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English Learning Strategies


English Language Vocabulary Learning Strategies

The mathematicians that study language and have lots of computing power are forming English language databases. These databases can be used for machine language translation, formulas to rank collocation, most used priority word lists, word grouping tendencies and other linguistics research.

These frequency-based wordlists contain the words that are most used in English. Frequency-based wordlists can help you target specific English vocabulary by indicating which words you should try to learn first.

Vocabulary analysis and summaries from the "Brown Corpus 1990".

Table 1

Words - Percent of words in average text


Table 1 shows us that in most written English just a few word types account for most of the English words in any text. Ten words account for 23.7 % of the words on any page and just 1000 word families account for more than 70% of the words used.

The ESL in Canada English Immersion camps experimented with the 1000 word lists and used them for the core vocabulary for spelling, poetry writing and public speaking contests. The constant reinforcement and repetition with variable context was quickly absorbed by the beginner students and greatly increased their confidence when speaking or writing.

When learning English "context is king" becomes most important

Altavista's Babelfish or Google by Systran machine translation performs with an error rate of 20 to 30 percent. The large error rate is due to how a word's meaning varies with context. One example: "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak" translated from English to Russian and back again only to yield "The vodka is good but the meat is rotten." So far Babelfish has 19 language pairs available and it has taken decades to develop language-pair rules for each of the 9,900 language word pairs.

Some observations for language students and language teachers is that the translation pool for just average translations is 9900 words. The big variable is context, which means that a word can be used in various formats: "formal, industry specific jargon, slang, idioms, act a different part of speech performing a different function within that particular meaning. If every word has an average of five context variables then the student really has to learn 50,000 items.

As final conclusions: second language learning takes time and effort and there should be plenty of translation jobs for the next 20 years if you are willing to invest the 5,000 to 10,000 hours to be proficient.

In the following example the word "weather" can be used in about eight different contexts and be used to mean, define or explain about thirty different situations or conditions. To properly study vocabulary students require background information and context.


As a Noun

Definition 1. the state of the atmosphere at a particular place and time as characterized by sunshine, moisture, temperature, precipitation, and other variables.
Similar Words: elements, climate

Definition 2. unpleasant, turbulent, or violent atmospheric conditions.
Example: We needed shelter from the weather.
Similar Words: gale, elements, blow, windstorm , storm

As a Transitive Verb

Inflected Forms: weathered, weathering, weathers

Definition 1. to dry, season, or modify by exposure to weather.
Similar Words: season , dry

Definition 2. to discolor, deteriorate, or harm by exposure to weather.
Similar Words wash , rot , erode, deteriorate

Definition 3. to endure past the end of; survive.
For example: Their marriage weathered the hard times.
Synonyms: withstand , survive, stand, outlast , endure , ride out
Similar Words: overcome, surmount, outlive, sustain, brave

As an Intransitive Verb

Definition 1. to resist deterioration when exposed to weather.
Example: The colour has been able to weather the intense sunshine.

Definition 2. to display the effects of exposure (deterioration or change in color)
Similar Words: rot, corrode, fade, deteriorate

As part of Idiomatic Expressions

Phrase used as an idiom: "under the weather" = sick or not well

Students use Maps to Learn English

Maps offer ESL students an excellent format for learning English. Students can learn and use both concrete and difficult abstract concepts when learning English with maps.

Students can learn basic math terms for scale and distance. Most maps have a legend which lists dimensions, symbols and content. The students can learn how the map is used to represent the world using both the metric and imperial measurement terms and distances. Maps show scale and a physical distance representation using graphs. It is easy for students to see the one centimeter or one inch and how it represents kilometers or miles in the real world. Students can also learn how to convert measurements between the metric and imperial systems.

Students can use maps to learn mathematical ratios. Using the map scales the students can learn what one-to-one or 1:700,000 really means and how ratios are used to draw maps in the correct proportions.

Students can use maps to learn spatial relationships. Adding time and speed components allows students to plan trips and calculate each travel section. My students love to use the free Ontario, Canada Driving maps and use the distance cross-references to calculate driving times. I pass out about 100 of the Ontario travel brochures that promote Niagara Falls, Algonquin Park, Elora Gorge, Museums, festivals, boat cruises, canoe trips, camping adventures and the other wonderful things students can do while visiting Toronto. The students want to see their favorite attractions or activities or events. When you provide the information and maps the students will learn an amazing amount of English motivated by their interests.

Students can plan day trips, pick two or three locations for a weekend adventure tour and use the maps to plan a full week vacation trip. The students can use the maps to plan routes based on the type of road, parking and access points to public transportation. Using the legend of symbols students can organize their trips based on facilities, locations and services. Students can learn all the related logistical terms and expressions.

Maps can indicate many three-dimensional components. Students can learn all terms about height and depth and basic topography. The maps can show hills and valleys with gentle slopes or abrupt vertical changes in height.

Land use maps allow for explanations about parks, preserves, rural and urban land use. Students can use historical maps to compare conversion of forests to rural use then conversion to urban land uses. The maps can motivate students to learn about land priorities, environmental considerations and proper balanced land use planning.

Specialty maps can provide students with a completely different perspective of the world. Resource maps can indicate agriculture, forests and minerals. Weather maps can indicate tropical, temperate and arctic regions. Recreation maps can show bike, hiking, swimming, camping, canoe routes, and sport facilities.

Students have fun learning with maps, sometimes they even like homework.

Students can go to the Ontario Ministry of Tourism for free maps. The staff are very helpful and can provide almost everything that you need.

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