How ‘academic’ is your vocabulary?

Disclaimer: I didn’t create the Academic Word List. That distinction goes to a lady called Averil Coxhead. And I know there are other sites offering academic word highlighting, but I need my own app because I’m planning to integrate the AWL with other @guruEAP posts and pages in the near future.

So, you wanna know how ‘academic’ your vocab is?

Type or paste some text into the field below, then click ‘Check for academic words!’ Continue reading

What is collocation?

In my last post I set a challenge that required you to understand the concept collocation, but later it occurred to me that you might not understand what it is.

  • We say “Merry Christmas.”
  • We say “Happy birthday.”
  • We never say “Merry birthday.”

There is no grammatical reason why we cannot say Merry birthday. In fact the only explanation is that, well, that’s just the way it is! Welcome to the frustrating world of collocation.

How to define ‘collocation’?

Continue reading

Collocation hunt #1

The solution to this challenge can be found in the following post, although you will first of all need to read a little about collocation. If you’re serious about IELTS, read on!


I hope that in the future I will be able to give a contribution as an Indonesian expert in mosquito-borne disease.

Indonesian flag This Indonesian writer has tied the verb give to the noun contribution. Unfortunately, although these words may be collocates in the writer’s first language, they do not go together in English. Actually the meaning is already clear and so this won’t damage his IELTS score too badly. However, for a higher score for vocabulary in writing and speaking you will need stronger collocation, or even something completely different. For example, a native speaker is just as likely to use a verb without a noun:

  • I hope that in the future I will be able to contribute as an Indonesian expert in mosquito-borne disease.

24hr Collocation hunt challenge!

In English there is a verb that collocates strongly with contribute, but rather than give it to you on a plate, I’m going to give you 24 hours to find it by yourself. However, because I am such a nice Pak Guru, I’m going to take you directly to the treasure. All you have to do is search carefully through the box and you will find the verb that collocates strongly with contribute. So what are you waiting for? Go ahead. Click on the box and see what you can find!treasure chest

If you think you have found the mystery verb, write a sentence using the verb (+ contribution) in the comments box below. This time tomorrow I will give the answer if nobody has already found it. Happy hunting!

Alone, on my own, by myself

Sometimes I am a lonely person and I struggle by my own.

This is an understandable error since there are other, similar phrases, and it’s likely that the writer has got them muddled up. The following phrases are possible:

  • I live alone in a one-room apartment.
  • I live on my own now that my cat has died.
  • I live by myself in a hut on the beach.

The good news is that all three phrases can be used more or less interchangeably, without having to worry to much about context or collocation.

Best of luck with your lonely struggling!

Katrok and Cat Rock!

You may be wondering why this post carries a photo of a cat playing rock guitar in a traditional village setting!

Well, I’m using this image as an example of a mnemonic. Mnemonics is a memorisation technique that actually has many applications. At school I used the phrase Old Harry And His Old Aunt to remember the mathematical formulae for Sine (O/H), Cosine (A/H), Tangent (O/A). At music college I used FOOLS and the 2 ‘R‘s to learn the rules for harmonisation in Bach chorales (Fifths, Overlapping, Octaves, Leading note, Spacing, Range, Repetition). And more recently I’ve been telling students that the preposition following increase is in (not of) just like the first two letters of increase!

In the example that I’m going to share in this post, I show how I use images to ‘visualise’ words and phrases so as to make them ‘stick’ in my memory.

Visualising words using mnemonics

I used mnemonics to learn the Indonesian slang word katrok. Actually the final k in katrok is often silent, but it’s difficult for students of Indonesian to hear the absence of the final k. If there is a k at the end, we have something that sounds similar to the English cat rock.

Already this is an unusual image – catrock. I pictured a cat playing an electric guitar. And when I added the meaning of katrok, which is an adjective used to describe an uneducated, uncultured, possibly village person, I pictured in my mind the cat playing the electric guitar in a primitive village scene.

Now I never forget the word katrok!

If you have tried this technique, please share your experiences by adding a comment below!

A ‘he’ or a ‘she’?

What a cute baby! Is it a ‘he’ or a ‘she’?

Ok so I admit that occasionally we might not recognise somebody’s gender. But when their gender is obvious then we need to use the right pronoun, at least when we’re taking an exam!

Many languages, including Bahasa Indonesia, use non-sexist pronouns. And many languages use the same pronoun for subjects and objects, and even for possessives! It’s hardly surprising that students find English pronouns challenging, but for IELTS they have to be right!

Some yukky theory:

subject object possessive
he him his
she her hers
it it its

Ok now fill the gaps with suitable pronouns!

Continue reading

College colleagues

I’m very busy during the week, but at weekends I go out with my colleges.

 This was something I overheard someone say, although I sometimes see the same error in writing. Mostly it’s a pronunciation problem that influences written form.

There’s a world of difference between colleges and colleagues:

  • colleges (3 syllables: /kɒlɪdʒɪz/) – educational institutions
  • colleagues (2 syllables: /kɒliːgz/) – the people we work with
Colleges or colleagues?
A student out for a walk with his colleges(!)

Whoever you are, and wherever you are, you’re extremely unlikely to go out with your colleges! What you mean is:

  • I’m very busy during the week, but at weekends I go out with my colleagues.

But even here there’s a problem. English native speakers are unlikely to refer to the people they study with as colleagues. If the context is education, then a native speaker is more likely to use the following:

  • I go out with my classmates.
  • I go out with people from my class.
  • I go out with fellow students.

If you go out with colleagues, you are going out with the people you work with, and not the people you study with! If you are hanging out with college colleagues then you are probably a teacher or professor hanging out with fellow teachers or professors!

Pedro, Hans, Fritz and Francois

In this post we review country names, language names, nationalities, etc. Students sometimes use the nationality when they mean the country, or the country when they mean the language, and so on. I’ve chosen to focus on four countries in western Europe whose vocabulary most often causes confusion.

First of all here’s a table showing available word forms. Continue reading

My couple or my partner?

There is an excellent cinema in my hometown. I go there almost every weekend with my couple.

 This is an Indonesian student translating pasangan, which can be translated as either couple (or pair) or partner, depending on the context.

If the context is two people who are romantically attached, then these two people – together – form a couple. But be careful! It’s only when they are together that they are a couple. We cannot refer to one of them separately as a couple.

Take, for example Brangelina. All of the following are true:

  • Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie used to be a couple.
  • Brad was Angelina’s partner.
  • Angelina was Brad’s partner.
  • Angelina Jolie often appeared in films alongside her partner, Brad Pitt.

Notice also that in this context – couple meaning two people romantically attached – the word ‘couple’ behaves like a noun rather than a quantifier. But whether it is a noun or a quantifier, we are extremely unlikely to see a possessive before couple (‘my couple’). In fact there is only one situation I can think of when a quantifier behaves like a noun that can be ‘possessed’:

  • This weekend I’m taking my two to the beach.

In this case two means ‘children’. But again, this is very rare.

Returning to ‘couple’, if you’re talking about one member of a couple, use partner!