english vocabulary

News words: transplant

plasterThis week many international newspapers reported that a man may have been cured of AIDS.  A number of health-related words can be learnt from these stories.  Note that a cure is something that makes someone with an illness healthy again.  It is pronounced /kju:r/.


Doctors in Germany say a patient appears to have been cured of HIV by a bone marrow transplant from a donor who had a genetic resistance to the virus.

BBC News

A transplant (n.) is when something is transplanted (moved from one place or person to another), especially an operation in which a new organ is put into someone’s body.


The clinic said since the transplant was carried out 20 months ago, tests on the patient’s bone marrow, blood and other organ tissues have all been clear.

BBC News

Bone marrow (n.) is soft fatty tissue in the centre of a bone.


The virus has infected 33 million people worldwide.

As Dr Huetter – who is a haematologist, not an HIV specialist – prepared to treat his leukaemia with a bone marrow transplant, he recalled that some people carried a genetic mutation that seemed to make them resistant to HIV infection.

New Zealand Herald

To infect (v.) is to pass a disease to a person, animal or plant.  A person, animal or plant having received the disease is infected (adj.), and is said to have an infection (n.).  A disease that is able to infect is said to be infectious (adj.)

Infectious can also have a positive meaning, as in an ‘infectious laugh’ or ‘infectious enthusiasm’, describing something that has an effect on everyone who is present and makes them want to join in.


Roughly one in 1,000 Europeans and Americans have inherited the mutation from both parents, and Huetter set out to find one such person among donors that matched the patient’s marrow type. Out of a pool of 80 suitable donors, the 61st person tested carried the proper mutation.

CityNews, Toronto

Mutation (n.) is the way in which genes change and produce permanent differences.  The verb is mutate.

An engaging article for a reading activity

Q. What do English, French, Finnish, German, Spanish, Lithuanian, Romanian, Welsh, Estonian, Icelandic and Esperanto have in common, apart from the obvious?  A. They are all languages spoken by writer and linguist Daniel Tammet. He also has the distinction of setting a European record for memorising the digits of pi (22,514 digits in 5 hours and 9 minutes), and he is the subject of an interesting New Scientist article I found this week entitled Inside the Mind of an Autistic Savant.

This is just the kind of interesting article I look for when preparing reading comprehension activities for ESL classes.  Here are some ideas that I might use with a class with a vocabulary building focus.  The ideas could be adapted for CEF level B1 and above.

autistic-savant-pdf-1You can download a worksheet for the activities here and adapt them for your own situation: inside-the-mind-of-an-autistic-savantpdf-icon

Lead-in.  Write the word THOUGHT on the whiteboard or equivalent.  Brainstorm all the vocabulary the learners can think of related to this word and present it in a mindmap.  Highlight any words that appear in the article.

Prediction. Give learners the following list of keywords from the text (For a great tool for determining keywords and word frequency in an article that you want to adapt for ESL, see Online Utility):

  • savant
  • relationship
  • mind
  • autistic
  • lumpy
  • ability
  • intuitive
  • visualise
  • interconnected
  • realise
  • understanding
  • remember

From this list, ask learners to predict what they expect the content of the article to be.  Follow this discussion by giving the profile of Daniel Tammet and the introductory paragraph to the article:

tammet-profileAutistic savant Daniel Tammet shot to fame when he set a European record for the number of digits of pi he recited from memory (22,514). For afters, he learned Icelandic in a week. But unlike many savants, he’s able to tell us how he does it. We could all unleash extraordinary mental abilities by getting inside the savant mind, he tells Celeste Biever.

Inside the Mind of an Autistic Savant, Celeste Biever © 2009 New Scientist

Vocabulary work.  I would choose a maximum of 12 words, preferably words that occur more than once in the text.  I have used the wordlist above in the worksheet, where there is a definition matching exercise.  For a more advanced activity the learners can fill in the gaps of a list of quotes from English literature using the word list.  I can just hear busy teachers saying « that sounds like a lot of work to prepare »!  I have found a great tool for doing this easily but that will be the subject of another post, so if you want to find out how I did it, subscribe to the englishonthe.net feed.

