It happens to many advanced learners of English. They’ve put in countless hours to reach their current level, they know a lot of words from the AWL, and they are quite articulate when expressing their thoughts. But a single silly-sounding word throws them off as they watch a TV show or join a fast-paced, animated conversation among native speakers. You know which words I mean: nitty-gritty, helter-skelter, yada yada, and the like. The repetitive sounds catch their ears, the new word perplexes them, and they must try to use the context to figure out the meaning. Can they always do that? Yes, but not always with accuracy, especially because the moment of exposure is fleeting, and there may be no chance of going back to that point of the conversation.
How can we teachers help students handle this particular challenge? One suggestion is to periodically choose an example of reduplication from The Phrase Finder and create a picture-based example. Post it and ask students to discern the meaning. Model (using Microsoft Clip Art):
Harold was very busy when I called him at work. He had no time to chitchat.
Make a point of reviewing the words you’ve presented. Challenge students to create new examples with photos of their choice. Share these new examples on a classroom wall or online.
To give your students a headstart, please consider using my Yada yada yada_handout. I’ve selected ten common examples of reduplication and formatted them into a short and hopefully memorable activity. Enjoy!