The Acadia Center for English Immersion, located in beautiful Camden Maine. New Courses start every week.

Posts Tagged ‘vocabulary’

Learn English Prepositions with Photos

Thursday, October 1st, 2015

Who is the English language student’s enemy number 1?


Acadia Center intensive English course students on top of Mt. Battie in Camden Hills State Park.

Acadia Center intensive English course students on top of Mt. Battie in Camden Hills State Park.

Prepositions are small but pugnacious, refusing to fade into the background.

Prepositions laugh at translation (that’s laugh at, not laugh with, because it’s not a friendly laugh). Depende de in Spanish. De = of or from in English. So, it depends of the context, right? Wrong. It depends on the context.

The choice of preposition can be based on the word before and the word(s) after. You work in an area of expertise, for a company, with colleagues, and on a project. You work, for example, in pyrotechnics, for Up in Smoke, with your fellow pyrotechnicians, and on the Great American Fourth of July fireworks display.

Prepositions depend on other words for meaning, and yet, in what are known as phrasal verbs, if you change the preposition, you totally change the meaning of the verb that precedes it. Sadly, when it comes to (talking about, referring to) prepositions, no one has yet come up with (invented) a magic spell to instantly know them all, or come across (find, often when not actively searching for something) a secret key to unlocking their mysteries.

Prepositions are proudly defiant of our awkward attempts to master them, like wild mustangs.

So how do we learn them?

There are only two types of prepositions that can be easily corralled by grammar: prepositions of place and time, and prepositions of transportation (stay tuned for future blog posts). The rest is vocabulary!

Acadia Center student at helm of schooner Olad in Camden, Maine.

Acadia Center student at helm of schooner Olad in Camden, Maine.

And what is the best way to learn vocabulary? Not from a list. Leafing through several pages in the dictionary trying to learn all the phrasal verbs using the word get will get you nothing but sad, mad, and bewildered. Much better to learn them in context, reading (or listening to) things of interest to you, and observing how prepositions are used in the real world.

To illustrate, let’s look at six selections from one of The Guardian’s gallery of amazing photos from around the world, and see how prepositions – free spirits that they are – roam into and around the captions.

Mumbai, India: Rose petals and coloured powder are showered on a huge idol of the elephant-headed Hindu god Lord Ganesha during the 11-day Ganesh festival.

On can have the physical meaning of on top of.
Of follows the idea of representation as in a picture of, a copy of, etc.
During with an event: during the concert, during the meeting. Use for, not during, with a time period: We stayed there during for two weeks.

Kunming, China: A butterfly perches on a boy’s face at a butterfly exhibition.

On: the physical meaning of on the surface of something.
At: during is also possible with an event, but during can emphasize something of relatively short duration (like the shower of powder in the first photo) occurring in the context of an event of much longer duration (an 11-day festival). For another example, see the use of during Catalan elections in the next caption.

Barcelona, Spain: A dog waits outside a booth at a polling station during Catalan elections. Pro-secession parties say they will push for independence within 18 months if they win a majority in the 165-seat parliament.

Outside: Opposite of inside the booth, where the dog’s owner is voting.
At: A specific geographical location.
For: The go-to preposition for purpose or objective.
Within: No longer than. To indicate the maximum time period from now into the future.
In: In a group.

Fribourg, Switzerland: Guillaume Rolland, a professional mountaineer, balances on a highline on top of the Moleson mountain at 2,000 metres above sea level.

On: Physical meaning (see above).
On top of: Physical meaning.
At: For a specific point on a scale, as in Water freezes at 0 degrees Celsius.
Above: Above and its opposite below are used for numbers on a vertical scale.

Brussels, Belgium: A statue is silhouetted against a supermoon.

Against: Indicates contrast or opposition.

Zhodino, Belarus: Up to his eyes in muddy water, a man takes part in an extreme run competition.

