IELTS: “The limits of my language are the limits of my world.”

28th January 2019

This quote is from the Austrian philosopher Dr Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889 – 1951) who analysed, among other subjects, the philosophy of language. His works are notoriously obtuse, difficult to read, but some pertinent quotes arise from the vague verbosity, and the above is entirely suitable to language learning. Students often feel frustrated by their lack of vocabulary, their inability to fully express their true feelings. As an examiner, I can sense their embarrassment or anger as they vainly search for a suitable word or phrase. It is so tempting to prompt them but … I mustn’t. Empathy but not assistance.

Tonight’s lesson will focus mainly on listening (there will be a practice test) and reading. However, we start with vocabulary, so I have some exercises aimed at expanding their repertoire, and helping them construct longer sentences.

We shall discuss the Wittgenstein quote and, with the early students, start an informal discussion about how they feel when they speak English. This leads into the first exercise, some new vocabulary and a cloze Test (gap-fill).

New vocabulary

ubiquitous everywhere, very common

naïve innocent, inexperienced

stroll a gentle walk, for exercise (collocation: take a stroll)

a bazaar (noun) a permanent, covered market 

bizarre (adjective) very strange, unusual

absent-minded extremely forgetful

sky-high, astronomical very expensive, maybe too expensive

messy untidy

laundry / laundromat dirty clothes / a place to wash clothes (collocation: do laundry)

predictable it is possible to guess the answer, people doing the same thing

hawkers

Street _______ are common in Vietnam, and they are _________ in District 1. It is nearly impossible for a westerner to take a ________ without being approached. Some claim to sell Ray Bans or designer sunglasses, but you would have to be extremely ________ to believe they are genuine ! They are all fake, probably made in China. Many people try to _____(collocation) money by selling to tourists especially around Ben Thanh Market, a kind of _______, though this is strictly for tourists as the prices are ____________ !

This will lead into a general talk (hopefully) where the students can practise some of the new words, and share their experiences.

The next task will be sentence construction. IELTS expects reasonably long and well-constructed sentences. I’ll start with some examples and then give them three themes on which to work.

Sentence building

Use adjectives to describe nouns

adverbs to describe adjectives and verbs – give more information

opinion phrases

linking words to connect positive to positive or positive to negative

reasons why an action is being done

EXAMPLE:

I like coffee

I like coffee so much because it tastes great and makes me wake up although too much will stop me from sleeping at night but, in my opinion, the benefits far out weigh the disadvantages.

Teaching

I taught a brother & sister; the sister was a bit of a handful always chatting or texting during class. In complete contrast, the brother was a really good student as well as being a young gentleman. I felt he was an ideal student.

Try these:

  • Living in HCM
  • Free time
  • Working and studying.

Finally, there will be some work on suffixes. I’ll focus on ‘ment’ and ‘ness’

‘ment’ or ‘ness’ ?

adjectives = ‘ness’ / verb = ‘ment’

1 The ……. of the court was that he serve five years. JUDGE

2 Hilary couldn’t contain her ……… EXCITE

3 I was amazed at the new iPhone’s ….. LIGHT

4 Getting 95% is a great ……… ACHIEVE

5 Fainting is like losing ………. CONSCIOUS

6 Trying to teach some students is sheer ……MAD

In general to be something = ‘ness’: to be light (in weight) = lightness. If you can just use ‘to’ + word then it will be ‘ment’ e.g. to excite = excitement.

But of course … it is not that simple, as Wittgenstein would be quick to point out. As any English – language student realises, English isn’t 100% logical. Most verbs add an -s in the third person, yet one of the most common verbs ‘to be’ is entirely different (I am, you are, he she it is…).

Most verbs (about 75%) simply add -ed to form the past tense, yet many common verbs are irregular and have to be learnt (or learned) separately. Yet, it doesn’t stop there … even with a regular -ed form, the pronunciation will differ depending on the spelling of the verb. As they say in Sai Gon, “Oi troi oi !” So, while ‘ness’ or ‘ment’ are added to adjectives or verbs, exceptions in grammar can arise.

For example, if someone’s expectations are not met, they are said to be disillusioned. Here, the word is used as an adjective but the noun form is disillusionment. Similarly, an area can be described as ‘overdeveloped‘ but again, the noun is ‘overdevelopment.’

In the last stages of the class, energy is waning so we need to close the books and find an activity. As it is soon Tet Holiday in Viet Nam, I can show some pictures and ask the students to describe what is happening.

May I wish you all chúc mừng năm mới

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