Read a book.

“How can I increase my vocabulary,” is a frequently-asked-question for English as a Second Language teachers, along with “how can I get better at grammar?” For my part, the answer to both questions is one and the same: read a book. Throughout my career as an English teacher, I’ve observed that students who excel at expressing themselves in both written and spoken language are invariably the readers. Of course there are countless internet-based resources with both online exercises and printable worksheets, but how truly effective are they? The third method described by Bo Lundahl as “deliberate/intentional vocabulary learning”[1] is the most straightforward method, as one simply, “[studies] words and phrases and [tries] to learn them.“ (Lundahl 2012: 338) This was the method used when I was in high school. We were required to buy a vocabulary book containing lists of words that we were expected to memorize the spelling, definitions, and the usage of, and which we would be tested on every week. It was an unreservedly and relentlessly dull way to learn the vocabulary we needed to know for the verbal section of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT).[2] These were words like microcosm, demonstrative, problematize and other words that are almost never used outside of academia and which we would forget one nanosecond after the exam was over.

Leo Van Lier would certainly agree that this deliberate/intentional method is an inauthentic (read: unnatural) way of learning vocabulary. In his chapter concerning authenticity, Van Lier clarifies that in order for the classroom to “become more ‘natural,’ [it] must try to be less like a classroom, and more like some other place.” (Van Lier 1996: 123) What, then, would be considered an authentic way of learning vocabulary? The answer is, once again, read a book. Read books written in English. Read them in some other place besides the classroom and read them often. The more you see the English language written in its correct form, with correct spelling, usage, and context, the better you will get at both English vocabulary and English grammar. Adding listening into the mix incorporates the elements of pronunciation and intonation, leading further to total mastery of the language. This is Lundahl’s number one vocabulary learning method, described as “listening and reading when the focus is on the content (learning vocabulary from meaning-focused input).” (Lundahl 2012: 338) Using text-to-speech while simultaneously reading a text is the way I personally read online Swedish texts. (Unfortunately, this method does not work very well with printed books.)

Lundahl’s second method of learning vocabulary is described as “talking and writing when the focus is on the content (learning vocabulary from meaning-focused output)” (Lundahl 2012: 338). In other words, this is a dialectical/discussion based method of learning new vocabulary and concepts. The teaching methodology I trained in originally focused on this kind of learning, so I used this method extensively during my first years of teaching undergraduates. I would assign the students a text, for which we would have a guided discussion during lessons. After a couple of weeks of this process, the students would write a short argumentative paper relating to the topics we had covered. Inciting critical thinking skills was a part of the curriculum so this method served that requirement well. Of course these students were all native speakers at the university level, so it is important to keep in mind that this method is perhaps a little too advanced for younger students. However, I have used this method with great success in more advanced levels. (English C/D/E and English 7) It really stimulates and engages the students and gets them thinking.

In Ulrika Tornberg’s chapter on memory and the learning of words (Chapter 7) she goes a step further than Lundahl’s three methods of learning new words and concepts, and discusses specific methods for assimilating new vocabulary. According to Tornberg, “the fact that we understand a word with the help of clues or dictionaries does not mean that we also know it. The knowledge we have today about how our memory works leads to the realization that word learning is a creative process with several steps. The word must first be coded in a conscious way in order to then be able to pick it up again.” (Tornberg 2020: 140) To continue with the computer analogy, the only way to truly know a new word is to program it into the brain in a way that leads to its retention, unlike the deliberate/intentional method, which does not lead to retention because (for which I ask your forgiveness) retention is not the intention.

In order to determine the ideal way of programming one’s brain, it’s important to be aware of one’s individual learning aptitudes or intelligences. Torberg lists these as:

  1. Linguistic intelligence
  2. Logistical/mathematical intelligence
  3. Visual/spatial intelligence
  4. Musical intelligence
  5. Kinesthetic intelligence  (Tornberg 2020: 141)

There are plenty of online surveys/quizzes designed to reveal one’s intelligence aptitudes.[3] I discovered that I have a high degree of musical intelligence, followed closely by linguistic intelligence. This makes perfect sense because I’ve been musical my entire life, and I’m always humming/singing/whistling, and making up songs about my cat. According to Tornberg, a person with a high degree of musical intelligence “might encode words using music or by rapping or rhyming.” (Tornberg 2020: 141) Incorporating music and movement into lessons is of course a well-established pedagogical practice, but it is mostly used for small children. If an ESL student is really struggling with learning new vocabulary, I would suggest singing it, even if it feels childish. I asked my Swedish husband about a particularly effective teacher he had, and he mentioned his high school German teacher. She told them at the start of the term that she was going to teach them like they were small children, which I’m sure some of them were not entirely comfortable with, but her methods ended up being extraordinarily effective. So, why not try a few songs, rhymes, and games for third year upper-secondary students – after reassuring them that, look, you know it seems weird, but trust you, it works.

