delexical verbs 2

This second post on delexical verbs observes use of the students’ mother tongue in monolingual classes, as it is very much the case in most teaching situations. As Scott Thornbury puts wisely in his article T is for Translation, “with some structures (such as the future perfect) translation could be the most economical way of presenting them”. The students will be translating sentences into their mother tongue and then translating them back into English.

Get your students into pairs. Pick a delexical verb like take, for instance, and look it up on a monolingual dictionary. Select about eight uses of take as a delexical verb and type (or copy and paste if you are using a digital dictionary) into a word processor the examples presented by the dictionary. I just copied and pasted these eight from Wordreference.

  • Take it from me, I’m telling the truth.
  • I couldn’t take it in the military.
  • What do you take me for, a fool?
  • They took to each other at once.
  • Do you take sugar in your coffee?
  • Can’t you take a joke?
  • Can you take the kids to school?
  • She took her own life.

Make two sets with these examples and get your students into pairs. Hand students A the top four sentences and students B the bottom four. Ask the students to get a blank piece of paper and to translate the sentences into their L1 language in the most natural sounding way they can. As a general rule, take translates as tomar into Spanish but as a delexical verb it won’t always be the case.

Circulate and help students with their questions or translations.

Then ask the students to swap their translations in order to translate back into English. The key word is take. They should think of ways of translating the sentences into English and always including the word take in them.

It may seem like a contradiction but by asking the students to translate (and then translate back), the underlying message is that the most productive way to acquire vocabulary is to work at the language chunk level and perhaps stop getting too inquisitive about how to say x, y and z in English or the grammar needed for it and save one’s energy to have a system in place to memorize language items and have plenty of spaced encounters with them. For ideas on how to do so, read the blog post on vocabulary lists.


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