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  1. 1. System of languages: teaching vocabularySystem of languages: teaching vocabularyDannae Del Campo MéndezGabriela Quezada CabezasUniversidad Católica de la Santísima Concepción (UCSC)
  2. 2. System of languages: teaching vocabularyIn the past teaching and learning a foreign language was primarily concentrate oncontrolling grammar while vocabulary was viewed primarily as an auxiliary activity oftentaught through the memorization of word lists. Nowadays, the vocabulary system is takenas an essential matter at the moment of teaching a second language in a classroom which ispresent in all the skills of the language (reading, writing, speaking and listening). One ofthe reasons is that students need to develop their knowledge in the context of secondlanguage learning. In the following paragraphs it will be discuss, according to Nation(2001), Hedge (2000) and Sökmen (1997) some strategies, factors affecting vocabularyacquisition and useful exercises among others.According to Oxford dictionary (1995) vocabulary is defined as the body of wordsused in a particular language and there are several characteristics to measure wordknowledge. Nation (2001) argued that on the process of knowing a word there are two mainaspects to distinct a specific word. The first main aspect is called receptive distinctionwhich receives language input from others through listening and reading and tries tocomprehend it. From the point of view of receptive, knowing a word involves to being ableto recognize the word when it is heard, being familiar with its written form so that it isrecognised when it is met in reading, knowing what the word means in the particularcontext in which it has just occurred, knowing the concept behind the word which willallow understanding in a variety of contexts, among others. The second main aspect it iscalled productive distinction which involves wanting to express a meaning throughspeaking or writing and retrieving and producing the appropriate spoken or written wordform. From the point of view of productive knowledge and use, knowing a word involvesto being able to say it with correct pronunciation including stress, to write it with correct
  3. 3. System of languages: teaching vocabularyspelling, to construct it using the right word parts in their appropriate forms, to produce theword to express the meaning, among others.Moreover, Nation (2001) mentioned two ways which vocabulary can be learned.The first way is to learn vocabulary through oral skills which involves listening andspeaking. In listening learners can pick up new vocabulary as teachers read to them and inspeaking learners are suggest to memorise as well as vocabulary knowledge a large numberof clauses and phrases. The second way is to learn vocabulary through written skills whichinvolves reading and writing. In reading students can learn new vocabulary by guessingwords from context and in writing teachers ask for words to be marked so it can be used toencourage vocabulary development.For these two ways of learning new vocabulary, Hedge (2000) mentioned somestrategies which can be apply at the moment of developing a class. These strategies aredivided into cognitive and metacognitive strategies. Cognitive strategies are direct mentaloperations which are concerned with working on new words in order to understand,categorize and store them, some examples are making associations, learning words ingroups and exploring range of meaning. On the other hand, metacognitive strategies are notmental operations and they facilitate learning by actively involving the learner in consciousefforts to remember new words, some examples are consciously collecting words fromauthentic context, making word cards, categorizing words into lists and reactivatingvocabulary in internal dialogue. Nevertheless, Hedge (2000) not only mentioned strategiesbut also factors which can affect vocabulary acquisition, some factors are to do with input,in other words, the way in which vocabulary presents itself to learners and other factors areto do with storage which is how learners store vocabulary and they are able to retrieve itwhen it is needed. Hedge (2000) mentioned three features of input, the first one is
  4. 4. System of languages: teaching vocabularyfrequency which means that the most frequent words in English will be those most useful tolearners. Consequently learners will only know the words which are repeated more thanseven times but they will not know half of the words that appear once or twice in theircourse book. The second feature mentioned is pronunciation which means that learnersneed to practice the stress and pronunciation of the words in all stages of the process oflearning and not only in the initial one, so the process is continued. The third and lastfeature is called contextualization which means that the words presented to learners aremostly isolated so there is no context for a cognitive hold and words are forgotten quickly.According to Hedge (2000) the storage factors are two, storing and emotional response. Instoring there is growing evidence that teachers should use techniques for vocabularylearning to encourage students to work on activities based on the sound and visual image ofa word so they can retain the word permanently. And in the second factor called emotionalresponse it is true that it affects learners’ retention, as it is demonstrated, for instance, in thecase of taboo words which are seem to stick easier to learners’ memory.Moreover, Nation (2001) suggested useful activities according to meaning, formand use. Meaning is the mental image and comprehension which is generated by grammaror vocabulary. When vocabulary is the focus of the lesson, students connect the form of theword with the meaning; some examples of activities are classifying words, findingopposites, making word maps and finding substitutes. In the case of form which refers tothe mechanics of the language, students must understand the pronunciation of a word. If itis in a written text then students have to know how to spell the word; some examples ofactivities are pronounce the words, read aloud, finding spelling rules and filling word partstables. In the case of the use which it is how vocabulary is used in the real context; someexamples are matching sentences halves, finding collocates and classifying constraints.
