THE FCE BLOG by Claudia Ceraso

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

701 Reasons to Study a Foreign Language

European Day of Languages

The European Day of Languages (EDL) is celebrated every year on the 26 September. It is a Council of Europe initiative that was first celebrated in 2001, the European Year of Languages.

This post is our way of joining this celebration. Why join? Because the aims of the EDL are part
of the spirit of this blog. They are also at the heart of my writing mission here.

The general objectives of the European Day of Languages are to:

  • alert the public to the importance of language learning and diversify the range of languages learned in order to increase plurilingualism and intercultural understanding;
  • promote the rich linguistic and cultural diversity of Europe;
  • encourage lifelong language learning in and out of school.

European or not, aren’t all of us -language learners- part of this?

Why learn languages

With so much preparation for the FCE exam we tend to forget other reasons to study languages. Language is part of our identity, our own peculiar way of seizing the world around us and making sense out of it. No matter how many words and structures you have mastered –or how many certificates you have collected- communication will always be closely linked to the degree of intercultural competence you have.

So language learning becomes learning to think and feel again. Expand yourself. This is definitely my own reason for learning other languages. What are your reasons?

Here is an inspiring site with a search engine full of reasons:
Notice that exam preparation is not included on the list. So FCE would be num
ber 701!

How you can learn languages

A bit of reflection on this point is a must for any good language learner. Here is a guide written by the Council of Europe on how you can learn languages. It includes short notes on how to plan your studies, how to choose a school or method as well as practical tips to practice writing, reading, listening and speaking. It also deals with a few myths about learning such as ‘Am I too old for succeeding?’

You can download the Pdf here (6 pages, very fast read).

Or from the EDL official site here

Let’s celebrate!

Online learning, lifelong language learning...

This is my favourite quote from the guide:

...learning a new language also means learning to understand other ways of thinking and doing things.

I don’t know you, but I feel like tasting a new language today. Mmm.... I’ll choose one here:
BBC Languages

Till next post!

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Phrasal Verbs

Multi-word Verbs

If I had to say what the single most asked question by my students is, I believe that would be:
How can I learn phrasal verbs?
I can almost see you nod here.

Why are they a problem? Let’s see...

Meaning is not always transparent or easily predictable from the words. In fact, they tend to have different meanings. They can also vary according to dialect. We cannot play around much with them, the minute we get creative and change the particle we have said something else!

It is always advisable to have a good dictionary around.

Cambridge Dictionaries Online

In the Cambridge International Dictionary of Phrasal Verbs there are over 5,000 but you probably need much less to sound natural.

The point is not to know all of them, but to accurately figure them out.

How should I study phrasal verbs?
The answer is there is no best method, but fortunately there are techniques, books and websites! Let’s take a web tour.

Here is a good place to start:

A Comprehensive Treatment
In this website you can find the most frequent verbs in context -their meanings and their particle meanings. Lots of collocations, some games and a small glossary:

I believe the author (a teacher of course) has done a great job in balancing grammar, meaning and context. Two thumbs up!

A Traditional Approach
Varying the method of study can help you focus on the different aspects that make a phrasal a complex little thing. Sometimes a traditional grammar list can be useful.
Here is a good one:
Includes: Grammar Explanations, lists with definitions and examples, some exercises.

The Structure of a Phrasal Verb
Now you discover phrasal verbs are actually multi-word verbs which can be transitive or intransitive, separable or inseparable. It is important to know the structure and usage of the verb you want to learn. We need a lot of examples!
Here is a searchable list with one sentence examples of all types of phrasal verbs.
Includes: A list with formal English definitions and an example. Simple and concise.

A Topic-based Approach
Perhaps you haven’t solved all your grammar doubts about phrasal verbs reading all of the above. Anyway, you need to see them and hear them in context. Grouping vocabulary according to topic will certainly help you to remember them.
Here is the BBC Funky Phrasals with mini dialogues about health, childhood, career, and holidays. You just can’t miss it!
BBC Learning English
Includes: Scrip and audio.

What do I need to learn? I mean, for the FCE exam...

Are Phrasals Formal or Informal?
After reviewing context, structure and topics we still have to review the question of register. This is paramount for using phrasals in your FCE writing paper. This website will help you learn formal equivalents of some phrasal verbs:
Includes: 14 practice texts with latinate verbs compared to phrasal verbs.

Remember: The meaning of a phrasal does not always apply on a one to one correspondence to the meanings of its formal equivalent. Then, context is vital if not everything here.

How about some extra exercises?
What? You still want more practice?
All right. Here it goes:
Includes: Quizzes and lots of links to exercises.

Regardless your learning style, I would advise you to try all of them. Or at least do not fall in love with only one type of exercise. The mind gets bored and that is precisely the instant in which learning stops.
So take it easy, when you are tired, give yourself a break and come back to this post some other time, try one more exercise or two.

In a nutshell, when learning phrasal verbs, don’t give up, keep it up!


Thursday, September 14, 2006

Are you a Teacher?

To blog or not to blog... that is the question!

Dear Students and Teachers,

As promised, I am including a link to the presentation I will show to AACI teachers at the British Arts Centre (BAC) about this FCE Blog.

I am happy to share this with my colleagues and I sincerely hope they can invite their FCE students to join this online community. I believe that networking with them can only make our experience of this blog much more enjoyable.

You can see the presentation slides here:
(Just click on them to get the slide show!)

If you are a teacher, perhaps you’d like to browse ElT Notes –a sister project- with myriads of links to help you in your teaching practice.

The FCE Blog is a student’s site, but let me invite all teachers to drop their comments on the presentation here.

Stay tuned!

Claudia Ceraso
FCE Blog Editor

Related links:
Site Map (a good place to start if you are a first-timer in this blog)
Site Guest Book

Blogging for Teachers

Friday, September 08, 2006

Common Errors and Confusing Words

Learning from our mistakes

Learning a language requires a good deal of learning to learn. I believe that is clearly the case when dealing with common errors and confusing words. There are common mistakes to be expected at FCE level but your specific needs seldom fall into ready made categories. Practising with past papers will only help you if you can reflect a bit on the results and accurately identify your problem areas.

Every student has a linguistic profile. We tend to choose certain words or structures we a comfortable with and we also tend to make certain types of mistakes. It is a good idea to spend some of your study time learning about your mistakes.

How to go about it? Apart from your past papers practice, there are different routes to become aware of weak areas you need to work on. You learn a language using it, sharing with other learners in class and eventually travelling. I'll divide this entry into three analogous steps.

My mistakes: how I use the language
First of all, keep the written assignments you have done together in a folder. Have a look at your teacher's corrections: Are there repeated mistakes? Do those mistakes belong to a specific category such as spelling, grammar or punctuation?
Of course those are just the mistakes in structures and vocabulary you tend to choose. You need to discover more.
This site is written for students (originally for Hong Kong students of English). It is a booklet organised in the same way as a physical workout class – warm up, exercise, and cool down. It will help you identify and correct mistakes online.

Your mistakes: how other learners use the language
We all learn from our classmates questions and doubts. That’s one of the advantages of studying in groups.
Have a look at the BBC learning English site here:
You’ll find an interactive guide to the most frequent grammar questions from students all answered and cleared out by experts. It's very much like listening to your companions’ questions in class. Only this is a worldwide class!

Their mistakes: how native speakers use the language
What about native speakers, don’t they make mistakes too? Of course they do! Here is a site listing a myriad of confusable words. Explanations are rather short; remember they were not written for a student.
Common Errors in English by Paul Brians is quite advanced. You may want to come back to this for CAE or CPE. You should know what to expect from the site. Confusable words include pairs such as: beside/besides; actual/actually; assure/ensure/insure; compare to/compare with;
It is also interesting how the site homepage explains what an error in English is.

All three routes above will help you start your own error analysis. These are steps to repeat frequently in your learning path. Learning to learn involves taking small, personalised, autonomous steps. Let’s avoid the common error of expecting everything from a teacher, a book or a collection of past papers.

Related Posts: English Grammar