Reading. The article is formatted as an interview with questions and answers conveniently separated.  Give the learners a jumbled list of the questions, and ask them to discuss what can be learnt about Daniel Tammet by simply reading the questions.  Then they will be ready to read the article.  For a challenging exercise I might give them the article with the questions blanked out, and have them match the questions to the appropriate paragraphs.

Follow-up. Actually I’m still thinking about what I might do – so many directions you could go in with a good speaking or writing activity, depending on the class and level.  One idea was to  get learners to engage with Daniel Tammet’s blog – they could find an interesting post to write a comment on.

What would you do?  Leave a comment and share your ideas.

News words : solve

If you are learning online, the latest news is a good place for learning English words.  This week’s news word is:


Let’s look at how this word and related words are used in the world’s newspapers this week.  Click on the links to see the words in their original context.

Gaza crisis

BEIJING, Jan. 16 (Xinhua) — Compromise and concession between Israel and Hamas, instead of military force, are the only way to solve the ongoing Gaza crisis, Chinese analysts say.

To solve (verb) something is to find an answer to a problem.

Reconciliation is the only solution to the decades of Israel-Palestine conflict, Wang said, emphasizing Israeli and Palestinian leaders need to show extraordinary political courage and vision to solve the conflict.

A solution (noun) is the answer to a problem.

As early as Jan. 8, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1860, calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza « leading to the full withdrawal of Israeli forces. »

A resolution (noun) is an official decision that is made after a group or organization have voted.

Quotes taken from Xinhua.

gas_rangeGas crisis

The Russian leader said Moscow was ready to do « everything it could » to resolve the gas crisis.

To resolve (verb) is to end a problem or difficulty.  It is a synonym for solve.

MOSCOW, Jan 17 (Reuters) – Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on Saturday that efforts to find a resolution to the gas dispute with Ukraine had so far yielded no results.

A resolution (noun) can also be a synonym for solution.  ‘Resolution’ is more formal than ‘solution’.

Quotes taken from Reuters.

US Recession

New York Mayor Resolute Amid Recession (headline)

To be resolute (adj.) is to be determined in character, action or ideas.

Quote taken from tothecenter.com.

Note that solve/solution is pronounced differently to resolve/resolution.

solve (/s/)  resolve (/z/)

solution (/s/) resolution (/z/)

resolute (/z/)

Resolution is a useful word for the month of January, when we make « New Years Resolutions ».  In this context a ‘resolution’ is a promise that you make to yourself to start doing something good or stop doing something bad.  My new year’s resolution is to offer useful material on this blog to help you learn English or to learn French.  What’s yours?

News words: « break »

Every week we will focus on a key word in the news. The best way to learn new vocabulary is in context, so we will look at how each word is used in the world’s newspapers.

The word from this weeks world news is

break / broke / broken

Todays quotes are all taken fromguardian-logo Click on the links in the quotes to open the original article.

The Russia-Ukraine gas crisis

But analysts point out that, since the last serious crisis broke out in 2006, Europe has done very little to avert shortages

If something dangerous or unpleasant breaks out (phrasal verb), it suddenly starts.

The dispute, viewed by the EU as a purely commercial one until recently, threatens a fresh breakdown in relations between Brussels and Moscow.

A breakdown is a failure to work or be successful.

The crisis in Gaza

Even if the Israeli forces break (verb) Hamas’s grip on power, officials admit any such « victory » may be temporary and will bring more difficulties in its wake.

(verb) To cause something to divide into two or more parts our groups (to weaken something)

Khalid Mish’al (This brutality will never break our will to be free, 6 January)

(verb) To cause something to stop working by being damaged

The president-elect, Barack Obama, broke his silence by saying he was « deeply concerned » about civilian casualties on both sides.

(verb) To interrupt or stop something

Ideas for a weekend holiday


A break (noun) is a short rest.

The costs of environmental measures to the automotive industry

EU schemes for improving consumption and safety and reducing emissions would add « billions of euros of cost to the industry at a time when revenues are below break-even for most companies ».

To break even is to have no profit or loss at the end of a business activity. If revenues are below break-even (used as a noun), this means the business has made a loss;

Notice that newspapers like The Guardian often talk about « breaking news« , which is news about events that have only just happened. The « breaking news » about something is probably the first time the event has been reported.