Posted in Advanced C1, C1 Reading, Guest Posts, Proficiency

Guest Post: C1/C2 – Collin’s Word of the Year 2023 by Suzy Ratcliff

It’s that time of year again! No, not Thanksgiving or Christmas, time for Collins Dictionary to choose its word of the year for 2023! And time for Suzy Ratcliff to write another great guest post on the topic! Download the student handout and teacher’s notes below:

While you’re here, check out Suzy’s company English Boost and follow her on Linkedin for more teaching materials.

Blog post

The acceleration of AI and other 2023 trends

1st Nov 2023

Did you worry quite so much about a robot takeover before the advent of ChatGPT?

The revolutionary AI-powered language model burst into the public consciousness in late 2022, wowing us with its ability to mimic natural human speech.  It could do much more than that, actually – need copy for a presentation tomorrow morning? No problem. A recipe for dinner using only what you’ve got left in the cupboard? Done. And while people were understandably fascinated, they also started to get a bit anxious. If computers were suddenly experts in that most human of domains, language, what next? Cue an explosion of debate, scrutiny, and prediction, and more than enough justification for Collins’ 2023 Word of the Year: AI.

Collins defines artificial intelligence, for which AI is the now-familiar abbreviation, as “the modelling of human mental functions by computer programs”. This rather captures the profound nature of challenge facing us. Can machines really become human-like? And how will that pan out for our species?

Until we find out the answer to that question, though, life carries on. And, as the Collins shortlisted words show, it carries on in often peculiar and fascinating ways. Take digital culture. We’re all familiar with the influencer: a person who leverages their popularity on social media to spark new trends and earn money from endorsements. The word has its own family of variants: mega-influencer, micro-influencer, even nano-influencer. To which we can now add de-influencing – when one of these oracles uses their power “to warn followers to avoid certain commercial products, lifestyle choices, etc”, as the dictionary definition puts it.

One recent attempt at de-influencing concerns another of the shortlist’s highlights, the deliciously waspish nepo baby, a label applied to someone “whose career is believed to have been advanced by having famous parents”. The would-be de-influencer in this case was film star Gwyneth Paltrow, who last month judged the phrase an “ugly moniker”. Paltrow’s mum and dad? Actress Blythe Danner and producer Bruce Paltrow. We can only assume that seeing her parents make their way in the industry was something of a canon event for the young Paltrow – an experience “essential to the formation of an individual’s character or identity”.

As well as obsessing over the lifestyles of the rich and famous, we’ve been increasingly focused on our own health and wellbeing. Scientists and public health experts have warned of the dangers of ultra-processed foods, which are “prepared using complex industrial methods” and frequently made up of “ingredients with little or no nutritional value”. These empty calories can lead to multiple problems, including diabetes and obesity. One potential treatment for both of those conditions is the apparent “wonderdrug” semaglutide, also known by its tradename, Ozempic. Semaglutide seems to be effective at suppressing people’s appetites, allowing them to lose weight – but it simply hasn’t been around long enough for us to know quite what the long-term effects might be. Incidentally, the prefix “ultra” – Latin for “beyond” – forms part of another shortlisted word. ULEZ, the acronym for ultra-low emission zone, will be familiar to Londoners, who have to pay a charge if they drive a polluting vehicle into the city.

ULEZ became particularly contentious in 2023 as a result of the Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election, in which voters seemed to reject plans for its expansion. It isn’t the only political hot potato in the shortlist, though. The UK’s cost of living crisis has been driven by inflation – rising prices – with some convinced that businesses are making excessive hikes in order to boost their profits, so-called greedflation.

A different type of financial problem, debanking, also makes the list, after populist politician Nigel Farage claimed his bank, Coutts, tried to close his account because of his political views. The issue was thrust into the spotlight and many others subsequently came forward to complain of having been debanked without explanation.

After all that heavy stuff you might like to sit back and enjoy watching a sedate game of cricket. Except that Bazball – the newly energetic (some say aggressive) form of the game named for England Test coach Brendon “Baz” McCullum – is currently in vogue. Perhaps 2024 will prove more relaxing? We can only hope.

Written by David Shariatmadari, author of Don’t Believe A Word: From Myths to Misunderstandings – How Language Really Works

Ex 1. Complete the sentences with your own ideas, then compare and discuss with your partner.

  1. ….. really wowed me in 2023.
  2. This year, …. was thrust into the spotlight.
  3. …. was a canon event in my life because …

Ex 2. Discuss these questions:

  1. Can machines really become human-like? How do you think that will pan out for our species?
  2. What is it exactly that sparks our obsession over the lives of the rich and the famous?
  3. What were the top political hot potatoes this year? Why were they so contentious?
  4. Are there any ULEZs where you live? Do you think they are a good idea? Why (not)?
  5. What potential problems could arise from semaglutide and other new drugs and medicine which burst into the market?
  6. In what ways have you noticed greedflation where you live? How have the hikes in prices impacted you?
  7. Have you ever had to deal with someone waspish? Have you ever felt waspish yourself?

