284 words in a month #4 – Whisky

Photo credit: screenprint from Google Images

When I was still at school we had a dog called Whisky, a Border Terrier. Each morning I used to take him for a walk in the fields by the river Medway in Kent. Normally I had a vocabulary book in my pocket, trying to learn my homework for French, Latin, German or Spanish. Other subjects like history and geography didn´t get taken to the river because the exercise books were too big for my pocket.
The challenge for today is to write five words on each side of a piece of card or paper, then take it for a walk, regardless of the weather How about learning five words walking in one direction then the other five coming back? The rhythm of the walking can help you remember the words.
English/ German
cerebral – of the brain  (das) Gehirn… ; zerebral                                                        foundation – the base of a building, an organisation, the setting-up process                       das Fundament, die Stiftung; die Gründung
photograph – bet you know this one already!  It can also be a verb, to photograph            die Fotografie (but I will learn das Foto; fotografieren)                                                                immense – huge, enormous  immens (an immense number – die Unzahl)                provide – to give, to make available. A town might be well provided with schools – plenty of schools.  bieten
provided that – unless, “only if not” – provided that it doesn´t snow.                             sofern; vorausgesetzt dass
immobilized – made still, stopped the movement of something or someone. If you break your arm, a sling will immobilize it until the hospital can put your arm in plaster.  bewegungsunfähig (movement-unable) festgelegt adj (tight/fast laid)
prospective – potential; things that are being looked at in advance – there are several prospective candidates for the job.  zukünftlich; voraussichtlich
chief; leader (noun) or , main (adjective)  Chef, Leiter; haupt, erste(r)
formulate – to make a careful list e.g. government policies, suggestions, courses of action  formulieren
plausible – (plau rhymes with “four”) believable, seeming likely (like an excuse for being late)  plausibel; glaubwürdig

A note about words like PROVIDED
Sometimes dictionaries offer too much help. They show an immense variety of possible ways of using a word. There are three main courses of action when this happens:
1. Give up and complain to a friend how confusing it all is. This is the natural reaction. It is what most people do. But not you, you are a persistent linguist.
2. Choose the option that seems best for now, and use it. If you are wrong, sooner or later someone will let you know.
3. Take time to really study the word and its possible phrases. IT IS WORTH IT. The reason that this word is tricky is that it is immensely useful and people have used it over and over again in different ways and situations. Maybe the dictionary offers 20 examples. In that case you could take the three or four uses that you think are best suited to your needs. Write them out long-hand. This seems to cement them in your cerebral equipment better than typing them.
 The real challenge for today is to get out, regardless of the weather. As I write this, the temperature is minus 11 degrees centigrade. Tell me – did you survive today´s challenge?

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284 words in a month #3

Here is a crossword made up of today´s words. Your challenge is to invent clues for them in the REPLY box below.



1, 4, 6, 8, 9




2, 3, 5, 7, 10


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284 words in a month #2

Day 2
Your store of words today contains these words:

In-di-cate, ac-cus-tomed, de-vas-ta-tion,           re-ject (noun or re-ject verb),  de-ci-mated,        re-lo-cate (US English re-lo-cate), ac-cuse of,   re-mind, de-vised, in-clu-ded.

Can you include them all in a paragraph of 100 words which makes sense? You can change the words slightly if you need to, for example accuse/accused.

I´ll wait a bit before giving you my paragraph because it would be fun to see one or two of yours first.

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284 words in a month

Give your English vocabulary a work-out over the next few days!

This is to help students who are preparing for a tough exam in English, the TOEFL test. A high score enables them to study at a university in an English-speaking country. TOEFL students have to know a lot more words than you would find in an average newspaper.
The best way to learn new words is to see them in a natural context but sometimes that takes too long. Lists have no context and can be boring.  But I took a special list of 284 words offered by a TOEFL expert on https://www.notefull.com/content.php?pgID=297

The Noteful list was compiled from real TOEFL tests. Answers were analysed to find out which words students found hard.   Using it as a starting point I have added a range of ways to play with the words.     Good luck with the challenges.

Here is an easy one to start with.  There are some German words for spice but you don´t need to know them.
Which word fits with the clue listed below?
autonomous,  motivated, strangers, envision, bemoaned, essential, exceedingly, strategies,
submit, momentum

Complex plan – like in business; game plan – like in chess
Enthused; having a strong reason to do something; inspired
Independent; selbständig; unabhängig
Lamented; expressed regrets; beklagte
Movement; (keeps the ball rolling); der Schwung

People you don´t know; Sinatra song “____ in the night”; Fremden
Put forward; suggest; einreichen
To picture; to imagine; sich (bildhaft) vorstellen
Ultra; very very; extremely
Vital; the most important thing; notwendig

Please leave a comment or suggestion if you want to.

