Category Archives: English

A Little Book of Language by David Crystal

A Little Book of LanguageA Little Book of Language by David Crystal

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I just done listening audio edition of this book and this is just a little comment/review about it.

Initially because of the word “little” in the title and number of opening chapters talking about how children develop their language abilities I was slightly concerned that I picked a wrong buck which going to talk exclusively about children speech development 🙂 But it turn out that this “little” book give all encompassing overview of all things language starting from children speech development and touching on all possible things language related: applied linguistics, sociolinguistics, forensic linguistics, etymology, dictionaries, endangered languages and languages revival, dialects and regionalisms, speech therapy so it is really Little book of Language.

In case you are not linguistics/language geek who wants to know everything about language you may find such book useful for example if you need what facet/aspect of language/linguistics you are interested to learn more about.

I guess I’m going to add more David Crystal‘s books on my ever growing to read/to listen list, and I think it is high time to finally read/listen something by Naom Chomsky as his books were on my to do list way too long 🙂

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What should I do to increase my vocabulary in English?

Answer by Anne W Zahra:


When you study English, you have to learn a lot of words (vocabulary breadth).  You also must understand how to use the words you know.  (vocabulary depth).

Vocabulary breadth comes from word study.  You take courses and you learn lists of words and take tests.  You may buy a book or use software to study vocabulary words on your own.  You should do these things because you need to know 10,000 words or more to use academic English.

Vocabulary depth comes from reading and writing with feedbackVery few English students are taught in a way that builds vocabulary depth.  Materials that develop depth are uncommon.  Teachers are not trained to teach this way, but this is needed, very badly needed especially if you speak Arabic, Russian, Chinese or any language very, very different from English.


A page from the Oxford series Words in Use, and a rare example of a textbook that teaches vocabulary depth.  Students must learn how to use vocabulary words (vocabulary depth), but few textbooks, courses of studies or individual teachers focus on this.  This is one of the major weaknesses in language teaching in general.

How do you overcome this problem?

Reading teaches you to understand the ways words are used.  If you don’t read a lot you will not know how to use the words because you will not understand how they are used.

Writing in the language for a class gives you feedback— important information about what is correct and what is wrong.  You need this feedback, and you must correct your mistakes and you must understand why what you wrote is a mistake.  That does not happen quickly.  It is not easy.  It takes years.

I speak three foreign languages.  I learned them mostly in school or studying them by myself.  I study specific texts and I collect words from them that I don’t understand.  I practice verbs a lot because these cause the most errors.  I use dictionaries a lot and I use the Internet to find what words mean.

What should I do to increase my vocabulary in English?

Merriam-Webster: Words of the Year 2014

Merriam-Webster recently announced top 10 words of the years of 2014 based on look ups frequency in their online dictionary. So this list is data driven (they are using look up frequency and also have temporal distribution of it across the year) and It’s quite interest to see how spikes in interest to certain words are correlate with real world events. It’s interesting to see that French expression “Je ne sais quoi” (“a pleasant quality that is hard to describe”) made its way into this list (guess what made people wondering about this phrase 🙂 ). I can not help but notice that modern technology makes life of modern lexicographers, dictionary editors and comparative linguist much more easier and unbelievable well equipped for their tasks by contrast with such pioneers of that field as James Murray – for those all luxuries of technology were unavailable (though while working on OED James Murray was already employing crowd sourcing techniques using newspaper adverts and postal service).

Here is video of Peter Sokolowski Merriam-Webster’s editor at large talking about Merriam-Webster top 10 Word of the Year look-ups for 2014:


You may also read about these 10 words on Merriam-Webster web site. Top 10 words are following: Culture, Nostalgia, Insidious, Legacy, Feminism, Je ne sais quoi, Innovation, Surreptitious, Autonomy, Morbidity.

\nReally interesting to see how real world events influence the look up frequency for certain words.

What does it take to learn a second language?

Recently I watched a nice video on language learning (How to learn any language in six months by Chris Lonsdale) – man claims that you can start talking in a new language in 6 months if you approach this problem right. I would say that this is overly optimistic and he means just some good conversational level, not perfect fluency, as according to my knowledge once you past your teens your chances to achieve perfect fluency are slim (though I personally never equate negligible chances to the “loud” word impossible 🙂 ).

Well, current research tells us that if you started learning new language as an adult (past your teens) then, even after investing loads of time and maybe also given some gift/predisposition to the language, you hardly achieve perfect fluency – as you most likely will be imperfect in terms of handling pronunciation and some other aspects of your non native language especially in stressful situations or when you tired. But anyway it’s not an excuse or reason for not striving to perfection.

As I did some clean up in my house I decided that it’s high time to get rid of all these English textbooks which I amassed while learning this language. So if you are more on a visual side of perception (i.e. prefer pictures to text) here is what it takes to master a language:


Though this doesn’t include university textbook and a couple of very early textbooks from classes I did afterwards (those not survived the time), class handouts, notebooks and, you know, it’s difficult to take a picture of all the work/cool time you had with these books 🙂

Anyway it’s high time to arrange English text books give away so that I can focus on French (so far I have only 3 books 🙂 ) which I’m currently learning.