Expanding your vocabulary: How to get 5 for the price of 1!

In a recent lesson I introduced my class to Flatmates, an excellent animated soap opera on the BBC Learning English website: www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/flatmates/

But before we watched any of the episodes, I had to check that my class understood what ‘flatmates’ are.  As you probably know, it means ‘people who share a flat together’, so for example ‘I wish my flatmate wasn’t so noisy!’, or, ‘I live with my three flatmates.’  By the way, it’s really common to have flatmates in London, as property is so expensive!  Londoners also tend to settle down quite late.

Once you know the word flatmates you can understand that people you share a room with are roommates, people you share a house with are housemates, people in your class at school are classmates and people you work with are, yes, you’ve guessed it, workmatesBy the way, mates on its own means ‘friends’ although of course we aren’t always friends with our flatmates, classmates or workmates!  Words like this are what we call compound nouns i.e. a noun made from two other words, usually a noun with another noun or an adjective.  Learning groups of compound nouns is a good way of expanding your vocabulary.

Another, similar, way of increasing your vocabulary is through paying attention to word formationImagine you learn the verb to bake for the first time.  (It means to cook bread or cakes).  You could then easily learn the noun for a person whose job it is to bake (a baker), the factory or shop where bakers bake (a bakery), the activity of baking, and the adjective baked.  And once you know the basics, you can also learn the more idiomatic expressions, such as it’s baking in here! (very hot), and a half-baked idea (an idea which is only half developed).  By the way, if you’re thinking of taking one of the Cambridge certificates such as FCE or CAE, you should definitely work on your knowledge of word formation as you’ll need it for the exam!

So, once you learn a word, check with your teacher or in a dictionary to see if it’s got any ‘mates’ and you’ll get ‘more for your money’!

By Laura

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