions in the writing and speaking papers, will go a long way to helping you express your ideas in a natural way. Something that is sure to impress examiners.
More important than the exam is the fact that the greater number of fixed expressions you can recognise and use, the more effectively you’ll be able to communicate in the language. Fixed expressions go a long way to achieving real fluency.
So, having considered the importance of these fixed expressions, how can you go about learning as many as possible, as effectively as possible?
One way is to keep a good course vocabulary record. Notes or a notebook that clearly records some or all of the following…
- the expression
- how “fixed” the expression is (e.g. can any of the words be substituted?)
- its register (formal/neutral/informal)
- an/(some) example sentence(s) that shows how the expression fits into grammar patterns
- an example sentence that clearly shows the context in which the expression is used and illustrates the meaning in a memorable way. The more personal this sentence, the better. It should be more memorable if you came up with it yourself and if it relates to something specific in your life.
- any important pronunciation points (difficult sounds, the word which carries the most stress etc.)
- some paraphrases that express a similar meaning
- a translation that you think accurately expresses the same idea in your language in a similar context/register
It’s worth keeping your vocabulary notes separate from other notes so that you can…
- refer to them quickly as you are writing compositions
- take them out with you so that you can make use of those spare minutes that might come up in a day from time to time to revise / test yourself
Your notes could be organised in various ways…
- By topic…as you come across an expression related to, say, relationships, make a page in your note back for that topic and add the expression to that page. Next time you want to include a new expression related to this topic, add it to the page you started before.
- By key word…get hold of a notebook with lots of pages and as you meet new expressions that contain the same word, start a page with that word as a title. As a result, you’ll have a page that is ready-made revision for part 4 of the CAE Use of English paper.
- By grammatical pattern…you could set up pages in your notebook to record expressions which have a particular grammatical pattern in common (e.g. “the sooner, the better,” “better late than never,” “the best is yet to come,” “(call me by Thursday) at the latest” have comparative/superlative adjectives in common).
- By similar meaning…if you listen to or read a text about, say, problems that students have at school, it’s likely that the text will contain a few expressions with very similar meanings. It’s similar to organising your notes around a topic but the topic is narrower.
- new words or different meanings to known words
- phrasal verbs
It may seem like a lot of work to maintain a good vocabulary record, but it needn’t be. You can record the vocabulary as it comes up in class straight into your notebook from the board and ask me to provide an example sentence if I forget.
Self-study homework tasks that help you record new vocabulary shouldn’t be too time consuming. For example, reading through a transcript of something we listened to in class and noting down 5 or 6 expressions you think are useful would take, what, 15 minutes or so? You don’t need to do the whole text in one go. Set a limit of 5 minutes per day and go back to where you left off the day before.
You could also share the work load with your classmates – e.g. this week it is x’s turn to produce the vocabulary notes from the reading text we did in class. These notes could then be copied at the school or posted somewhere on the net that everyone can access.
What do you think? Have you tried anything like this before? Is it worth trying out? What do you do at the moment to help you expand your vocabulary range between classes?
For an example of how to build up and keep a good course vocabulary record, see the next post: C1 – CAE: Vocabulary Building – Keeping a course vocabulary record (2): Finding and recording expressions in a text