Up to: As high as.
In: Physically inside a substance (muddy water), or in an event with the emphasis more on participation than time.

English Immersion in Maine: Perspective Québec

Monday, September 28th, 2015

Old Orchard Beach – for many, many generations of French speakers from the province of Québec, those three foreign-sounding words have meant sun, surf, sand, fried food, and fun family holidays on the beautiful coast of Maine. Beginning as long ago as 1842, even before there was a train connection between Maine and points south like Boston and New York, the Grand Trunk Railway was bringing summer visitors from Montréal to Maine’s beaches.

Today Old Orchard Beach is as popular as ever with visitors from all over Québec, and French speakers are also starting to discover a small English language institute further up the coast that combines uniquAcadia Center English immersion students from Quebec and Italy.e English language immersion courses with the kind of outdoors fun Québecers have long associated with Maine.

Only five hours by car from Québec City or Trois-Rivières and six hours from Montréal, Acadia Center’s home town of Camden is closer than Toronto for most Québecers.

The beaches are more rugged and rocky north of Portland, Maine, but our students from Québec love the beauty and friendly hospitality of this part of Maine’s Atlantic coast.

Acadia Center English student from Montreal on excursion at Maiden Cliff in Camden, Maine, USA.Click on the video at the top of this post to watch a video interview with Marc-André, a health and safety management consultant and author from Trois-Rivières, Québec, who explains how Acadia Center helped him learn the everyday conversation and business communication skills he needs for his work.

Writing: The Best Way to Improve Grammar and Vocabulary in English

Monday, September 14th, 2015

conversationHave you ever cornered a native English speaker and begged her or him to correct you every time you make a mistake in English?

If you have, the experience was probably highly frustrating for both of you.

During an online lesson or an immersion course, a good teacher can take notes on the mistakes a student makes in conversation and later, after the student has talked for a while, explain what was wrong and how to correct it.

But if the native English speaker constantly interrupts the English learner, the conversation will soon grind to a halt, and nothing valuable will be learned. The natural flow and rhythm of a conversation just does not allow for frequent stops and starts.

A Man Writing a Letter, by Gabriel MetsuHowever, put what you have to say in writing, and it’s a completely different story. Now teacher and student have time to examine, together, all the small differences between how the student says something in English and how a native speaker of English would say the same thing. This is the surest way to really make progress with the English you produce, whether in writing or speaking.

To see the power of this kind of close examination in action, let’s look at a few paragraphs of an essay by one of our English immersion course students, an essay about the phenomenon of e-mail. The student’s English level is high (she is a native Spanish speaker), and there is no problem at all with clarity, with understanding what she is saying.

Nevertheless, using language in an idiomatic way – in the natural way of a native speaker – is challenging, even for advanced students. At Acadia Center, students expect us to be picky and exacting – after all, how else can you become truly confident that you are expressing yourself in English the way you want to?

In the student’s essay copied below, words to be added are in bold, with changes explained after each paragraph.

The electronic mail, known as e-mail, was invented by Shiva Ayyadurai. He was 14 years old when he started to work on the project at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. His project was converted a memorandum into the computer system.”

Electronic mail, known as e-mail, was invented by Shiva Ayyadurai. He was 14 years old when he started to work on the project at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. His project was to convert the transmission method of memos from manual to electronic.”

Delete the definite article the before the phrase electronic mail. This is a common trouble spot for Spanish speakers, since a translation into Spanish would call for a definite article here. In English, if you are speaking of something in general terms and using an uncountable noun, no article should be used.

His project was converted… To express purpose or objective, use the infinitive form, not a verb in a verb tense.

“He received his patent of the system until 2004 and the copyright on 1984.”

“He copyrighted his system in 1984 but did not receive a patent for it until 2004.”

Patent is followed by the preposition for.

Use the preposition in when referring to anything more general than a day or date. Use at for a specific time (at 8 am), and on for a day or date (on Wednesday, on September 8).

