Lexical features of formal or informal registers in English


The Skills for Life Quality Initiative suggest that ‘Words that have one syllable generally come from Old English and many
words that have more than one syllable come from French, for example: dead comes from Old English,deceased comes from French’.

They suggest completing the following activity, thinking about what the more formal variation of the word is.

Old English French
look at
come back

How might you use or adapt the previous activity to inform your learners about use of appropriate vocabulary when using language formally?

It’s interesting if you can give learners a general one-line guide that more formal words have more syllables. That fact alone is quite motivating. Quick tips are often encouraging to learners, and teachers! I think the activity could work in small E3+ groups, or as part of a synonym activity.

How could you adapt or develop the previous activity to expand and develop your learners’ vocabulary?

I could use the activity to develop learners’ ability to use different genres. For example maybe we’re focusing on an informal genre, we could try to take the same text and make it formal by just changing the vocabulary. You could similarly use a text written by them, and use antonyms to change the meaning again. This could increase learners’ awareness of vocabulary choices. I sometimes think ‘how the hell am I going to teach vocabulary’, but this could be a quick activity, or more in-depth one depending on the learner, context and purpose. I’m going to add this to my list of things to try out in sessions in future.

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