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Adjectives of quality
in learning English as a foreign language


Adjectives of quality and idiom learning

            Adjectives are words that describe or modify a noun (person or thing) in the sentence. They are the only parts of speech capable of making comparisons valid and very easy; partly because they are inflexible i.e. they have only one form whatever is the noun they modify:
  1. Singular nouns:
    • Masculine: The old man.
    • Feminine: The old woman.
  2. Plural nouns:
    • Masculine: The old men.
    • Feminine: The old women.

            This makes it possible for them to compare between two or more things and value the degree of similitude or dissimilarity between them without complications. They can compare between nouns. They can show the extent of equality -exactitude-; superiority or inferiority between two compared people or things in a given characteristic. Adjectives can tell all these things in few words. The most vital thing is that we can use the marvels the adjectives have in bridging the gap between the learner of English as a foreign language and the cultural aspects of English. Among the vital elements of any culture are its idioms. They are not to be translated because once they are; they may end up in a completely awkward result; that's why introducing these idioms through adjectives is quite lucrative for the teacher, the learner and the target culture.

  1. The teacher is not going to look for or forge sentences of her own to teach adjectives. She can use the ready made idioms for the pleasure of the teacher, the learner, the target language, the people and the culture.
  2. The learner, on the other hand is going to learn two things at the same time, the function of the adjective with all its derivations in the sentence and the idioms one can use in the target language situation.
  3. The target culture, because this is the backbone of the language. Besides this the interaction between the teacher and the learner doesn't normally take place in a vacuum. The target culture is necessary to make the language useful and vice versa.

            All in all, this part of the paper will undertake the way the teacher introduces the culture through idioms thanks to the adjectives.

What is the most suitable adjective to fill in the blank according to you?

  1. John is as as a bee.
  2. John is as as a lamb.
  3. John is as as a fish.
  4. John is as as a fox.
  5. John is as as a pig.

            To find out the right adjectives, you needn't only be good at grammar but also have some knowledge of the qualities or human traits some animals stand for. Adjectives can be helpful as to make idioms of comparison easy to grasp and learn. People are used to apply certain adjectives to certain creatures or things as being the general common characteristics of this animal or that. The trouble here is, for non-native speakers, to find out the exact adjective that can correspond to the items compared in the target culture. The cultural disparity can have an effect on the learner of English as a foreign language in attributing this adjective or that to this animal or that thing. Through well designed and well revised practice, the things might get easier with time. Some of the above animals have attributes that differ from one culture to another. Take the camel -which is not part of the British or American culture- and try to attribute a trait to it that you think is the most distinct characteristic of the camel and see if you win.

Hassan is as ________ as a camel.

            Apart from the nomads and few other people, none might identify the appropriate adjective suitable for the comparison. You may choose the adjective - which is a vague one. It cannot only be used for the camel, but for a great number of animals without much difference, elephant, hippopotamus, rhino, llama etc. What else? Can we try with the adjective 'rich'? That's funny.

Hassan is as rich as a camel.

(The camel then is seen in terms of a cartoon hero or a Sheik that has wells of petrol. Isn't that a stereotype? Let's not be narrow-minded.)

            Can we try with other vague physically based adjectives like, strong, big, lip-long, hump-high etc? But none is the most appropriate. From within the nomad culture we can get two major adjectives usable with the camel namely 'patient' and 'vengeful'. Thus,

Though this is not an English idiom, it is one in another culture. So the basis of the task is not just an adjective scramble game; it is rather a teaching strategy tending to introduce the English culture through some language features or aspects.

            Now going back to the exercise above, we are going, as teachers try to encourage the learners find out the appropriate adjectives the English people might have chosen for the comparison.

            Because our first concern is not testing idioms but introducing and leading the learners to them, the recognition of the adjective meaning and its use in a given context is our primary concern that matters the most for us. We should utterly be tolerant as far as implications given to the adjective comparing two related beings or things. We can for example accept this,

            - 'The man is as peaceful as a lamb'.

It is not necessary to mention the adjective 'gentle' to be correct. The sentence is clear. However it is completely unacceptable to say for instance,

            - 'The woman is as beautiful as a car'.

The woman, no matter how ugly she might be, is not to be compared to a car no matter how beautiful it is. Generally speaking the language is a means used to carry out meaningful discourse accepted by the others without misunderstanding stemming particularly from cultural variations.

