Vocabluary building and avoiding ´the language learning plateau´

An important aspect of enhancing your progression is building up your vocabulary. Obviously we need to know more than one way of saying things or we will of course be very limited with our language use. This is an important aspect of getting over the notorious ´learning plateaus´ that generally set in around the pre-intermediate and intermediate levels.

The best ways to build vocabulary is through word association exercises and use of vocabulary in context.

For example, we can associate these words, phrasal verbs and expressions:

Like – enjoy, love, be keen on, be fond of, be into, be crazy about, be big on, be a fan of

Want – be up for, be eager (infinitive), fancy, feel like, crave, take a fancy to, desire

Choose – pick, go for. Select, opt for, decide on, settle on, plump for, designate, fix on

Dislike – hate, loathe, detest, despise, not be mad about, not be interested in, not be into

A useful exercise is:

Matching – if you relate new vocabulary to words that you already know, it is easy to substitute them in context.

Match 1-10 with the options A-J (only use each letter once)

1.       Get up

2.       Wake up

3.       Go out

4.       Stay up

5.       Carry on

6.       Get around

7.       Tidy up

8.       Make for

9.       Put away

10.   Wash up

A.      Head in a direction

B.      Continue

C.      Clean the dishes

D.      Move from place to place

E.       Not go to bed

F.       Stop sleeping

G.     Place something where it belongs

H.      Organize your things

I.        Remove yourself from your bed

J.        Go clubbing


1.       I

2.       F

3.       J

4.       E

5.       B

6.       D

7.       H

8.       A

9.       G

10.   C




Advice for speaking better during Cambridge oral exams

Initiating and responding. It is really important to be able to form simple questions well. The key is to use simple questions such as, “Do you enjoy watching TV?” and to focus on giving a simple, fluent and extended answer (20-30 seconds). Your answer in the exam should be with mostly simple grammar forms that you have practiced during the course and the vocabulary should be only what you are sure of using. DO NOT EXPERIMENT WITH NEW WORDS IN THE EXAM!


Question tags: question tags are used as a way of forming informal questions, asking for confirmation or agreement.

I reckon that it is an easy exam, don´t you?


Give a reason for your answers. You should always give a reason for your answers with a simple connective such as because, but or for example. This will help you to extend your speech and also, to show confidence and fluency.


An important part of the exam is suggesting. You need to be able to suggest different options to later talk about them. For example, why don´t we talk about…? How about (…ing)?


It is very important to negotiate an outcome in part 3 and 4 (FCE B2) in part 2 and 4 (PET B1). This means to give a result. What you need to do is find a conclusion by showing agreement or disagreement. A good thing to know is how to express strong agreement or disagreement.

Agree: exactly, I couldn’t agree more, you took the words out of my mouth

Disagree: no way! Are you serious? You must be joking! You must be pulling my leg! (¿me estás tomando el pelo?)

In conclusion, to sum up, finally, in the end, to finish, as you can see, that’s why…, in brief, on the whole, in short, in summary


Expressing purpose; It is important to know how to state the purpose or the reason for something. There are only really 3 options at B1 level.

  1. Infinitive: I am learning English to get a good job.
  2. So that: I am learning English so that I can get a good job.
  3. In order to: I am learning English in order to get a good job.


Developing and extending speech. An important part of speech is being able to develop you answer. This is when you make a topic more interesting by linking it to your own ideas and opinions. It is best to use the 1st or 2nd conditional.

E.g. If we go to the zoo, we will see lots of interesting animals and I live animals. But we won´t go unless it shops raining.


Linking ideas: In speaking part 2 and 4 it is a good idea to start linking ideas, use the expressions.

E.g. like you have said…, According to you…, With respect to what you have said about…


Persuading or convincing people to agree with you is important in part 2. When you are talking about the situation, it is important to know how to convince your partner to agree with you. It doesn’t matter if you agree or not but you need to express your opinion so that they might agree with you.

Persuade: Don´t you think we should…? Wouldn´t it be a good idea to…?


You need to be able to express changes in likes and dislikes (past and present). You need to be able to talk and write about how you opinions, likes and dislikes have changed. A great way is by using USED TO. This should that something has changed.

E.g. I used to do sport every day but now I only do it once a week.

*There are various ways of saying like, try to vary them. It is better to use the gerund (ing) after them.