The student was right to use the preposition until to emphasize the surprise in the fact that it took Ayyadurai so long to get his patent; however, the verb used with until needs to be in the negative. If the verb is positive, it becomes a simple statement of fact, without the emphasis on surprise, and the preposition used would be in rather than until.

“Actually the e-mail is one of the most important means of communication on business and in personal life. We can have contact with all people around the world immediately. Before we used to send letter written by hand by courier, it was very slow way to be in touch with someone. We didn’t often use the phone because this service was very expensive.”

Now e-mail is one of the most important means of communication in business and in personal life. We can have contact with everyone around the world immediately. Before we used to send hand-written letters by courier; it was a very slow way to be in touch with someone. We didn’t often use the phone because this service was very expensive.”

Another very common mistake by Spanish speakers, who understandably assume that actually in English and actualmente in Spanish must mean the same thing since they look so similar. Actually in English is used to state a fact, often in the form of a correction – for example, “You lived in Peru, didn’t you?” “Actually it was Colombia.” To say that something is true now, in the present, use now or currently as adverbs and current as an adjective.

Instead of using all with people and things in general, we usually prefer to use everyone or everybody, not all people, and everything, not all things, except in certain fixed idioms such as all things being equal…

In is the preposition to use for an area or aspect of something, e.g. in business and in personal life.

“The e-mail help us to be efficient in work. I usually receive an average of 20 mails per day. I need to reply them and work on the tasks related of these e-mails. Sometimes I expend one hour just writing an e-mail because I double check the grammar to make me look good.”

“E-mail helps us be efficient in work. I usually receive an average of 20 e-mails per day. I need to reply to them and work on the tasks related to these e-mails. Sometimes I spend one hour just writing an e-mail because I double check the grammar to make me look good.”

Help is an unusual verb in that it can be followed by either a verb in the infinitive (to be), as here, or by a verb in the base form (be). E-mail helps us be efficient (leaving out the infintive marker to) would probably sound more natural to a native English speaker, following the principle that shorter is better.

Before the invention of electronic mail, mail was almost always an uncountable noun, which meant that you could talk about letters and packages in the plural but not mails. For the word mail by itself, that still holds true. But e-mail can be either uncountable or countable depending on the context. In e-mail helps us to be efficient, e-mail is used in the general sense and is uncountable; in I get 20 e-mails a day it’s countable and can be plural. In short, say e-mails or messages, not mails.

After reply, use to. After answer, no preposition is used – reply to the message, answer the message.

After relate or related, use to, not of or with.

Use the verb spend with time and money. Expend is used more with the word energyhe expended so much energy setting up the climbing rope that he had to take a rest before continuing the ascent.

I want to emphasize that even before the edits, this was an excellently written essay. But even an advanced English student can benefit from a close look at the small details. That’s the best way for intermediate or advanced students to raise their English to the next level, and that’s why at Acadia Center, when it comes to the small details and differences, we try hard to be picky!

Business Communication: Acadia Center Seminar

Sunday, July 26th, 2015

Business communication – in e-mails, presentations, conference calls, meetings, and social media – has been the subject of a series of business English seminars for Acadia Center for English Immersion students, offered by business executive and university business instructor Larrain Slaymaker.

Acadia Center for English Immersion students with business English seminar leader Larrain Slaymaker.Larrain has extensive experience working for both small businesses and multi-national corporations and as an entrepreneur. She has taught business administration at the university level, and she has taught English in China.

“When we communicate in a professional environment, we need to be clear and concise,” said Larrain in describing the focus of her seminars. “But how do we do this? How do we decide how to say something?  How do we know we are listening and reading effectively?  Cross cultural communications, business styles, vernacular, acronyms and a variety of business environments all add to the challenges of professional communications.”

Seminar discussions have included strategies for improving writing ability, people skills, and the capacity to think critically and strategically in English.

