AA: I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble, and this week on Wordmaster: using the Internet to help make sense of words that are closely related.
RS: Like "house" and "home," for example. Both describe a living situation. But "house" refers to the building, while "home" is more an emotional concept.
AA: There is an old saying that goes: "Home is where the heart is." There is another that says: "A woman's place is in the home." We don't hear that one much anymore. Nowadays what we hear is: "A woman's place is in the House" - that is the U.S. House of Representatives, with its first female speaker, Nancy Pelosi.
RS: With us from Los Angeles is English teacher Lida Baker, who says that some online resources can help clear up confusion over words. One of her favorites is the Web site OneLook.com, which offers definitions and translations from multiple dictionaries.
LIDA BAKER: "And it's very nice to have this list of dictionaries, because different dictionaries give different types of information. I think a lot of times people think that a dictionary, you know, it just -- a dictionary is where you go when you want to know how to say the word 'home' in a different language. That's a bilingual dictionary. But if you go to an English-English dictionary, it can give you a huge amount of information about the proper way to use a word.
"So what students need to look for when they're using online dictionaries, or any dictionaries, is the usage notes: How do we use these words? In what context? Is there an emotional sense that the word conveys? And that's what we mean by the word 'connotation': does it have a positive or a negative meaning?
AA: Lida Baker says another good online source is the Web site WordReference.com.
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LIDA BAKER: "And this is actually a site where people can send intheir questions about English words or grammar and receive a reply from other people who are on this list. And I typed in -- I went to Google and I typed in house versus home and it took me to this site called WordReference and the very first thing that I saw on that page was a letter from someone who wrote, 'Hello, what are the differences between these two words: home/house. Do they always mean the same? When should I use them?' And what followed this introductory question was a whole series of replies from other people who are using this list."
RS: "What are some exercises that can be done in an ESL ]English as a Second Language] classroom to practice some of these search techniques that you've been discussing?"
LIDA BAKER: "Well, let me give you an example of something that just happened yesterday. I was visiting somebody else's class. The class was doing a lesson on the comparative form of adjectives: long/longer, happy/happier and so on. And the adjective friendly came up, and the textbook said that the comparative form of friendly was friendlier. But somebody in the class said, 'Well, I've heard people say more friendly.' And the teacher stopped and thought about this for a moment and she said, 'You know what? They're both right.'
"So, it was a very informal class and it was OK for me to participate, so I said, 'Would you like me to do a Google search and see which one is used more frequently?' And I did -- and, by the way, I found two million seven hundred ten hits for friendlier, but only one million eighty thousand hits for 'more friendly.' So, clearly, friendlier is the more common way to form the comparative. My point is that if you have a computer in your classroom, when students ask questions like this, you can get the answer on the spot. So you can send the student to the computer and have them do it themselves."
AA: Lida Baker is an English teacher in Los Angeles. Her newest book, co-authored with Judy Tanka, is called "Real Talk: Authentic English in Context."
RS: And that's Wordmaster for this week. Our e-mail address is [email protected] And you can get more English teaching ideas at our Web site: voanews.com/wordmaster. With Avi Arditti, I'm Rosanne Skirble.