Posted by: lyonenglishnetwork | April 30, 2012

Dull and boring… or how learning new words through context reinforces existing vocabulary

What does the word ‘boring’ mean ? A lot of my students get it mixed up and think it means ‘annoying’, a mis-translation from the French, ennuyant.

You can listen a bit to the word ‘boring’ on this week’s listen-to-english:

But that’s not the reason I’m posting today.

The point of today’s post is to talk about how learning some more ‘advanced’ words can reinforce the more basic ones. For example, if you learn a new word in context, like the following:

– swimming pool

– waiting room

– running shoes

– printing paper

– toilet paper

– can of coke

– music website

– running track

The above are all what we call in the jargon: collocations. Collocations are all words (verbs or nouns or adjectives) which go together well. For example, swimming pool goes together well, but so does to get a coffee, to have a coffee, to grab a coffee. But I digress.

The point of today’s post is to say that if you learn swimming pool in context, you will acquire the word swim, because you will probably remember better the word swim. The same with waiting room ==> wait, running shoes ==> run, etc.

If you listen to the listen-to-english podcast, you will hear about 2 towns, ‘dull’ and ‘boring’. One is in Scotland and one is in the U.S.

Someone has had the bright idea that these 2 towns should be twinned. 

Twinned ? What does that mean ? It’s not a collocation but it is a more advanced meaning of the word ‘twin’.

A twin usually means brothers or sisters that were born on the same day. You can have identical twins or non-identitcal twins. 

But if you were listening to the podcast carefully, and you figured that ‘twinned’ meant ‘jumelé’ in French, then perhaps you would understand that a twin was a ‘jumeau’.


Lyon Lingua – Learn language naturally



  1. Another example of learning words through context and building on words.

    I’m currently learning Spanish.

    A few days ago I was listening to somebody talking about school uniform in Columbia. They said the girls were wearing “falda”.

    I figured that probably meant ‘skirt’.

    I haven’t looked it up in the dictionary but today I heard on another listening ‘mini-falda’

    So, I’m presuming I’m right. It’s building on the old vocabulary and it’s a great way of remembering it. In fact, I’m sure it’s the way you remember things in your own language.


  2. Collocations!
    Vocabulary books advise to learn new vocab (or reinforce “old” vocab) through collocations indeed!
    And it is a good idea indeed as it’s a good thing to know words like “phone”/”telephone” but it isn’t much use if you don’t know how to say “to pick up the phone”, “to hang up”, etc…

    Now another thing your examples show Paul, at least to me, is how learning new vocab requires attention (and some thinking of course).
    I think a common mistake that most of my students do when working of a text for example is to understand new vocab but not make a note of it and try and remember it (for example by trying to write it down in a sentence of trying to use it later during the lesson).
    When you focus on new vocab, then you are more likely to remember it.
    For example, I remember learning the word “skint” in English.
    In British English, if you say “I’m skint”, you mean to say that you have no money left.
    The Americans will use the expression “I’m broke” (not “broken”, ok?!).
    One day, I received an e-mail from an English friend of mine which explained that he was fine but skint. I understood what it meant but decided to check it in the dictionary anyway and once I had confirmed the info, I decided to find the first opportunity to use it myself. When I did and I realize that my next English friend had no problem understanding me, I realized I had used it right and was very proud and satisfied to have learnt a new word! (Self-satisfaction and praising are also very important tools of the language learning process!!)
    Now I know very well this word and can use it any time (though I always hope I never get to use it again, at least for myself!!!!!!!)


  3. Hi Fanny,

    Yes, you’re right.

    Satisfaction and praising/motivating people are important factors in the language learning process.

    Collocations are too but in order to speak a language fluently, there are so many of them, you can’t just rely on your 1 1/2 hour weekly lesson.

    In terms of remembering words, also, you can’t just assume, as a lot of people do, that just because the teacher wrote it on the paperboard, you’re going to remember it.

    I like your idea of techniques for remembering it, though:

    – write it down (not necessarily because you’re going to review it but because the actual process of writing it can help remember

    – use it as soon as possible – it’s not my technique but it seems to be yours and if it works for you, that’s great. Personally, I do hope to use the words I use someday but not necessarily straight after I learnt them.

    – remembering a word brings us to the forgetting curve:

    Article here:

    Let me know what you think.


  4. The other thing is, it seems to me, that you learnt the word ‘skint’ at the right time for you. At some point in the past, let’s say, if you were a beginner, you would have just forgotten about the word.

    But as you learnt it at a later stage in learning and also because you understood it in context, it stuck.

  5. The other thing is that these are actually compound nouns: swimming pool, etc. and there are literally loads of them in English – I’ve also posted about this in another comment to this post here:

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