  5. 5. System of languages: teaching vocabularyOther important points mentioned by Nation (2001) are a set of principles at themoment of teaching vocabulary. These principles should have a major influence on contentand sequencing (what vocabulary is focused on and how it is divided into stages) which isusing frequency and range of occurrence as ways of deciding what vocabulary to learn andthe order in which students are going to learn it, also is giving adequate training in essentialvocabulary learning strategies and attention to each vocabulary item according to thelearning burden of that item and at last providing opportunities to learn the various aspectsof what it is involved in knowing a word. It also should have influence on format andpresentation (how the vocabulary is taught and learned) which is making sure that high-frequency target vocabulary occurs in all the four strands of meaning (focused input,language-focused learning, meaning-focused output and fluency development), providingopportunity for spaced, repeated, generative, retrieval of words to ensure cumulativegrowth and using depth-of-processing activities. At last it is also important to focus onmonitoring and assessment (how learning is measured) which is testing learners to see whatvocabulary they need to focus on, using monitoring and assessment to keep learnersmotivated and encouraging and help learners to reflect on their learning.According to Nation (2001) and as it was mentioned before if a well-designedcourse is wanted it is necessary to have present the four strands of meaning. The first strandis called meaning-focused input which means that learners should have the opportunity tolearn new language items though listening and reading activities where the main focus isthe information of what they are listening or reading, this cannot occur if there are lots ofunknown words. It also has as a requirement to have skills at guessing from context, someexamples of activities and techniques of this strand are listening to stories, communication
  6. 6. System of languages: teaching vocabularyactivities and reading graded readings. The second strand is called language-focusedlearning or sometimes called form-focused instruction which means that a course shouldinvolved a direct teaching of vocabulary and at the same time a direct learning and study ofvocabulary. This strand is focus on language items and some requirements to develop thisstrand is to have skills in vocabulary learning strategies, to have appropriate teacher focuson high-frequency words and strategies for low-frequency words, some examples ofactivities and techniques of this strand are the direct teaching of vocabulary, direct learning,intensive reading and training in vocabulary strategies. The third strand is called meaning-focused output in which learners should have the opportunity to develop their knowledge ofthe language through speaking and writing activities where the main attention is focused onthe message or the information they are trying to convey, as the first strand, this cannotoccur if there are lots of unknown words. Another requirement is the encouragement to useunfamiliar items and supportive input, some examples of activities and techniques arecommunication activities with written input and prepared writing. The last strand is calledfluency development which is where learners do not work with new language; instead, theydevelop their fluency with items they already know. The requirements for this strand are toknow the items and to repeat, some examples of activities and techniques are reading easygraded readers, repeated reading, speed reading, listening to easy input, rehearsed tasks and10 minute writing. Moreover, Nation (2001) explained that in a language course it isimportant to spend the same amount of time in each strand.In addition to this, Laufer, Meara & Nation (2005) explained ten ideas for teachingvocabulary. The first is to do not rely too much on uninstructed acquisition which is pickingup words from context, the second is to create your own lexical syllabus which means tocreate your own summary on your teaching materials, frequency lists and learner specific
