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Being a Language Detective

What is a Language Detective?

A language detective is a learner who can use sources of English such as YouTube videos, articles or podcasts to find examples of language that will be helpful for them. A really good language detective might have ideas about what language they would like to find in texts, such as particular topic vocabulary or grammar structures. An exceptional language detective will have well-organised records of the language they find, will put new language into their Spaced Repetition System and will always look for interesting language use as well as new vocabulary.

Why is being a Language Detective important?

By B2, learners need to be capable of independent learning away from a teacher. You need to be able to take responsibility for your own language growth, and this means that you need to develop an ability to notice patterns in the language you read and hear. This is especially true for learners who learn alone and without support from a teacher. Developing language detective skills means that you can get more “bang for your buck”; in other words, you can learn more language with less input!

I don’t know how to find useful language!

Being able to find language that is useful and interesting is a skill that takes some time and practice to develop. Even some teachers aren’t that great at finding useful language for their students! However, it is well worth investing in this skill as it enables you to learn whole chunks and phrases which results in greater fluency and accuracy when you are speaking and writing.


Choose a text Choose a short text to work on. Like in intensive listening, it’s good to choose an extract from something you have already understood well. Ideally, choose a short paragraph from a longer text that you already understand.

Look for patterns Most learners are very interested in new words. While new words can be useful, you also need to look for patterns and interesting ways the language is used. This interesting language might be words you already know being used in a different way, collocations, idioms and set phrases. By doing this, you can deepen your understanding of words you already know, a key ability for reaching proficiency in English.

Observe the behaviour of new words When you find a new word, you need to look before and after it to see how the word is used. Things to look out for include:

· -ing / to infinitive / bare infinitives after the word

· prepositions before and after the word

· prefixes and suffixes

· collocation (verb – noun / adjective – noun)

Here is a short paragraph from a social media post I wrote. Read it, then use it for finding interesting patterns. Compare your ideas with mine at the end of the article.

Memorising vocabulary is one of the greatest challenges in learning a language. Sadly, I meet students who either have no strategies or have inefficient strategies such as writing lists of words. If you want to develop your language, expanding your vocabulary is crucial; it's worth investing time into finding strategies that suit you.

For me, the thing that stands out the most in this paragraph is the number of -ing forms:

· -ing forms as the subject and object

· such as + -ing

· be + worth investing time into doing something

This post is taken from my Study Skills Workbook.

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