Business English seminar at Acadia Center.“Seminar participants include a health and safety management consultant from Quebec, an accountant from Mexico, and a supermarket executive from Colombia,” said Acadia Center director Brian Boyd, “and they all have benefited from Larrain’s tips on such subjects on the importance of tone and clarity in e-mails. They have also really enjoyed her interactive games and role-playing that allow for plenty of practice with the new vocabulary and idioms she is teaching.”


Carried Away: What does it mean?

Saturday, May 26th, 2012

In a recent New York Times interview, iconic American writer and radio host Garrison Keillor was asked: Have you ever felt carried away by a particular place in America? The phrasal verb carried away, used in the passive with the verbs be, feel, or get, means delighted and enraptured, and can also imply getting a little over-excited and out-of-control. For Keillor, the most intoxicating places in the USA include the Grand Canyon, the back roads of rural Tennessee, the High Plains of North Dakota, and the coastline of Maine.

Carried away, in its possible sense of emotion getting the better of reason, can also carry a more negative meaning, as in this quote from the Catholic writer and mystic Thomas Merton.

The idiom swept away has a similar meaning to carried away, with perhaps a dash more vigor. It appears in one of the best (and longest) movie titles ever, Swept Away by an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August – the English translation of the Italian title of Lina Wertmuller’s 1974 film and shortened to just Swept Away in the 2002 remake starring Madonna.


Between You and Me: Grammar Conundrums

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

Between you and me? Between you and I? Between me and you? Even native speakers of English confess to feeling perplexed when it comes to choosing the correct pronouns.

In his entertaining podcast Lexicon Valley on the online news website Slate, Mike Vuolo presents a satisfyingly thorough and often funny discussion of the confusion provoked by this expression.

Although most accept between you and me as the correct standard usage (following the rule of using the object pronoun, not the subject pronoun, after a preposition), champions of the form between you and I make the argument that if it was good enough for Shakespeare (in Merchant of Venice), it’s good enough for them.

Which one does singer Jessica Simpson favor? Listen for yourself.

Here is some vocabulary from the podcast that might, without explanation, stump (be too difficult for) even advanced students of English:

hypercorrection – a mistake in grammar caused by a false analogy with another rule that is commonly ignored

smartass – someone who is obnoxiously self-assertive and impudent

high dudgeon  – intense indignation

up for grabs – available to the first person who wants it or tries to get it

roll my eyes – express exasperation

persnickity – placing too much emphasis on trivial or minor details; fussy

cottage industry – a small, loosely organized flurry of activity or industry

from your lips to God’s ears – when used sarcastically, a pessimistic way of dismissing another’s naive hope

Comic Strip English – Doonesbury

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

A great way to practice English is to read the comics – they’re short and funny, they feature everyday English vocabulary that you can really put to use, and like movies they give you plenty of visual clues to what’s going on.

A classic American comic strip is Gary Trudeau’s Doonesbury. in circulation since 1970 and featuring such legendary charactes as Duke, whose exploits on the sketchiest fringes of the diplomatic world make for witty political satire; BD, the football star and army vet who never removes his helmet; and Alex, the daughter of the strip’s title character, “a true child of the media and searcher for the Killer App.”

Check it out, and if you have any questions about the vocabulary in the strip, let us know and we’ll help you out!

Hike up Ragged Mountain

Saturday, April 30th, 2011

Writing about your experiences in a full immersion English course is a great way to help yourself remember the vocabulary you’ve learned. It also encourages you to start thinking in English, rather than translating words that are new for you into your native language.