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Linguists on foot #3 – Knulp

Yesterday and the day before I´ve been writing about people who used languages for trade. Today it is the turn of Knulp, who used language for friendship. Strictly speaking, you couldn’t describe him as a linguist. In some ways he was just a tramp, a homeless wanderer, the fictional creation of Hermann Hesse, Nobel Prize winner for literature in 1946.

Bronze statue of Knulp, by Friedhelm Zilly, in Calw, Hermann Hesse´s birthplace in South Germany.
So, what is the point of giving Knulp honorary linguist status?

When you learn a new language, and reach the point where you start speaking to people in their own tongue, you need a talent for bridging the gap of cultural differences. To think that excellent language skills, a profound knowledge of grammar and a wide vocabulary are the bridge seems mistaken to me. Instead I believe that it is more a case of being able to imagine yourself into the shoes of the other person, and this is a gift which Knulp had.

Here is what Damien Kelleher said about Hesse´s Book in his Literary Reviews and Essays, 5.3.2010:

“Knulp is the type of fellow who has a friend wherever he goes, and if he doesn’t, then he soon will. He can talk to anyone about what interests them; he knows just enough about every profession or interest to coax his interlocutor into revealing their thoughts and emotions. “

How do you manage to acquire such a facility in your target language?

First idea: you prepare for a conversation with a person by looking up a few of the key words surrounding the things that might interest them, even if it is just this week´s news items.
Second idea: you spend a disproportionate amount of time learning to ask questions, then mostly listen while the other person talks. After all, it is often possible to understand more than you would have been able to say in the language. Also, once your foreign companion has used certain phrases in talking to you, you can then use them yourself in a simplified form, to check your understanding.

Several studies on communication have suggested that over 50 per cent of communication is non-verbal. The person you are talking to can sense when your interest is genuine, even if your questions are ungrammatical and lacking in finesse.

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Linguists on foot # 2 – The “linen men”

This handsome statue stands in Willingen and is known as the Linnenkerl, linen man.
Willingen is in the hilliest part of our region, the Sauerland in North Rhine Westphalia, and we were there to check out the possibility of paragliding there. If you would like to see some pictures of the area, try http://www.willingen.de/region-willingen/willingen/geschichte/
Years ago, farming of oats, wheat and rye provided villagers with some food and employment, but not enough. Villagers had to look round for other activities such as making products from wood or the local mines, or hawking. They traded as far as the Netherlands, Austria and Poland. With the coming of the iron industries from the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries economic conditions improved a little. Pedlars used to carry domestic ironware such as nails, hammers, tongs, pliers and axes made in the smithies and foundries of the mountain regions, situated near the mines.
Later they mostly carried fabrics such as linen and wool, hence their name. According to the history section of the Willingen web site, the Sauerland fabric trade reached its zenith in 1926. The advent of the second world war severely reduced the numbers of such traders.
To do business, the travelling salesmen would have needed enough of their sellers´ languages to discuss prices and exchange news. I can imagine that they used the walks between settlements to mull over the new expressions they had learned and to construct and rehearse the phrases they intended to come out with at the next stop-over. In fine weather they would have been able to enjoy the changing scenery but in rain or fog they were perhaps glad to have something else to fix their minds on.
Further information:
The German Wikipedia site gives more information under „Sauerländer Wanderhändler“
(Reminder to myself – see “Hanseatic League C13-17”, dimly remembered from school history lessons.)

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Linguists on foot #1 – Hendrik Busman

One of the interesting things about languages is how they spread and change.
In the last couple of weeks I have seen two statues of merchants who carried goods, on foot, from one town to the next. They must have been very welcome, in the days when goods were limited to what could be produced locally and news was limited largely to village events. Probably these merchants brought tales of wondrous things in far away towns and inspired youngsters to explore and to meet new people. They must also have been among the first linguists.

The oldest of the three wanderers who have been on my mind this week is Hendrik Busman, a merchant whose statue can be seen in Kevelaer, a few minutes´ drive south of where we live.
It seems that around Christmas time in 1641 he repeatedly had a vision and was told to build a little chapel. He was reluctant at first, being poor and having a wife to support, but he built a simple shrine the following year and died in 1649. Five years later a small but magnificent six-sided chapel was built on the site and to this day thousands of pilgrims walk there and light candles.
A fuller version of the origin of the pilgrimage can be found on http://www.wallfahrt-kevelaer.de/ which is German, Dutch and English.
Thanks to church records we know a little about the religious aspect of Busman´s life and the religious basis of the story makes it tempting to edit from the photo the ladies´ underwear which appear in the background. But that clothing, or at least the cloth to make the clothes, was probably one of the main items carried by travelling salesmen of the time.

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