Resources:

Lundahl, B. Engelsk språkdidaktik: texter, kommunikation, språkutveckling. 3:e uppl. Lund: Studentlitteratur. 2012

Tornberg, U. Språkdidaktik. 6:e uppl. Malmö: Gleerups. 2020

Van Lier, Leo. “Interaction in the language curriculum: awareness, autonomy, and authenticity.” Applied linguistics and language study. London: Longman. 1996


[1] All citations from Lundahl and Tornberg are translated.

[2] The satirical dictionary website Urban Dictionary defines SAT, among other ways, as: 1) A bullshit exam which doesn’t test anything, be it IQ, creativity, personality, or potential college performance” and 3) Is a major cause of teenage suicide in America. https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=SAT

[3] This is the one I used: https://personalitymax.com/multiple-intelligences-test/

Don’t want to wear a mask

I never wore a mask before.

Don’t want to wear one in the store.

Don’t want to wear one in the hall.

Don’t want to wear a mask at all. 

Don’t want to wear a mask today,

Don’t want to wear a mask, no way.

You cannot make me wear a mask.

It’s really just too much to ask. 

It makes it hard to breathe and talk,

To ride a bike or take a walk. 

Don’t want to wear a mask today.

Don’t want to wear a mask, no way. 

But…

I really cannot tell a lie. 

Don’t want to become sick and die.

I do not want to lie in bed.

A ventilator in my head. 

Nothing to do, nothing to say.

Just breathe in and out all day. 

Don’t want to wear a mask today,

But I will wear one anyway.

Fruitless

There is a little cherry tree,

In the middle of the yard.

It really has one job to do,

But finds it really hard.

Its companion apple tree,

Makes apples every year.

But for some reason,

A single cherry has yet to appear.

Perhaps, a pollen problem,

But I do not think that’s true.

The neighbor has a cherry tree,

And it is fruitless too.

This year, there were no cherries,

Just like the year before.

And I wonder, will it be like this,

Fruitless, forever more?

 

 

COVID-19 Quarantine: Bored Cat Edition

>~.~< A photo essay >~.~<

For some reason that escapes me, my humans are home all the time now. I come and go as I please, as usual, but they remain inside. It is unnerving. They spend an inordinate amount of time staring into their large screens while moving their fingers across the keyboard massage devices. They seem to have lost their will to live. When I attempt to comfort them by occupying the spaces in front of them, they shoo me away saying something about “needing to work.”
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They do occasionally show their appreciation for my efforts by laying open a large papery object. They only only pretend to be interested in it. I know the real purpose of it is to serve as a temporary bed.
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The female insists on following me into the water room, which perturbs me greatly. I would never dream of accompanying the humans when they occupy the room. Well, maybe once or twice. A day. And only when the door to the room is shut, since this signals their need for companionship. As I stare into the window to the water floor, I see only myself. The human points her screen at me and records this moment. She is amused. I am not.
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When I attempt to signal my desire for the closet to be opened, my human ignores my request. She is either stupid or just plain cruel.
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From the vantage point of the dining room table I am able to observe the magpies and crows pecking small insects from the garden. Their exuberance annoys me. I will console myself by destroying the floral arrangement on the table.
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Alas, the flowers are not real. There is no meaning in this world.
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The human continues to mock me with her screen. I manage to successfully communicate my annoyance. Thankfully, my humans do understand ear language. I can no longer remain in this house of lies.
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I signal my desire for the door to be opened, and the human does so. I hesitate in the doorway for the customary five seconds before proceeding. Now I shall seek out foreign invaders and run them off the property. My humans appreciate my efforts in this capacity, often calling me a “good kitty.”

This pleases me. I am a good kitty.

>~.~< The End >~.~<

Social Distancing

We’ve all been practicing,
This social distancing thing,
For many a year now.
They said we’d forgotten how,
To be social face to face,
It was a tragedy, and disgrace.
Little did we know how,
Much in handy now,
Our anti-social tendencies are,
Be my friend, but from afar.
I’m not just a curmudgeon,
I’m saving both of us from contagion.

