Phrasal verbs: real contexts provide real meaning

When learning a new language it is important to use real contexts such as news articles and horoscopes to give it real meaning. But it is also how you record new language which is important in how effectively you learn and retain it.

Horoscopes are an excellent authentic source of informal language such as phrasal verbs. Here I’ve written one I've invented myself:

Capricorn Horoscope

New opportunities are opening up at work this week for you and you might be taking on an increased workload that is proving difficult to deal with. Health may be a priority for you at the moment as you start to take care of yourself both physically and mentally.

You can see that, in only a very short text, there appear four phrasal verbs, which I’ve highlighted in bold for you.Now let’s consider their meanings. You can do this by mentally asking yourself questions as I’ve done here:

Open up: What are opening up? new opportunities

Take on: What might you be taking on? an increased workload

Deal with: What is difficult to deal with? the increased workload

Take care of: What are you starting to take care of? yourself/ your physical and mental health

By doing this you are considering the context, which gives meaning to the phrasal verb.

You are also learning collocations (words that are used with other words).For example, the noun 'opportunity' collocates with (goes with) the phrasal verb 'open up'.

You can now check the meaning in a dictionary. However, take care as this can be confusing as some phrasal verbs have several meanings. In fact, ‘take on’ has five! In this context, ‘take on’ means ‘to accept work or responsibility’. We know this from the word ‘workload’, which is the amount of work someone has to do.

Ejemplo de una entrevista de trabajo en inglés
A Sofía la han llamado esta mañana de una empresa de tecnologías inglesa para que supla una baja en el área comercial. Hace ya un...

You can also translate the phrasal verb, if that helps with your understanding or perhaps helps you to memorize it.

How you record a new phrasal verb in your notebook is also important to learn it more efficiently and effectively. How you do this is up to you but here are some suggestions you could include, using the example of ‘take on’:

  1. A definition (as brief as possible and one you understand) eg. accept work or responsibility.
  2. An example, perhaps one in which you met the phrasal verb in context eg. You might be taking on an increased workload; or perhaps a personalized example. eg. Next year I’ll be taking on a lot more work to pay all my bills.
  3. A translation eg. asumir and a translated sentence eg. I’ve taken on too much at work. He asumido demasiado en el trabajo.
  4. Collocations eg. work/workload/responsibility/ a lot/ too much
  5. An image or a sketch, which helps you visualise the meaning and may help with memorizing it.
  6. The grammar ie. whether it’s separable or inseparable.

You don’t have to include all of the six points I’ve suggested above - whatever works for you!

It might look something like this is your notebook:

Take on (separable): accept responsibility or work (asumir)

You might be taking on an increased workload.

I’ve taken on too much at work.(He asumido demasiado en el trabajo.)

Encuentra tu profesor ideal

You may feel that learning phrasal verbs is a lot of work to take on but I think that meeting them in real contexts to give them real meaning and recording them effectively in your notebook to help you memorize them will pay off in the end!

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