Lost for Words


Vocabulary is one of the most important building blocks in language acquisition. Learners often complain they are lost for words and panic when somebody approaches them in English. They also start either asking their teachers the meaning of an English word or the English translation of a German word without giving any context. They often leave everything else a side and start looking up the words in their small translation dictionaries thus interrupting speaking and reading. Learners need to know that looking up words in a dictionary while speaking or reading skills conversation and makes reading not enjoyable at all.

Learners also naively believe in the authority of dictionaries or anything which is printed as if they were the Ten Commandments. They often think any dictionary can help to find all the necessary vocabulary they need to communicate with people. They are often not aware of word partnerships and collocations, false friends, phrasal verbs, binomials….In addition they need to be reminded that words only in context makes meaning. Sometimes even a short sentence doesn’t help to provide the correct meaning. For example if you say: it is raining it is not clear what you really mean. Do you mean don’t go out because of rain or are you only expressing your disappointment?  

Learners believe that all their conversation partners are educated British or Americans although most people who speak English are not native speakers. For example if they work in a library and need for example to explain library rules to Chinese or Indian students. Their vocabulary skills might not always be of help. It would help greatly if they learn how to describe an idea which they don’t have an English word for or they have forgotten it. Describing games and using body language like facial expression and gestures can be fun or even more successful.

Learner need to be aware how to make their text more interesting. If you stick to using more general words like: good, bad, happy, sad your text will be boring and it shows you don’t know how to express yourself more specifically. You can put some words on a scale, go up and down the scale, increase intensity or the degree of frequency: happy, delighted, overjoyed…

In addition, idioms and proverbial sayings are like spice to food.

Dictionary skills are very important for learners. They need to know the types of dictionaries which are available: monolingual and bilingual translation dictionaries, specialist dictionaries, thesauri and etymology

But Vocabulary learning can be fund but a burden as well. Learners usually make lists of words they don’t know without organizing their vocabulary and applying different learning and memory techniques and visualizations.. Visual aids are often of great help to organize and memorize their vocabulary. They additionally need some reading skills such reading for gist.

Lost for Words  


What is English?


Germanic + Romance = English


Germanic is the natural register full of phrasal verbs


Romance is the formal register full of long words



Vocabulary Learning Strategies – Organising by Visualisation


·         Scales


·         Diagrams


·         Key Words


·         Word Fields


·         Vocabulary Cards



Vocabulary / Organising by Categories


·         Register


formal and Informal English


Varieties of English


Discipline related


·         Collocations /Partnerships:  Find the right partner


·         False Friends: Find the true friend


·         Confusibles / Problems Pairs


·         Opposites


·         German one word – English two or more


·         Connotations and associations


·         Metaphor


·         Polysemy


·         Phrasal Verbs


·         Idioms


·         Proverbs


·         Binomials


·         Eponyms


·         Linking Words /Discourse Markers /transitional words /signposts


·         General and specific words


·         Buzz Words


·         Adjectives /Describing:







Word Building


·         Prefixes


·         Roots


·         Suffixes


Word Formations


·         Nouns


·         Adjectives


·         Verbs


Verbs of dual function


The Spelling / Pronunciation Gap


·         Homonyms


·         Homographs



Number (Countable and Uncountable Nouns)


Focusing words




Words in Use


Dictionary Skills



Mood Changes


happy – delighted – pleased – overjoyed –- feel great -  get a surge of well-being – get butterflies of excitement – feel the purest love - makes my spirits soar – It was like being drunk – ecstatic – be on the top of the world



under the weather - basically content – relieved  (it was a relief) – hopeful - burst with pride



moved (can be moving) – deeply stirred


horrified – feel scared – I really have the same highs






·         Vorschlag: sollen wir:


Shall /can / could / what about / how about


·         Pflicht: should


·         Angeblich /Vermutung/ man sagt: be to / be supposed to


she is said to be rich


·         Fest geplante Termine: be to: Students have to be here by 10 O`clock.


·         Was sol lich tun: what shall/should I do



Vocabulary Skills

Abbreviations and abbreviated forms



Positive and negative words

Binomials or  compound nouns: law and order

Confusables and problem pairs

Lie, lie, lay



Boycott: from Capt. Charles Boycott (Irish land agent)

Diesel: Rudolf Diesel

Granny Smith - apple- Maria Smith Australian grower

Sadism (Marquis de Sad (French writer and soldier)


 False Friends: English sensible vs. German Sensibel

 General vs. specific words


German-English word play

German one word – English two and more:

Bis (deadline: by /  period: from - to/till/until

Bringen: bring and take  - Leihen: lend and borrow

Besuchen: visit, go/come and see, attend

Platz (court, room, pitch, place, seat, space, square)

Seit since 2000 / for 10 years

 German two or more words – English one word

 German all-round verbs: Machen

English all-round verbs

 Germanic and Romance Heritage

Cow – beef

Calf – veal

Sheep – mutton

Sow/swine (pig) – pork

Deer – venison

 Give up – abandon

Put off – postpone



 Idioms: It is all Greek to me corresponding to the German: Es kommt mir Spanisch vor.

Idioms and parts of the body

 Memory and Learning Techniques

Organizing your Vocabulary

Categories (Organizing vocabulary according to semantic categories and word fields): Meetings: take the minutes, agenda…

 Visualization and Mind Mapping

Bubbles and forks



Scales and continuums


Word networks

 Polysemy (multiple meanings)

 Phrasal Verbs

Phrasal verbs with more than one meaning

 Proverbs and sayings


Formal and informal register

Englishes: AmE vs. BE

Register of different academic disciplines and social situations

 Translations Translation games

 Vague Language


Bit: a bit

Sometime / any time

Sort: A sort of /and that sort of thing



 Word building games

With the help of affixes and roots

Nouns, adjectives, adverbs and verbs

 Words in Context


Brainstorming Word fields

 Guessing games: Describing celebrities or important places

 Introducing different visual aids

Word Play Descriptions: describing a word a word without using it prepare learns for such



Gap filling


Order: put the letters in the correct order