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In Praise of the Diary

In Praise of the Diary

“I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.”

Oscar Wilde (Irish wit, poet, and playwright 1854-1900)

Student-centred learning

I want to share how I create really effective and meaningful classes for my student. In this blog, I sing the praises of using a diary to help my student in their English learning journey.

I offer one-to-one, full immersion courses to adults who come and live with me for short but intensive periods. We have lessons in the morning, between three and four hours. After that I make lunch for us, with conversation and correction. In the afternoon or evening, we may have an excursion together, with conversation and correction. Every evening, I cook dinner and we have conversation and correction. This type of teaching is very intensive and challenging, but very rewarding for both the student and the teacher. As you can understand, the only time to prepare is before the lesson in the morning, while I’m eating my breakfast. This is where the beauty of the diary starts.

I ask my student to write a simple account of their day; nothing fancy, just an account. This is to be done as homework and I suggest that they go to a café, where they can observe and listen to people speaking English. For this reason, I suggest that they have a book small enough to put in their bag or to carry with them. On the first day, I ask them to write about their journey to me; what time they left home, who took them to the airport, what the flight was like – on time or delayed; their first impressions of Bristol and their new home; what they learned in their first lesson etc.

I ask them to write on every other line to leave space for corrections. The next morning, we go through the diary together. First I ask them to read the complete diary to me. I listen without interruption and get an idea of their writing level and the errors they are making. Then we go through the diary, sentence by sentence. They choose one colour for grammar/vocabulary corrections and another (red) for pronunciation correction into phonemic – this is something I show them and we start using from the second day of their course. Generally, when we write in another language, we create a sentence in our first language and then ‘drop’ the foreign vocabulary in the order of our own language. This means that the teacher can hear the gaps in the knowledge. This activity is a kind of ‘grammar clinic’, and these issues are presented in an organic way. As each error is noted and corrected, it’s an opportunity to give a mini-lesson on the subject. The student listens and makes the correction. The act of correcting their diary for themselves reinforces the learning in a visual and kinaesthetic way, and provides a record of the correction. With the diary, we can look at word order in English sentences; vocabulary; prepositions; the past simple (diaries are usually written in the past); occasionally present perfect, past perfect, past continuous, present continuous for future arrangements; regular/irregular verbs; adjectives; adverbs, gerunds…

For my lower level students, I ask them to make a simple record of their activities: what time they woke up; what time they got up (good irregular verbs, and phrasal verbs for higher levels); what they ate for breakfast; what they studied in class; where they went in the afternoon and then what they ate for dinner with me – that expands vocabulary for food and drink, which is always useful. At a higher level, I ask my student to write something more ‘literary’ and incorporate more conceptual ideas, such as cultural differences they notice: for example, the importance of ritual politeness in British society.

Once the diary is corrected for grammar, it becomes a pronunciation activity. I ask my student to read it aloud and we record it. We do this during the lesson or sometimes my student will do it as part of their homework, after lesson. Then we listen again, checking for pronunciation errors; often it’s the first time my student has listened to themself speaking in English.

This is a student-centred approach to creating material for the lessons. Furthermore, it’s a natural and organic way to address grammar and pronunciation which arise out of a need to communicate. And the real delight is I can learn a lot about my student; sometimes they reveal quite personal things in their diaries.

For my students, it can also be a record of their visit, which may be the first time they have ever travelled alone to a foreign country. Some students like to collect things like brochures or labels from their drinks or till receipts and stick them in their diary, like a scrapbook. Above you can see a photo from a diary kept by Évelin Morano, a Spanish/Colombian woman who came to me for a course of four weeks in July 2019. As you can see, her diary is a delight! She loved writing the diary and told me that re-reading it recently gave her back some of her best memories!

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Coronavocabulary: an explosion of new language

Coronavocabulary: an explosion of new language

English is a wonderfully creative and flexible language. Over its history, it’s had influences from many different languages (German, French, Latin, Greek) and it’s still evolving, with new words being created  all the time. Here is a very interesting article on the creation of new words and expressions that have evolved during these Covid-19 times. Julie Moore, highly-respected lexicographer and expert on vocabulary, and friend of mine, looks at this new language and shares her thoughts.

