Welcome to No Word Is An Island Advanced English, the podcast for inquisitive and ambitious students of English who want to be more fluent and articulate.
First of all, I want to thank those of you who got in touch with me after last week’s episode. Seeing all of your feedback has been really inspiring. Your words of appreciation have spurred me on to create today’s episode. If you are spurred on to do something, you have been given an incentive or encouragement to do something. This verb is figurative or metaphorical. A spur is a metal wheel with sharp points that attaches to the heel of a horse rider’s boots. When they press the spurs against the horse’s flanks it encourages the horse to go faster. Likewise, if you are spurred on to do something, you are given encouragement to do something or something makes you want to take action.
Here are some examples from the Longman online dictionary, which, by the way, is my favourite online English dictionary. (You’ll find the link in the show notes.) One of the reasons you should use this dictionary is that it gives very clear definitions and you can look up chunks, that is entire phrases, and not just isolated words.
So, here are some further examples from Longman of how “spur on” is used.
The band were spurred on by the success of their last two singles.
Her coach spurred her on to Olympic success.
His misfortunes spurred him to write.
It was an article in the local newspaper which finally spurred him into action.
Notice that we can simply be spurred to do something, that is, without the preposition “on”, as in “His misfortunes spurred him to write.” and we can talk about being “spurred into action” as in “It was an article in the local newspaper which finally spurred him into action.”
It’s funny, it occurred to me as I was thinking of the literal meaning of spur, that it’s basically a tool that, by causing slight discomfort, allows us to move forward. So, while I mentioned that your positive feedback has spurred me on to keep creating new podcast episodes, the truth is that something else is spurring me on too, namely my fear of not having enough episodes ready. And I want you to think about this in the context of your learning.
I often see students who sign up for English lessons because they’re spurred on by worry or fear. They might need to prove their ability in English by passing an exam. That person might be you. Contrary to popular belief, fear isn’t all bad. If fear spurs you on to take up a new challenge, like passing an exam like IELTS, Proficiency or the GRE, well that fear may stand you in good stead, at least at first. But, any long term goal requires that you maintain your motivation over time. And to achieve this you need to move beyond fear as a motivator and acknowledge your own hard work as you develop a consistent learning practice.
Each episode of this podcast has a corresponding transcript and Quizlet flashcard set for self-study. Set yourself a goal and stick to it. I recommend spending five minutes a day reviewing the Quizlet flashcards to start. Start out with a modest goal. Then set a reminder in your phone’s calendar at a time every day when you’re able to study without distractions. Print up a calendar and hang it up on your fridge or in your office. Give yourself a sticker for every day that you stick to your new habit. Soon enough that feeling of progress you get when you see that you’ve committed the week’s vocabulary to memory will start spurring you on to study even more. Keep going and build your momentum.
In the reading I’ve done over the years about motivation I’ve come across the idea that milestones are helpful. A milestone is a very important event in the development of something. This is another example of figurative language. The original, literal meaning of milestone, is a stone next to a road that shows the distance in miles to the next town. In a person’s life we often refer to graduating from university, getting married or finding a job as milestones. They mark an important turning point in your life.
But as we all know, these major milestones are relatively few and far between. In other words, if we return to the idea of our life as a road, there are long periods when it seems as if there are no milestones to speak of. James Clear, in his book Atomic Habits, talks about how we can use human psychology to take advantage of our perception of time to create milestones.
For instance, we’re all familiar with the phenomenon of new year’s resolutions. The new year seems to encourage people to do a bit of soul-searching and decide whether they’ve been living in accordance with their values and goals. Likewise, Brendon Burchard, author of High Performance Habits, recommends setting aside Sunday evenings to plan out the week ahead. Now, the reason I’ve raised this issue of milestones is that we’re now partway through Advent, which is the period in the Christian calendar leading up to Christmas. If you ask people in many Western countries what they associate with Advent they might mention Advent calendars, which often contain little boxes that you open up one by one, day by day, to find a small chocolate inside. In fact, I think for many people that’s their only association with it.
I mention Advent for two reasons, one linguistic and the other more philosophical. Let’s start with the former. The word comes from the Latin “adventus”, meaning arrival. It shares the same root with the word adventure. In the Christian context it refers to the period of four Sundays leading up to Christmas, that is the day of the birth or arrival of Christ. But it is also used more generally to refer to the time when something first begins.
Here are the top ten nouns that collocate, that is, that follow the pattern “the advent of _______”, according to the Corpus of Contemporary American English: agriculture, television, democracy, war, AIDS, radio, Islam, quantum mechanics, Christianity and computers. Notice how these nouns are all abstract. They refer either to social phenomena, as in agriculture, democracy, war, Islam and Christianity or to technologies, as in television, radio, quantum mechanics and computers.
Here are some examples in context:
Many more people died of infections before the advent of penicillin.
With the advent of the Internet, the right to free speech has become a reality.
“The advent of” is often followed by the verb “bring about” – which means “cause”, as in the following example.
The advent of jet aircraft brought about many changes.
Thus, we can use this example to create a handy sentence frame useful for essays:
“The advent of X [name of technology] has brought about / brought about many changes.”
Another common, if rather formal pattern is “herald the advent of something”, meaning “mark the beginning of”, as in the following example:
Just months before, Philip Johnson and Henry-Russell Hitchcock’s exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art had heralded the advent of the new International Style.
In other words, this exhibition was the beginning of this new style.
I can’t emphasise enough the utility of the chunk “the advent of” and its different collocations, such as “The advent of X has brought about many changes.” and “X heralded/marked the advent of Y”. The vast majority of you will have to discuss or write about social phenomena and technology and this chunk will come in handy for such contexts.
As I mentioned earlier, the word advent, in its religious sense, is also interesting, regardless of your own beliefs. This time of year, with its cold weather and short days and long nights, at least in the northern hemisphere, can be challenging. So the idea of this being a time of reflection and anticipation of something new is one that I find inspiring. In fact, I’m pretty sure that those of us who aren’t religious underestimate the value of having key milestones throughout the year to take stock of our lives and make adjustments.
This is the point where I get a bit carried away by my own ideas, but bear with me, we are almost at the end. I believe that the advent of podcasting has brought about profound social changes to the way we seek out knowledge and entertainment. I’m excited to be part of this and hope that this episode has spurred you on to think more deeply about your goals for the coming year.
Don’t forget to check out the interactive transcript and vocabulary flashcards for this episode that you can find at BetterLanguageLearning.com/podcast.
I want to hear from you, so please get in touch at email@example.com and tell me about your challenges, questions, dreams. Any feedback you have is greatly appreciated.
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