Possibilities

  1. John is as busy / hardworking as a bee.
  2. John is as gentle, good, peaceful, kind as a lamb.
  3. John is as dumb, supple, stinking as a fish.
  4. John is as cunning / intelligent/ clever as a fox.
  5. John is as fat / dirty / greedy as a pig.



KEY (idioms)

            
1. John is as busy as a bee.
2. John is as gentle as a lamb.
3. John is as dumb as a fish.
4. John is as cunning as a fox.
5. John is as fat as a pig.

There is another approach we can test adjectives to fit and introduce idioms of comparisons to eventually render the language natural and almost native. It is a technique to teach well-known, common and frequently used idioms by native speakers through adjectives and their meaning in a given context in terms of a multiple choice exercise for instance.

Fill in the blanks with the appropriate word from the list,

(a) Gaudy (b) firm (c) harmless (d) greedy (e) bold

            
1. The man is as as a dove.
2. The man is as as a lion.
3. The man is as as a rock.
4. The man is as as a wolf.
5. The man is as as a peacock.

There are as many hints as the student needs. With just a little cognitive effort, the learner can make the exact comparisons though s/he never known the idioms before. This is not one hundred percent guaranteed but it is feasible.

Which of the following is normally harmless, the dove, the lion, the rock, the wolf or the peacock? It goes without saying that the dove is the most harmless of all. Thus,             
1. The man is as harmless as a dove.
2. The man is as bold as a lion.
3. The man is as firm as a rock.
4. The man is as greedy as a wolf.
5. The man is as gaudy as a peacock.

            All of these are accredited idioms employed daily by native speakers. The student doesn't only discover the meaning of the adjectives through context but also reconstructed an expression that is part of the culture of the language she or he is learning.

            Idioms are not the only expressions adjectives can teach to trim down the gap between the learner of English as a foreign language and the culture this language represents. There are as many expressions as you like that make the learner open to the daily expressions the English people use. Sayings and proverbs, hyphenated words which are mostly used in everyday colloquial English like 'a hit-and-run driver', 'stay-at-home folks' etc. To tackle all these things will take time. For the time being, why not see to what degree the adjectives can bridge the gap to learning proverbs?

Proverbs through adjectives

            Proverbs on the other hand are a resourceful mine of adjective wonders to the extent that the curiosity of the learner is triggered by the powerful influence these wonderful adjectives have on the proverbs and vice-versa.

The proverb judiciously says,             'Early to bed and early to rise make the man healthy, wealthy and wise'

            These rich means of learning adjectives can be made fruitful and useful if they are used in the appropriate way depending of course on the level of the learners. These proverbs can serve learning adjectives through exercises such as, matching, multiple choice, word-order, gap-filling etc. Now let's tackle the subject through the following activities.

*// Dissect the following to form a meaningful proverb and underline the adjectives:



KEY

Comparatives and superlatives:

*// Underline the adjectives of quality in red, the comparatives in green, the superlatives in blue.

  1. Fine feathers make fine birds
  2. The greatest talkers are the least doers.
  3. Easier said than done.
  4. More haste, less speed
  5. Actions speak louder than words.
  6. He who gives fair words feeds you with an empty spoon.
  7. Life is short and time is swift.
  8. Forbidden fruit is sweetest.
  9. Contentment is better than riches.
  10. A wink is as good as a nod to a blind donkey.



KEY

  1. Fine feathers make fine birds
  2. The greatest talkers are the least doers.
  3. Easier said than done.
  4. More haste, less speed
  5. Actions speak louder than words.
  6. He who gives fair words feeds you with an empty spoon.
  7. Life is short and time is swift.
  8. Forbidden fruit is sweetest.
  9. Contentment is better than riches.
  10. A wink is as good as a nod to a blind donkey.

Bare adjectives

*// Fill in the blanks with the appropriate adjective from the list.

histwohernoeveryoldcareful

  1. You cannot catch birds with chaff.
  2. heads are better than one.
  3. There's royal road to learning.
  4. A bad workman always blames tools.
  5. cobbler must stick to his last.



KEY

  1. You cannot catch birds with chaff.
  2. heads are better than one.
  3. There's royal road to learning.
  4. A bad workman always blames tools.
  5. cobbler must stick to his last.

MORE DETAILED TOPIC
Adjectives to link Language to Culture in E.S.O.L. Classes

Adjective List

The invisible Adjective



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