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Making sense of
spoken language

Top Tips for the CD-ROMs
Making sense of spoken language
by Mairi MacDonald

Spoken English is not a topic you would expect to be able to tackle using a learners' dictionary. However SmartSearch on the CD-ROMs lets you pull out lots of examples of language that is mainly used in spoken English. By restricting your search according to part of speech or frequency it is possible to retrieve a manageable list of words — perfect for creating simple activities on spoken discourse.

The following activities aim to familiarize students with the function of adverbs such as actually and basically in spoken English as well as exploring the meaning of fixed expressions like to put it mildly and don't hold your breath.

The examples and definitions in the activities are taken from MED CD-ROM. If you are using the Essential CD-ROM, the searches described below will return similar results.

1 Adverbs in spoken English

Adverbs ending in -ly can contain completely different meanings when used in speech. For example the meaning of honestly in spoken language is completely different to the meaning that your students will be most familiar with:

Searching for adverbs in spoken English

Using MED CD-ROM to provide example sentences, the following activity explores the function of these words in context. To find adverbs used in spoken English, try the following search:

Click on SmartSearch, type *ly into the search box and tick the following options:

  • Any kind of text
  • Part of speech: adverb
  • Style: spoken
  • Frequency: very high frequency/high frequency/quite high frequency

Create a new document in your word processing program. Make a table with two columns, one for the example sentences and the other for the definitions. Copy and paste the relevant definitions and example sentences from MED CD-ROM and underline the keywords. Students should match the example sentences to the definitions, e.g.:

Oh honestly, now look what he's done!
used for expressing slight anger at someone

Activity 1: Adverbs

Read through the example sentences on the left and try to match them with the correct definition on the right.

'She really is a beautiful woman.'
'Oh, absolutely.'
used as a reply for saying that you completely agree with someone
It was yesterday, no actually it was Monday morning.
used for admitting something
'Did you spend much money?'
'Well, yes. Quite a lot, actually.'
used for answering 'no', when you think someone has suggested something that is impossible
Basically, you should have asked me.
used for emphasizing that what you are saying is true, especially when talking about yourself
5 'If he'd gone to bed early, he wouldn't be so tired.'
used for emphasizing that you are giving your own opinion
Funnily enough, I heard someone say exactly the same thing this morning.
f   used for emphasizing the most important point or idea in what you are saying
'Are you hung over?'
'Hardly! I don't even drink!'
used for expressing slight anger at someone
I honestly can't remember.
h  used for expressing surprise
Oh honestly, now look what he's done!
used for saying that you think something is surprising or unusual
10  Personally, I think we should stick with our original plan.
used for showing surprise or doubt about something
11  'You mean he took the money for himself?'
used for showing that you agree with what someone has just said
12  'I'm thinking of leaving my wife.'
used for showing that you completely agree with what someone says or that you think they are exactly right
13  He's getting married? Surely you can't be serious!
used when correcting what someone has said or thinks, or what you yourself have said
14  'Mark is such an idiot!' 'Totally.'
used for saying you really agree with something someone said


2 Expressions

If you are focusing on the function of fixed expressions in spoken language, one idea is to search for entries containing the phrase used for in the definition text. Once you have run your search, choose phrases and expressions from the search results panel appropriate to the level of your students. Copy and paste the definitions and example sentences and use these to create an activity. The following activity is just one way in which you can exploit this material in your lessons.

Searching for fixed expressions

Click on SmartSearch, type used for into the search box and tick the following options:

  • Definitions
  • Style: spoken
  • Frequency: very high frequency/high frequency/quite high frequency

Activity 2: Fixed expressions

1 Give students the list of sentences in Worksheet A. In pairs get them to discuss the phrases in bold.
2 Hand out Worksheet B (definitions). Explain that these words are fixed expressions and that it is often impossible to guess their meaning. Ask students to match the definitions in the second sheet with the sentences in the first. If they get stuck, they can look up the underlined word in each sentence in the dictionary.

Worksheet A

a Let them cancel the whole project. It's no skin off my nose.
b Wait a minute, that's not what I said!
c Things haven't been going very well here, I'm afraid.
d Be that as it may, I still think Mr Livingstone is the best man for the job.
e 'Jenny doesn't concentrate when she's driving.'
'I beg your pardon! She's a very good driver!'
f You'd think he'd just give up, but not a bit of it.
g 'He said he'd come.'
'Don't bank on it — he's still in bed.'
h He arrived over an hour late for the meeting - I ask you!
i What's the big idea, telling her about the accident?
j There's no call for regret.

Worksheet B


1 used for emphasizing that you think something is silly or shocking
2 used for saying that even if something is true, it does not affect your opinion
3 used for saying that something you would expect to happen has not happened
4 used for saying you disagree with what someone is saying or doing, or you want them to listen to you
5 used for asking someone why they have done something that you think is wrong or annoying
6 used for politely telling someone something that might make them sad, disappointed, or angry, for example when you cannot do what they want or do not agree with them
7 used for saying that you think something is not necessary or suitable
8 used for telling someone that something will probably not happen
9 used for saying that you do not care if someone does a particular thing because it will not affect you
10 used for showing that you disagree very strongly with what someone has just said