Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Wordlists in ESP

I spent most of yesterday creating a wordlist for one of the books in my series, Cambridge English for the Media. I should be working on the wordlist right now too, but I needed a break. Creating a wordlist isn't exactly exciting. But it's important, I think.

Just to clarify, a wordlist is simply a list of words that apear in a course. There's one at the back of International Legal English, for example, with all the key terms defined in alphabetical order. (OK, so it's called a Glossary there, but you could equally call it a mini-dictionary). My students use it all the time, especially when they want to check my dodgy explanation of a tricky word. Here in Poland, we're lucky to have a bilingual version, which you can download for free from the Cambridge website (which also has plenty of other great wordlists).

There's another wordlist in the workbook for Business Benchmark. Yesterday, one of my students used it to demonstrate that my explanation or agent and distributor had things the wrong way round.

A different approach is to put the wordlist online, as we're doing with my series. For example, there's a unit-by-unit set of wordlists for Cambridge English for Nursing. The advantage here is that space is less of an issue. Even more importantly, you can listen to all the pronunciations by clicking on the icon on the pdf. (Before you print it out, I mean - technology's still not ready for that to work with the printouts). That's a huge benefit with all that hard-to-pronounce medical terminology. If you've ever wondered how to pronounce dyspnoea, apnoeoa and tachypnoea, check out the wordlist for unit 2. Again, there's a bilingual version on the Polish website ... perhaps your local Cambridge website also has a blingual version.

So what can you do with all these wordlists? Well, most obviously, you can use them as a reference, as my business student did last night. Students can also use them to manage their vocab learning. A student preparing for the ILEC exam (International Legal English Certificate) could learn 10 words a day from the wordlist and thereby (sorry) master the whole list in around a month ... and then use these words in his/her exam. Or in real life, of course.

As a teaching tool, they're also really useful. I've already mentioned my cut-up-bits-of-paper game on this blog. That's so easy to do with a printed out wordlist.

I mainly use wordlists to play "blockbusters", a teaching classic that I'm sure many teachers already use. For those of you who don't know it, you have a honeycomb grid, with a letter in each block.

There are two teams, reds and blues. Choose a letter to start with, and read the definition for a word starting with that letter. If students know the answer, they put up their hands (no shouting out, please!). If it's correct, it goes their colour and they can choose the next letter. The aim is for the reds to make a connection from top to bottom and the blues to connect side to side. They can go any route they choose, as long as they end up making the connection. Of course, they end up blocking each other, which is why it's called blockbusters. Good fun ... and of course it's just a vocab test in disguise.

(By the way, I have wonderful interactive whtieboards to make it look great, but I played it for years on ordinary whiteboards and flipcharts - just draw a grid and away you go.)

There's a shorter version of the game too, which doesn't involve a grid. Again, teams (not necessarily two teams) ask for letters to get definitions of words starting with that letter. If they get it right, write that letter on the board in that team's column, and they can choose the next letter. The aim now is to collect enough letters to make a word ... probably best if it's more than 3 letters long. Ideally, the word should be connected, however tenuously, to their ESP field, but that's up to you to decide.

One complication: some letters might not have many words starting with them. My legal English students soon work out that Q always leads to quorum, so they don't wait to hear the question. In that case (and also with Z and X), tell them you're going to ask for a word starting with, say, S, but if they get it right, they still get the letter they asked for. This allows you to focus on words you want to test, rather than the same words over and over again.

Anyway, I could go on all day - I'm really into vocab revision, but this wordlist isn't going to write itself ... I'll let you know when it appears on the site.

Related posts:
Vocabulary revision with a table and a guillotine
Fun with contracts
What do words actually mean?


  1. Another interesting article, Jeremy. Here are a few extra Q, X, Y and Z words to throw in next time! NB not all of these are in the TransLegal Learner's Dictionary of Law - so you'll need to do a little research (or better - get the students to do it for you). Keep the excellent articles coming and I'll consider them for the next update!

    quantum merit
    quashing order
    question of fact
    question of law
    quickie divorce
    quid pro quo
    quiet enjoyment
    quota system
    quo warranto

    year and a day rule
    year end
    yellow dog contract
    your honour
    youth/youthful offender

    zealous witness
    zero-tolerance policy
    zipper clause

    X (=mark serving as a signature for a physically disabled person)
    XYY chromosome defence

  2. as well as...
    quantum of damages (not Quantum of Solace!)

    I must say, I'm a little ambivalent regarding the use of games - They're undoubtedly of value for review and motivating learners, but I'm not always sure they're an efficient use of highly restricted contact time. I often only have one hour per week with a Legal English class, which is woefully inadequate but often all practising lawyers feel able to take out of their day.

  3. Thanks for all the Qs, guys. I should have remembered quiet enjoyment, which figures prominently in one of the later units. Not sure about quickie divorce, mind.

    Andrew - the issue of games in serious ESP is a big issue that I'll tackle on this blog soon. It certainly depends on the students and the teacher's style/personality, but it goes to the heart of what we do ...

    I've also always felt a bit uncomfortable about inflicting games on serious lawyers, but I've pretty much always been amazed at how successful they've been.

    I'll definitely come back to this subject. How do you deal with vocab revision if not through games? (That's a real question, not a smug rhetorical one).

  4. Matt - in my excitement, I forgot to thank you for reminding me about the Translegal dictionary. I'll try to use that next time we play.

  5. He,he, quickie divorce is a good one :)
    Btw, Jeremy, can I post my LEGAL ENGLISH trivia quizz here?

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