Good to Great English Newsletter and Podcast
Good to Great English Newsletter and Podcast
Good to Great English, vol. 2

Good to Great English, vol. 2

Hello there,

I was flabbergasted* to hear about the Genius Dog Challenge led by researchers at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary. Their focus is to understand basic language-related concepts in family dogs and miniature pigs.

Genius dogs

We know that dogs learn commands such as sit, stay, down, shake, get… and even nouns like leash (to prompt going outside) and Vet (when your dog’s behavior swiftly changes), but the Genius Dog Challenge focuses on vocabulary learning. Most “gifted” dogs in this international challenge know between 100 and 200 words in addition to commands.

Yet, they haven’t gone to training school. Instead, they’ve learned through play and other interactive exchanges with their human. Incidentally, this is why we encourage you to leave comments and engage in discussions. The more you engage, the more you practice without realizing it and the better you’ll be at remembering your English!

On a personal note, I love these dogs’ sharp eyes and the way they seek out an interactive relationship with their owner.

How did the Genius Dog Challenge work?

Owners received toys and their dogs had 6 days to learn the names of up to 12 items. By the end of the week, the dogs had learned new item names and could 1) listen to instructions, 2) go fetch the right toy in separate room and 3) bring it back to the owner, out-of-sight and unable to help out or give hints to their dog.

The YouTube finals between Gaia and Max, two Border Collies, raises a variety of interesting points on dog training, vocabulary, language learning, and the warmth and potential of human-canine relationships. It’s good, wholesome fun.

I tried to understand how the dogs vary their approach: some scan the toy area, or sniff around, while others dive in “for the kill”. In this multimodal approach, dogs use several senses like sight, smell and touch to find an item. Not surprisingly, dogs rely more on smell in the dark.

Sorting information is essential. How do you approach a text in English or a foreign language? Do you scan it quickly, finding names and numbers first? Can you skim it for general information or do you focus on the words you do not know and find it hard to get ahead? Are you methodical, reading one line at a time?

Challenges for the researchers

Toys: between the six of them, these clever pooches had hundreds of toys. The researchers had to find unique new toys to make sure all doggie participants had an equal start.

Toy names: the researchers came up with fresh toy names - these had to be short and not too close to words that dogs might already know.

Toy names issues: Some dogs already knew a word but associated it with a different item. For example, one family had to rename a plastic newspaper toy because their dog had already learned the command “Newspaper” with the real thing.

Something similar happened to my cat, Georges, and my neighbor, Georges. Georges the cat was very responsive when the neighbor came for supper.

I am sure we can find similarities in our own language-learning experiences.

bear - bore - borne/born (verb)

Last week we spoke some about the verb to bear found in “The facts bear me out,” meaning “The facts support me.

(to be) born

Have you ever seen the well-known movie with Tom Cruise called Born on the 4th of July, or told someone where you were born? The final -e of borne drops out in the passive form and becomes:

  • I was born in February

  • He was born with a green thumb

bear - bore - borne

Think of a future mother carrying her unborn child in her womb. This does give clues as to why to bear has so many shades of meanings such as: to carry, to endure/suffer, to be responsible for, to have, to support, to transport, to be visible, to produce

Importantly, to bear conveys meaning both literally and/or metaphorically.

  • They came bearing gifts (They came and carried/brought gifts)

  • The cost is borne by the employer (The employer pays)

  • Our plans bore fruit (were successful)

  • The doctor was the bearer of good news - dad’s cancer was in remission. (The doctor was a giver of good news)

  • The old stone bears a mysterious inscription. (Old writing is visible on an old stone)

  • The boxer’s eyes bore a look of defeat. He soon gave up. (The boxer’s expression showed he was losing)

  • High-risk accounts often bear a higher interest rate. (have/produce higher interest rates)

  • The current situation bears a resemblance to past events (be/produce something similar)

  • Both sides bear responsibility for what happened (both sides carry responsibility)

  • For years, journalists have borne witness to the events shaping the world (keep records as evidence; leave a testimonial of)

  • The predictions are borne out by the data (The data supports the predictions)

The above examples are more common in written English or in settings that value using a richer language.

However, to bear is very common in informal language when it means to endure, to tolerate:

  • I can’t bear the heat! I can’t bear the noise! (It’s too hot/noisy for me)

  • I can’t bear the sight of animal cruelty and suffering. How can you bear watching this movie? (It’s too painful to see animal suffering, how can you sit through a movie about it?)

  • They can’t bear to listen to the president (They can no longer listen to the president, it’s too awful)

  • He can hardly bear to speak to his ex-wife. They are engaged in a tough custody battle. (They don’t like speaking to each other as they are in court over their children)

  • Don’t sit in this old chair, it won’t bear the weight! (the chair will break if you sit on it)

The visual thesaurus provides visuals to help you tame (domesticate) this word’s wide range of meanings.** Next week, I’ll discuss common phrasal verbs using bear and the American Constitution’s use of to bear arms and its consequences on gun ownership in the United States.

Recipe: bagel pizza

The most difficult part of this recipe is to know that January 15th is National Bagel Day… or, depending on where you live, getting your hands on some bagels! Salmon, cream cheese, avocado, or ham and cheese are popular bagel sandwich fillings.

You might even want to turn bagels into mini-pizzas and choose your toppings. The first step is crucial: make sure the bagel hole isn’t TOO big, choose the chubbier ones! Then, add your tomato sauce, meat and/ vegetables, sprinkle or slice up some cheese and finish up with herbs and spices. In the oven. Pita bread works as well but it is a different experience.

Book Club starts on January 21st

We are reading Brené Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection. Join us!


*flabbergasted: to be very surprised

Finals, Genius Dog Challenge, race start

Gaia the dog:

Max the dog:

**bear - bore - borne in the Visual Thesaurus:

English Book Club: or email:

Bonus: Dogs searching for an item:

Good to Great English Newsletter and Podcast
Good to Great English Newsletter and Podcast
Weekly reading and listening worth your time to step up your English skills.
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Maude Vuille