Last week, Daniela, human resources director for a software company in Bonn, Germany, and English immersion course student at Acadia Center for the second time, wrote an essay about her hike up Ragged Mountain, a favorite spot for local hikers here in Maine. Her guide was renowned artist and illustrator Anthony (Chip) Bacon Venti. After going over the essay carefully with her teacher, Daniela revised it and now you can read the result:

An Easter Sunday Hike

On Easter Sunday I went on a hike with Tomm’s friend Chip whom I have met before. He knew that I had the day off from classes and offered to show me parts of his home state. I really appreciated his offer and he picked me up on Easter Sunday at 11 am. First we drove to Lincolnville and he showed me the beautiful view from Point Lookout which was formerly  a private property. Now there is a kind of upscale restaurant inside. You can even sit on the deck if the weather is warm and sunny enough and enjoy the scenery.

Chip told me the name of some islands and mountains we could see and pointed to an island where celebrities like Kirstie Alley and John Travolta own a vacation home. Further away we could identify some offshore wind turbines which must be huge if they can be seen from that distance.

We took some pictures and than we drove to a parking lot at Route 17 which is at the beginning of the Georges Highland Path. We took our knapsacks from the backseat of his car and started the hike.

The trail was marked by blue markers on trees and rocks and sometimes it was difficult to identify exactly where the path might be. But Chip always found another marker and then we went on. The first part of the trail was not very steep but after about one hour it became a steep climb. Surprisingly we were overtaken by a couple who were running up the hill! We  kept up our pace and the last 20 minutes the path led over rocks until we reached the summit. On the top of the mountain stands a huge tower which apparently receives or sends data. We rested at the foot of the tower for a while and enjoyed our picnic. Chip did some sketches of the panorama and explained the landmarks to me. Then we went back downhill the same way we had gone up.

The whole hike took about 4 hours and was a really unique experience. Later he gave me a ride home to Acadia Center. I have to admit that I was really tired after that but I am glad I had the opportunity to see what I have seen.


Learn TOEFL Vocabulary Fast

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

To learn the most common English vocabulary words tested on the TOEFL, check out these online flashcards created by Acadia Center. Read and listen to the words and their definitions, and test your knowledge by studying the flashcards, taking the word quiz, and playing word games online. Each set of flashcards presents a new group of ten common TOEFL vocabulary words along with simple, easy-to-learn definitions.

After you’ve mastered the first two flashcard sets, try the most common TOEFL vocabulary set number 3 and most common TOEFL vocabulary set number 4. These first four sets feature some of the most useful verbs to learn in English, whether you’re looking to improve your score on the TOEFL or just trying to expand your knowledge of English vocabulary.

Want to Expand Your English Vocabulary? Read.

Friday, July 30th, 2010

The best way to learn new words in English is to read something challenging. Read articles in an online magazine like Slate, or choose a book that interests you – probably non-fiction unless your English level is very advanced.

Acadia Center English immersion course student reading Julie & Julia by Julie Powell in the Acadia Center garden on a summer afternoon.Avoid getting frustrated by the difficulty of the reading by following these steps:
1) First try to understand the general meaning of each paragraph and each sentence before trying to decipher the meanings of individual words.
2) Be selective about which words to examine more closely. Skip words that seem obscure, archaic, or unusually technical. (Of course, you have to go partly on intuition with this.)
3) Look up unfamiliar words in a dictionary. Read the definitions (usually there is more than one) and try to identify which meaning is correct in this context. Read the examples of how the word is used in a sentence. If you decide that it’s a particularly interesting or useful word (relying partly on intuition again), copy down not only the word but also the context – the phrase or the sentence that shows how the word is used with other words.
4) Don’t be surprised if it takes you half an hour to read only a few pages. That’s OK. It’s not a race. Getting more familiar with new words requires reading at a pace leisurely enough to allow for comfortable, relaxed, careful consideration of each new word and its environment.

Ivone, a current student at Acadia Center, is a talented chef, so not suprisingly she recommends Julie Powell‘s book Julie & Julia, which inspired the popular movie with Meryl Streep as the endearingly eccentric cookbook writer Julia Child.

Do you have a book in English to recommend? Tell us the title and author by leaving a comment on this post. And tell us briefly why you like the book!