A post on James Trotta’s blog (Sept 21) caught my eye the other day. In it he tells the story of how, in middle school, he’d tried to learn the names of colours in Spanish by labelling the colours on book covers – and then got accused of cheating by his Spanish teacher who saw the word for yellow on his exercise book while he was doing a test.

So sad – labelling is a great learning strategy which allows vocabulary to be assimilated effortlessly. A couple of years ago the daughter of a friend of mine did a crash course in Spanish prior to going to Mexico to work as a volunteer during her gap year. And when I visited them one weekend, everything in the house was labelled with its Spanish name on a yellow Post-it note.

Now I don’t speak a word of Spanish, but even now two years later, I can still remember a few of the Spanish words that I saw in the house that weekend – toilet paper seems to have stuck most firmly, for some reason. I hadn’t tried to learn them at all, they were just there. But they’ve stuck.

Not all of our students intend to live in an English speaking country, and therefore some household vocabulary may be irrelevant to them. But even business English students need to know the names of certain everyday objects. When staying in hotels on business trips they may need to ask for towels or soap – or yes, toilet paper. And if they are visiting an overseas branch of their company, they may well need to borrow office equipment – scissors, a stapler, paperclips and so on. By labelling these objects in their own offices, they are subconsciously consolidating their knowledge of the word every time they use them – and are much more likely to remember them when they need them.

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