Climatic Insomnia

Where I come from the seasons,
Are reckoned by the calendar.
Beginning and ending,
On the solstices and the equinoxes.
In a place with little climatic variation,
This is necessary.
Things are a little different in Sweden.
Seasons are determined not by the calendar,
But by the climate.
Even after the winter solstice,
It’s not considered winter,
Until the temperature is at a certain degree or less,
For a certain length of time.
It more or less follows the tilting of the earth,
The passing of the solstices and equinoxes.
But not always.
We were just informed,
By the national weather service,
That it is now spring.
They never announced winter.
You always feel kind of cheated,
When the year skips a season.
Especially summertime.
But when you skip winter,
It leaves you feeling uneasy.
As if you’ve forgotten something.
That nagging feeling,
That something is not quite right.
And you didn’t get any sleep.
Because Mother Nature didn’t get any sleep.

Crystal Midden

I dug a piece of ruby red glass out of the ground,
Pulled it up with the dead twigs of last year’s peony flowers.
It was intertwined with them, as if they were holding on to it.
Keeping a little treasure for their very own.

Like arrowheads in the Southwestern United States,
Such finds are fairly common around here.
Not too far from Nybro, home of Kosta Boda.
Here in the Kingdom of Crystal.

Yes, it’s really called that.

It’s hard to tell what this piece was meant to be.
Maybe a handle of some kind.
It’s curved and perfectly smooth on one side,
Sharp and jagged on the other.

This little town used to have its own glass workshop,
But it shut down many years ago.
No trace of it left now.
Apart from little artifacts like these.
It was probably part of a failed piece,
Cast into a waste pile.

A crystal midden, redistributed by bulldozers.
The little broken treasures lost,
Until dug out of backyard flowerbeds.

2020 Vision: New Decade’s Eve Thoughts

There didn’t used to be such things as years.

There were seasons, summers, winters, moments. But these weren’t reckoned in the modern way. Folks knew what to expect by observing the cycles of nature.

The concept of time was not measured by the clock, but was understood to be evidence of predictable change.

At some point, however, we decided to number and to name the natural cycles, while at the same time still adhering to their rhythm. To do otherwise could mean starvation, deprivation, and eventual death.

Great learned men, scholars, and theologians decided for the rest of us when the so-called common era began, based entirely on supposition.

Because of them, we now view time not as the occurrence of change, but as a ticking clock, with its eras and hours, minutes and millennia, days and decades.

Its relentless march resounds in our ears like the pounding of a drum, reminding us with each passing moment that we are that much closer to the moment of our own death.

Yet, we still observe the passage of a year with a celebration, even though one year rolling over into a next one is not particularly special.

Could this be a hold over from earlier times, when surviving a year really was something noteworthy?

Anyway, Happy New Year.
Happy Surviving 2019.
Happy New Decade.

Here, there be boobies

Not literally here,
(Probably)
But at that time,
A warning was requested,
It may seem silly.
(Really silly)
Nevertheless…
It was a seriously,
Curiously real request.
Can I cover them up?
(No, not mine)
The little fantasy figures I drew.
Faeries, elves, mermaids
(Some of which were nude)
Was that something,
I was willing to do,
At my exhibition?
Cover my own work.
Would I mind?
Some people might be offended.
Do I have any stickers,
For their tiny, fantasy, boobies?
I laughed.
Honestly, I thought he was joking.
(Or smoking something funny)
That’s a good one.
But no..
He was genuinely non-joking.
He was a teacher, you see.
And wanted to bring a student group.
(Not kindergartners, mind you)
Teenagers.
Who might ask,
Why are they naked?
(They might not like it.)
Oh, well in that case…
Absolutely not.
They’ll get over it.
But next time,
I’ll post a warning:
“Here, there be boobies.”

Process Blue

Invisible processes metamorphic,
Occurring deep inside the earth, formed it.
A deep blue stone of royalty,
That’s known as lapis lazuli.
Where first appeared civilization,
In the Mesopotamian location.
Where slaves were captured, bought and sold,
For some bushels of wheat, or for gold,
And the treasure blue under their feet.
Under the earth, the surface beneath.
Ground into a powder, rare and fine.
Adorned the eyes of pharaohs divine.
Baked in a kiln hotter than the sun.
The process forming a pigment begun.
A pigment of brightest blue ever seen.
That’s known as ultra marine.
It painted the robes of the Blessed Virgin.
And Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring.
Earth’s processes make the prettiest blue.
Which we process further into something new.