New words enter the language to describe new technologies (WiFi, wearables) and the way we use them (selfienewsfeed).

We create new words and phrases to describe social changes (gender fluid, neurodiverse) and inevitably, massive events like the current coronavirus epidemic also lead to a flood of new language to describe the very different reality we all find ourselves living in. In this post, I’ll look at just a few examples of new (and not so new) language that English speakers have been using over the past few months.

One of the few fun things about the strange world we’ve found ourselves in lately is the explosion of creative new words to describe life in lockdown. Corona– (from coronavirus) has become a prefix that can be added to all kind of words. So, you can describe the strange mix of emotional highs and lows of the past few months as a coronacoaster (corona + rollercoaster) or you can talk about the slightly awkward way we all dance around the pavement or supermarket aisles trying not to get too close to people as coronadodging (corona + dodge). Iso– (from isolation) is also being used as a prefix in new terms like isobaking (a popular activity during lockdown) and isolife. Other creative blends (when two words are mixed together) include quarantini (a cocktail, cf martini, drunk in quarantine) and one of my favourites is smizing or smiling with your eyes when you’re wearing a face mask – you need to think carefully about the sounds for that one (/aɪz/ > /smaɪz/). Below are a few more to think about and try to understand:

As well as completely new words, terms that were previously fairly uncommon have suddenly become part of our everyday vocabulary. Take the closely-related words lockdownisolation and quarantine. Their use varies slightly in different English-speaking countries (read about the variations here).

But in the UK:

Lockdown is the set of restrictions imposed by government across the whole country or in specific areas to help control the spread of the virus, such as closing shops and restaurants, and encouraging people to stay at home. We talk about being in lockdown and there’s also the phrasal verb to lock down (Melbourne has been locked down.).

Isolation is used to talk about the situation where someone thinks they may have the virus so has to self-isolate, to stay at home and avoid contact with other people.

Quarantine is mostly being used in the UK to talk about people coming from (or returning from) other countries where infection rates are high. They have to go into quarantine or self-isolation for 14 days. We can also use quarantine as a verb (You have to quarantine for 14 days.).

Listening to daily news updates, lots of technical terms have suddenly become very familiar from science and medicine (epidemic, pandemic, ventilator, asymptomatic, immunity), as have expressions from statistics (R-rate, flatten the curve, a second spike, rolling average). From government guidelines, we’ve learnt about the importance of social distancing – in the UK that means keeping two metres apart from people who aren’t from your own household – and hand hygiene, which means frequent hand washing with soap or hand sanitiser. After a slow start, compared with other countries, people in the UK now have to wear face masks or other face coverings in shops, on public transport and in other indoor public spaces.

In the world of work, many people were furloughed  (/ˈfɜːləʊd/) from their jobs, a term that most people had never heard before, which describes a situation where the government pays all or most of workers’ wages while their workplace is unable to operate. Others were encouraged to work from home – a phrase that quickly got shortened, especially on social media, to the acronym, WFH. Face-to-face meetings moved to video conferencing, often via the app, Zoom, leading to a range of Zoom– words: Zoom meetings, Zoom calls, Zoom fatigue (when you’re tired of so many video calls) and Zoombombing (when someone unexpectedly interrupts your Zoom call).

At this point (in August 2020) it’s impossible to predict how long the pandemic will continue to affect our lives and how long this new vocabulary will be used. I suspect that some words will disappear from use, that others will stay, and that most likely more new words will be coined to describe the new normal  we find ourselves in. What’s certain is that linguists and lexicographers like me will continue to track the linguistic trends and add words as they become widespread over time to dictionaries.

Julie Moore is a freelance writer of English Language Teaching materials and a lexicographer working on learner’s dictionaries. She writes about language and language teaching on her blog: and her website: She lives and works in Bristol, not far from Lucy.



gender fluid: 


social distancing: 

hand sanitiser:


new normal: