martes, 22 de agosto de 2017

Cognates: Two-edged Swords

By Flor de María Vila

One of the main concerns and deep-rooted wishes we, as teachers, hang onto is for students to start talking as soon as possible. Unfortunately, the barrier most students encounter is their insecurity to communicate in the new language and their fear of losing face before their classmates. Students do not want to sound awkward or silly, so they wait until they feel safe to start speaking in English, a state of affairs which may take sometimes many months. Regrettably, few students try to do it from the very beginning, even though we always encourage them to do so. Many learners get overwhelmed by the scary process of acquiring so many words. But most students feel that they have found a lifesaver when they discover that Spanish and English possess many words which have similar meanings, spellings, and sometimes pronunciation. We call them cognates.
I love my job for many reasons; one of my favorites is that we are always learning from everything and everybody. I treasure the moments when I have the opportunity to see how my students manage to express themselves and one way they do it is by using cognates as a bridge to the new language. They take advantage of the fact that English and Spanish share a great deal of the same Latin roots and exploit that feature as an instrument to understand English, as well as to send their message across.  Unluckily,    students might run into some words that are false cognates, not surprisingly also referred to as “false friends”. These are words that look very much alike, or even exactly, but do not have the same meaning in English and Spanish. The students who are not aware of this fact mistakenly generalize the use of cognates causing comprehension problems for the people who listen to them.

We will find a student saying “my wife is embarrassed and didn´t feel well yesterday, that’s why I couldn’t come to class”. What he actually meant was that his wife is pregnant, and not ashamed or in debt. Thus, we, teachers, need to help them deal with this peculiarity of the language and maintain students motivated to use the language even if they confuse some words.

First of all, we need to find out how our students learn new vocabulary. It is necessary that we determine the strategies our students are using or if they are using any. You can have them share their strategies in small groups of three. Why do we need to do this? To begin with, we have to make sure that they are aware that it is essential to have a strategy to learn, especially new vocabulary. Learning does not happen miraculously. Another important reason is to avoid furnishing them the same strategies they already know. In fact, we might probably learn some tricks from them. One more aim, we need to get the students actively involved in the learning process and to abstain from making them feel as mere spectators. 
Secondly, we have to take into account that it is essential that learning takes place in every class. Taking in vocabulary must be an ant’s work. Let´s remember that learning a language means acquiring a skill and that does not happen in one day. Learning a language is an aptitude just like being trained to drive a car. Could you do that in one day? Can you pick it up just by reading about it? I am pretty sure your answers will be “no”. Thus, we need to nurture their minds every class with a couple of cognates and the following class go over them and present the new ones. You could always have a quiz disguised as a game to test some of them. Bingo, memory game, puzzles and other ones are appropriate. Learning is a process, and so is acquiring a language. And, as in all progressions, there are ups and downs. We need to review material previously presented when students are likely about to forget what they absorbed before. That is the only way of making sure that they will remember such important information as false cognates. Here is a list of some of them.

“globo” (balloon) mundo
“pie” (foot) pastel
“ropa” (clothes) soga
“sopa” (soup) jabón
“largo” (long) grande
“éxito” (success) salida
“hay” (there is) paja
Now, it is your turn,
Do you know others? Can you share some strategies to teach them? Share with us your expertise.


Biographical Data
M.A. in Cognition, Learning and Development from PUCP, B.A. in Education with a major in English Teaching. Ms. Vila is currently Pedagogic Advisor and Member of the Research Team at Centro de Idiomas de la Universidad del Pacífico and Academic Director of International Contacts (test training & foreign applications advisory). She is official Examiner for several University of Cambridge tests, freelance consultant with Universidad ESAN, experienced speaker on diverse English teaching issues for prestigious institutions, and senior international examinations trainer (GMAT, GRE, TOEFL, IELTS

jueves, 10 de agosto de 2017

This is pure grammar! How do I teach it?

By Enrique Rojas R.

What English teacher hasn’t had problems presenting the combination of one verb following another, particularly to speakers of Spanish? You have to tell your students that some verbs are necessarily followed by an infinitive while others are ineludibly tailed by a gerund. The trouble is if you have analytical learners within your pupils who ask what the criterion is to decide which verbs take one or the other, you have to confess that you have no idea. In fact, nobody in the world seems to know that. There is a list and you just have to learn it and use it. Not an answer full of logic.

But the conumdrum doesn’t end there. It turns out that certain magnanimous verbs allow you to take your pick of infinitive or gerund without changing their meaning, while others, quite more sternly, provide different meanings when followed by an infinitive or a gerund.

And to make matters even worse, some verbs are followed by infinitive with to, some others without to, some others by a gerund but with an object pronoun in between the verb and the gerund, then the gerund becomes infinitive (required writing / require her to write)

Not in vain our colleague blogger from Spain, Cristina Cabal has said about it: “I always claim that English grammar is easy, especially when compared to the Spanish or French grammar, but it gets a bit messy when it comes to verbs followed by infinitive or gerund.” (Cabal).

The use of the gerund has some basic differences in English and Spanish. In cases in which in English you can use an infinitive or a gerund interchangeably, in Spanish only an infinitive is possible. In the language of Shakespeare both, the infinitive and the subject take the function of a noun although they retain their verb meaning and so, they can be subjects of sentences (Exercising / To exercise is healthy) or direct objects (My mother wanted me to call her / I enjoy driving). In the language of Cervantes only the infinitives (or subjunctives) are appropriate for that purpose. And that is the reason why your students tend to overuse the infinitives in English.

Then the only solution appears to be giving your pupils the wearisome lists of verbs followed by infinitives / gerunds, etc. to be memorized by them on their own, that it constitutes for them a huge, lifeless and humdrum job. But we figure that is the textbooks’ fault that this is a topic that teachers have to deal as one whole big chunk. As a rule of thumb, the natural way is usually the best way. And the manner in which native speakers learn this is not memorizing lists, but as collocations. They listen to it, they learn it and then they use it. For this purpose they don’t even have to know what a gerund or infinitive is.

We think that if we don’t focus on teaching the grammatical process but just in associating the use of certain verbs with gerunds or infinitives, we don’t have to wait until the intermediate level. They can start as basics with verbs such as like, enjoy, adore, hate, can’t stand to learn activities, sports, foods and others, and work their way up with more complex verbs maybe to express opinions, for instance. The important thing would be to make the collocations memorable and you achieve this through extensive practice of these structures. For that you can use fill the blank exercises, complete the second sentence so that it has a similar meaning as the first, etc. Although we prefer oral practice, like, for example you ask the first student: “What do you like doing in the evenings?” He/she answers and then asks the next student: “What do you like doing on weekends?” and so on.

Some may think that this is drilling and dream negative reminiscences of audio-lingual practices, but put your mind at rest! Not all drilling has to be bad, especially if students are communicating what they really do or like, etc. Remember that two factors spur the memory: interest and repetition. Just try to do the reiteration as enjoyable as possible. For this very purpose you can use stories, bingo, dominoes, hobbies cards, multiple answers with flashcards and other resources that have been specially designed to teach this and you can find in the internet free of charge


Cabal C. Grammar for Intermediate Level: Gerunds and Infinitives

Cabal, C. Some Activities to Teach Gerunds and Infinitives. C. Blog de Cristina

Gerunds and Infinitives

Gerund and infinitive Dominoes. TEACHTHIS. EFL/ESL Resources

Gerund and infinitive Master. TEACHTHIS. EFL/ESL Resources

Gerunds and Infinitives Worksheet


How to Teach Gerunds and Infinitives to ESL Students Without Confusing Them. FluentU English Educator Blog.

Infinitives and Gerunds. Grammar and Beyond Communicative Activities © Cambridge University Press 2012

Joyce B. I Like Swimming. 3 Tremendous Techniques for Teaching Gerunds and Infinitives

Some Activities to Teach Gerunds and Infinitives

Song Worksheet: Gerunds or Infinitives?

Trusler, T. Gerunds and Infinitives: Helpful Teaching Tips

Use of gerunds in Spanish

Graduated in Journalism at the PUCP, Peru, Enrique Rojas R. holds a MA in Journalism and MA in Inter American History from Southern Illinois University, USA; an MA in Literature from University of the Americas, Puebla, Mexico, all the coursework for a MA in TEFL at Universidad de Piura, Peru and BA in Education from Universidad Federico Villarreal. He has also obtained Certificates of Proficiency in English both from Cambridge University and the University of Michigan and the Diploma for EFL Teachers from Universidad del Pacifico. He is an Oral Examiner for the Cambridge University exams and has been awarded the title Expert in E-Learning from Asociacion Educativa del Mediterraneo and Universidad Marcelino Champagnat. He has worked as a professor in universities in Peru, Mexico and the United States; as a newscaster and a producer in radio and television stations in the United States and Mexico, and as a writer and editor in daily newspapers of the same countries. He has been in the staff of CIDUP for 18 years teaching English and Spanish specializing in International Exams, English for Business, ESP and Teacher Training. He has been a speaker in every Congress of English for Special Purposes organized by Centro de Idiomas de la U.P. He is also a member of its Research Area.


miércoles, 2 de agosto de 2017

Speaking Naturally: Idioms and Collocations

                                                                                                                                                                                                     By Zarela Cruz

Don’t you feel good when your students use idioms and collocations in class? Isn’t it worth to see them making such an effort to find the most accurate expression they are capable of? The big question is: How can students learn them? The answer is easy: by reading and listening to the most language resources they can. Once students start using them, we can be sure that they have grasped cultural aspects and underlying principles of the language since these idioms are usually metaphoric; needless to say, they have a figurative meaning as well. The key is to learn them by chunks, as units of the language, not as separate words.

Let’s start with some collocations:

Why did she burst into tears?

Are you fully aware of the implications of your action?

The Titanic sank on her maiden voyage.

There are many kinds of collocations; among them:

  • verb + adjective:  seems different
  • adjective + noun: excruciating pain
  • noun + noun: a surge of anger
  • noun + verb: lions’ roar
  • verb + noun: commit suicide
  • verb + expression with preposition: burst into tears
  • verb + adverb: wave frantically 

And what about idioms? You can classify them by topics. For instance: idioms about weather, idioms with parts of the body, food idioms….the list is endless.

At the tip of my tongue
Have your head on the clouds
To be full of beans
A piece of cake

Ready for a mini-test?

Which one is correct:

Fast train or quick train?
A round of applause or
a round of claps?
It is raning dogs and cats or It is raining cats and dogs?
Gentlement and ladies or ladies and
Flesh and blood or Blood and flesh?
Butter and bread or Bread and butter?

Have fun while learning! And most importantly: show your students that some combinations of words convey the precise meaning in a given situation. Encourage them to give it a try!

Are you up to it?
Try this quiz:

Too easy? Too difficult? Or was it just right? Let us know your strategies to get the right answers!


Zarela Cruz graduated from Ricardo Palma University as a translator.  She also finished her master’s studies in Linguistics and took some specialization diplomas in English and Spanish. She has also completed a number of online certificates:  Teaching the Working Adult, Online, Hybrid and Blended Education, among other self-study courses. She has taught different courses, programs and levels and has been a teacher trainer, a lecturer and online instructor. This article aims to reflect on the teaching of idioms and collocations to sound more natural when speaking in English.