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Active Vocabulary vs. Passive Vocabulary. My experience during an oral exam

On Monday I had my FCE3 exam. No, I didn’t take the FCE exam for the third time.

At the institute I attend, the FCE preparation course lasts four months, and every end of the month we have an exam contemplating most of the actual FCE test: reading comprehension, writing, use of english, listening and the ‘dreadful’ speaking.

I have to admit that speaking is something I really need to improve. It’s not that I’m not being able to communicate myself, but the thing is that I need to be more exposed to having everyday conversations in order to get used to do it more naturally; not having ‘to think’ when it comes to use the language.

Here’s the thing, in your head you have two types of vocabulary: active and passive. This means that there are some words you understand, but for some reason, you don’t use them while speaking, thus, the passive vocabulary. Maybe this isn’t the most accurate explanation, but I hope it makes sense.

That leads to what happened at the exam. Usually you will be given a sheet of paper with two pictures you have to contrast. In picture number one a young couple was deciding how to redecorate their living room (it looked like a living room for me) and the girl was asking him what he thought about… more about this later. In picture number two, a boy was raising his hand to ask the teacher a question. The speaking task in fact was: “You have two pictures in which people are asking questions in different situations. Contrast the pictures and say how they are different”. Ok, those weren’t the exact words but you get the idea.

This is what happened. I started to contrast both of them saying that, asking question in the classroom has more impact, than those regarding esthetics as in picture number one. I continued saying that “in picture number one the girl is asking if this thing that goes on the wall (I don’t know how to call it), looks fine for him and works well for the room”. Yes, as you have spotted, I said “if this thing that goes on the wall”. Can you guess which word should’ve been there?

Wallpaper, the word in fact was wallpaper. I’ve got it after my oral exam finished, and, as if I was speaking out loud my thoughts, I said “wallpaper” and the teacher replied smiling, “Yes, wallpaper, better late than never”.

So, there you have it, even a simple word like that needs to become active in order to use it later during conversations. Just another interesting learning experience.

Let’s carry on!

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