  7. 7. System of languages: teaching vocabularyneeds. The third idea is to do not count on guessing strategies to replace vocabularyknowledge which is to understand the surrounding words of the unknown item that includethe clues. The fourth is to increase learners’ vocabulary, when class is limited a good idea isto encourage students to create their own notebooks or computer files as a strategy forincreasing their vocabulary. The fifth idea is to recycle words that have been introducedearlier in the course so students do not forget the words that are not repeatedly used bydestine several minutes per class to review “vocabulary oldies”, the sixth is to give frequentvocabulary tests so students have an intentional process of memorisation using, forinstance, cards with the meaning in one side and the word on the other side. The seventh isto draw learners’ attention to “synforms” (word pairs or group of words with similar sound,script or morphology which learners tend to confuse), a useful advice is to not teach severalnew synforms together; instead, teachers have to help students to practice them. The eighthidea is to pay attention to interlingual semantic differences because an L1 word may havemany alternatives in English and an English word may have many translations in the L1which can lead to lexical errors. The ninth is to do not ban the L1 translation of words, onthe contrary, use translation with words that have an exact or close equivalent word in L1.At last the tenth idea is to practice the use of collocations that differ from the learners’ L1because even advanced learners make mistakes in the use of collocations that differ fromL1.At last and according to Sökmen (1997), there are three main current trends in teachingsecond language vocabulary. The first current trend is inferring from context and Sökmen(1997) argued that acquiring vocabulary through guessing words in context is likely to be avery slow process; moreover students that have a low-level of proficiency in the targetlanguage are often frustrated with this approach. The second trend is explicit teaching and
  8. 8. System of languages: teaching vocabularythere are several strategies that can be used in the classroom, one of them is called build alarge sight vocabulary and it consist on teaching the 2000 most frequent words in English.The other one is called integration of the new words with the old and it occurs whenstudents are asked to draw on their background knowledge, their schema, they connect thenew word, with already knew words, the link is created and they learn the word. And thelast one is called promote a deep level of processing so better learning will take place whena deeper level of semantic processing is required because the words are encoded withelaboration. Finally, the last current trend is an encouraging independent strategy which isto help students to find a way of learning by themselves how to continue to acquire newvocabulary.To sum up, in terms of teaching vocabulary one of the pioneers of the topic isNation (2001) which explained distinctions which help students to know a word, howvocabulary can be learn, strategies for vocabulary learning, factors which affect thelearning of a new vocabulary, among others. Moreover, Hedge (2000) also explained somestrategies to develop vocabulary teaching and also factors which affect the process ofvocabulary acquisition. At last Sökmen (1997) argued that are three current trends that areused by teachers at the moment of teaching vocabulary. It is important for future teachers tohave the knowledge of how developing a complete vocabulary class which involves all thetopics mentioned in this paper.
  9. 9. System of languages: teaching vocabularyReferencesLaufer., Meara & Nation (2005) Ten best ideas for teaching vocabulary, Thelanguage teacher, 29, 3-4.Hedge, T. (2000) Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom. China:Oxford University Press.Nation, P. (2001) Learning Vocabulary in Another Language. United Kingdom:Cambridge University Press.Sökmen, A. (1997) Vocabulary Description, Acquisition and Pedagogy. UnitedKingdom: Cambridge University Press.
  10. 10. System of languages: teaching vocabularyReferencesLaufer., Meara & Nation (2005) Ten best ideas for teaching vocabulary, Thelanguage teacher, 29, 3-4.Hedge, T. (2000) Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom. China:Oxford University Press.Nation, P. (2001) Learning Vocabulary in Another Language. United Kingdom:Cambridge University Press.Sökmen, A. (1997) Vocabulary Description, Acquisition and Pedagogy. UnitedKingdom: Cambridge University Press.