Ex 3. Can we learn from AI?

  1. Work in pairs. Type this prompt into ChatGPT (edit it to include the language you want to use):

Write a short dialogue using the phrases ‘a hot potato’, ‘to pan out’, and ‘to burst into’.

  • Read the dialogue out loud and look up any new vocab.
  • Now ask it to change the dialogue in some way and read it again.

(Make it more formal/informal/jokey/fun…)

  • Compare both texts. What changes did ChatGPT make? What do you notice is different and why?
  • Reflect on this activity. What did you learn?
Posted in Advanced C1, Conversation Classes, Guest Posts, Proficiency, Reading Classes, Vocabulary Classes

Guest Post: C1/C2 – Collin’s Word of the Year by Suzy Ratcliff

This is a guest post by teacher, teacher trainer, director of studies and materials writer Suzy Ratcliff. The lesson plan is based around the Collin’s Dictionary’s annual blog post revealing the shortlist for the words of the year. It’s a great example of how to exploit a piece of authentic materials to the max!

Download the student’s handout and teacher’s notes below:

Blog post

A year of ‘permacrisis’

1st Nov 2022

The 2020s have certainly seen their fair share of upheaval – and we’re only two years in! Already this decade we’ve had to contend with a pandemic and its aftermath, a brutal new war in Europe, and in the UK an economic crisis that saw the Bank of England warning of a “material risk to financial stability”. We’ve also had three prime ministers – so far.

How fitting, then, that 2022’s Word of the Year is permacrisis, a term that perfectly embodies the dizzyingsense of lurching from one unprecedented event to another, as we wonder bleakly what new horrors might be around the corner. Collins defines it as “an extended period of instability and insecurity” and that certainly rings true. Much more of this and we might have forgotten what stability and security ever felt like.

The current permacrisis also happens to be responsible for some of the other words on this year’s shortlist – not surprising given its all-consuming nature. Partygate, of course, is one of the events that set off the period of political turbulence whoseramifications are still playing out. It proves that the “-gate” suffix – made famous by the discovery of secret recordings in Washington DC’s Watergate Hotel – still has some life in it.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine produced an energy shock to which warm banks – places where those too poor to heat their own homes can gather in the event of a cold snap –are one proposed solution. The lexical analogy here is with another grim indicator of economic crisis, the food bank. The invasion also meant that we all quickly learned the Ukrainian spelling and pronunciation of the city of Kyiv. And while warfare may be Russia’s preferred tactic, increased scrutiny of Russia’s super-rich has led to a crackdown on lawfare, the use (or abuse) of legal powers to silence opponents.

In the labour market, changes have been afoot too. There’s been a vibe shift away from the culture that defined the world of work pre-pandemic: now people are less concerned with climbing the greasy pole, and more with quality of life. This has led to an epidemic of so-called quiet quitting, which, as Collins puts it, involves “doing no more work than one is contractually obliged to do”. For burnt-out millennials, it’s a third way between making your job your life and quitting altogether. Work-life balance is important, so why not relax as the year draws to a close by watching some football? The FIFA World Cup is due to start this month in Qatar – but beware the spectre of sportswashing, which some have accused the Qatari authorities of doing, given concerns around human rights and the welfare of migrant workers. This follows the pattern that has given us “greenwashing“, and of course goes back ultimately to “whitewashing“– blotting out imperfections with a thin coat of paint.

All in all, it’s a difficult note on which to begin the Carolean era, which the new king, Charles III, will preside over (the medieval Latin for Charles is, of course, Carolus). Let’s hope this is just a shaky start, and things will improve soon, Your Majesty. In the meantime, we all could be forgiven for just wanting to join our furry friends in splooting – which, Collins explains, is the act of lying flat on the stomach with the legs stretched out – until all of these problems have gone away.

Written by David Shariatmadari, author of Don’t Believe A Word: From Myths to Misunderstandings – How Language Really Works

Ex 1. Complete the sentences with your own ideas, then compare and discuss with your partner.

  1. In 2023, I’d like to see a crackdown on…
  2. The way I see it, … is just around the corner.
  3. In my life, I’ve had my fair share of
  4. The idea that …. really rings true to me
  5. The word …. perfectly embodies 2022 for me, because…

Ex 2. Discuss these questions:

  1. To what extent do you agree that 2022 has been a year of upheaval? Is it fair to say that the future looks grim or bleak? Why (not)?
  2. Have you witnessed someone close to you or a public figure lurching from one crisis to another? Have you ever experienced this sensation yourself?
  3. How do you predict the aftermath of the World Cup controversy will play out? Could changes be afoot in the world of big sporting events?
  4. In which industries do you think it’s necessary to ‘climb the ‘so-called’ greasy pole’? Have you ever felt that way in your career? Why (not)?