LIKE = enjoy, love, be keen on, be fond of, be into, be a fan of, be big on, be crazy about

DISLIKE = hate, detest, loathe, despise, can´t stand


Speculating is needed to talk about things that are probable or that maybe will occur. Use modal verbs such as may/might/could. This will add a degree of uncertainty to your speech and allow margin for discussion.






There is a small city in the south-east of Spain called Albacete; it has ____ (1) a population of 170 thousand inhabitants. This curious little Spanish city has got many interesting things to see and do. Firstly, it is perfectly situated ____ (2) one hour from the mountains and the beach. The mountains have got various places to walk and hike and lots ____ (3) beautiful views. Albacete is a famous city ____ (4) of its penknives and bars. The nightlife in Albacete is very popular with people from the surrounding villages and many come to the city to go ____ (5) and have parties.

____ (6) year Albacete has a fair that is more than 300 years ____ (7), this traditional fair is known because it has got ____ (8)lot of cultural events and shows including traditional dance, bull fighting and music ____ (9). The fair attracts thousands of people from all over Spain and is known as a cultural attraction. For many people the fair is the opportunity to meet new people and have a party, it has got many traditional foods and drinks including sweet wine and cider. If you are interested ___ (10) seeing an authentic Spanish city, this is the place for you.


Methodology – START


An essential part of learning a language is the methodology used. I have spoken about the importance of using a language and context in the past, as well as giving advice for improving the individual skills such as speaking and listening, so I thought it right to put it into a simple acronym to be able to remember: START

See it and say it

Translate and try it in a context

Apply it and use it in a phrase

Review it and remember it

Test it by using it in a context


The methodology is simple and I have put it into 5 points, when dealing with new language (vocabulary or grammar structures), the learner should:

1. See it and say it to be clear about what they want to learn.

2. Translate (if necessary) and try it out in a context, this is essential with phrasal verbs or idioms.

3. Apply it to various contexts and use it in several phrases (say it, listen to it, write it and read it).

4. Review it and try to remember it. It is important to recall it frequently.

5. Test it by using it in various contexts and in real life (or exam) situations.



Why it is essential to have a language learning partner



Language learning partners or the similar concept that is tandem language learning is an essential part of trying to reach fluency. The idea is simple; learn a language together with another person who has a similar target to your own to help enhance both of your progress.

With a language learning partner you are both learning a language together. You should begin when you have a similar level (exactly the same is not essential). Your partner and you should set specific targets to be reached and also, specific times in which you will practice the language. It is important to be strict with language usage in this set time, no slipping into your native language. There are many benefits to studying with a partner, such as: competition, motivation, confidence boosting, peer learning and fun. You can learn from each other and help motivate each other to progress. It is very important to avoid your mutual language. If I were you, I would ban it from the start to avoid confusion. You should both study aside from this exchange and use your time together specifically for speaking and listening, what you can do is set specific topics to research in order to know what you are going to speak about at each meeting. (look at 17. The importance of relevance)

With tandem language learning, each of you should ideally be native speakers of each language. You need to establish specific times for the use of each language and you share your knowledge with each other. This type of learning has all of the benefits of language learning partners but also adds to them the cultural side of language learning. When two people come from different parts of the world, you can share cultures and this makes the whole experience more fulfilling. The negative side to this type of exchange is the level; it is difficult to find someone from a different culture with a similar type of level to you. It is all too easy to slip into ´the common language´ as it is easier for both people, this is why you need established times for each language. This of course would not be the case with language learning partners because the mutual language is already known and should be prohibited.

Those who impart on these types of exchanges generally achieve better results in the testing of listening comprehension and speaking. (see 27. Improving your listening: the effort involved /Mejorando el oído (Bilingual post/entrada bilingüe)) This is because they have had more practice and can generally use spoken language with more confidence and fluency. (see 5 activities to improve interactive communication skills)


An indirect benefit from these exchanges is through the analysis of language. By doing these types of exchanges, it is easy to see the similarities between languages (there are many between English and Spanish, e.g. …ation words) and also, to see the differences that occur (false friends etc.). (see Vocabulary Tricks – Useful advice to learn new vocabulary)


The Flipped Classroom Approach to learning

Recently, I have been reading a lot into the so called ´Flipped Classrom Approach´and I have been taken aback a little. This methodology basically consists of giving the course material at home and using class time to primarily experiment with practicing the subject. The course material can be delivered through online tutorials or even in a written format with something like a blog. What most confuses me is, in the teaching of English as a Second language, isn´t this the norm? This is what I have spent most of my teaching life doing here in Spain. We have difficult time constraints here. Many of my classes only have 2 to 3 hours contact time per week and there is only so much that we can cover in a class. I set up this blog in fact to help with this, to show students where to find information and resources. Also I have assigned a work email address to all of our teaching staff in the Faculty to help support our students. But I think this is the only real way forward in this field of education. We should spend class time using language and putting the theory into practice. I am always looking to help with problems of understanding certain concepts (usually grammatically based) in class. However the main point of a class should be to use language. That is what the time is for! That is why everyone wants a native teacher!

So my theory is that this so called FLIPPED CLASSROOM APPROACH should actually be the norm in ESL. This is because it is more streamlined, it gives us more opportunity to consolidate learning and theory and in my point of view, it is more interesting for both the teacher and the student. If not we will waste a lot of our contact house explaining theory that could be researched at home. We just need to make sure that the students are clear about what they should be doing at home and how they should best take advantage of the resources that you provide them with. I have mentioned in a previous post, the importance of explaining about study skills (Study skills -How we learn). But a teacher should provide the means for students to continue their learning outside the classroom as we all know that 2 hours a week in nowhere near enough to be able to learn a language effectively.


28. Vocabulary Tricks – Useful advice to learn new vocabulary


Start with your interests

A huge mistake that language learners make is trying to remember words separately or out of context. The best thing to do, instead of thinking of separate words, such as ´come across´, is to start with the vocabulary that you are likely to have contact with. If you are interested in a particular activity or topic, it is much better to begin with this topic as you will use these words much more frequently. This will help with recall as the time between each usage will be smaller and you are much more likely to need these words in real life contexts.


Use the words in a context

The next point is something that I have touched on in the section about your interests. It is essential to use new vocabulary in a context or situation that you can later refer back to. This helps with recall and visualisation techniques for memory recall. If you use a certain word such as ´make a fool of yourself´ in a specific context, you will be able to remember where you were, what you were doing and who you were with. This is an essential part of reinforcing learned vocabulary.

Learn them as a short phrase

Many people don´t realize it, but learning a short phrase is much easier to remember that random words because these phrases have more meaning. If you want to recall the phrasal verb get around it is much easier to remember get around my city than the phrasal verb alone as it has more meaning. The same happens with bump into an old friend as you can relate it to people or specific situations.

Relate words to existing knowledge

I imagine that you have never really thought about it, but why do we translate new vocabulary? It is because we have the innate need to relate new information to things that we already know. The best way to increase vocabulary is to relate words to synonyms/antonyms/similar expressions. By doing this we can recall words such as be into as we know it is similar to like.


Group words

An element of relating words to information that we already know is grouping. If you sort and arrange words into groups you find them easier to recall. This is because you can link them to simple concepts that you already have reinforced in your long term memory.

Colour code vocabulary

If you colour code vocabulary based on specific verbs, prepositions or topics it can be easier to remember them, especially if you consider yourself a visual learner. I know that if I can associate a specific collocation with a specific preposition, I am much less likely to forget which preposition to use.

Games and challenges

It is very useful to test yourself on vocabulary and see what you can recall when put in a real life situation or under pressure. An element of competition is fun too. I remember that when I was at high school we studied in groups and we did recall activities, such as seeing how many countries in Europe we could remember in one minute. This forces us to recall less frequently used words more.


An important issue is the time between instances that we recall a word. For example, if it is a word that you see, hear or say every day, you will probably remember it easily. But if it is a word that you have only come into contact with once, you repeat it to yourself several times and then you later don´t use it for a year, you are far less likely to recall it easily.

Visualize words

A fun method of remembering vocabulary is with mnemonics. This is where we make use of elaborative encoding, retrieval cues, and imagery as specific tools to encode any given information in a way that allows for efficient storage and retrieval. I always use this as an example for native Spanish speakers. The pronunciation of the verb iron can be challenging buy if you think of it as /hay-n/, you can clearly recall how to pronounce it. A fun activity with images is to order the images and make up a story that links the images. This is very useful at the time or recalling and retrieving words to use them in context.