Teaching vocabulary


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Teaching vocabulary

  1. 1. Teaching VocabularyBased on M. Lewis, S. Moras & P. NationStudents: Ana LunaGary TorresTeacher: Roxanna Correa
  2. 2. Vocabulary is one of the most vital features in a language, either spoken orwritten, as it is what a language is composed of. When teaching English, it is importantto take into account that vocabulary is what compounds a language, consequently, ifstudents efficiently learn a considerable amount of words, the acquisition of the newlanguage will become effective. However, when teaching English vocabulary we cannotice that only a few words are the ones which learners remember and use correctly.This limitation occurs when incidental learning happens, either from listening orreading. It is easier to find large amounts of vocabulary learning on independentlistening and reading that it is to find these amounts on teaching. Nowadays studentslearn English from many other sources apart from the teacher itself, from music andmovies for instance. This becomes a huge part of learning, leaving a small amount ofinformation about a word at a time for being taught. In this essay we will go deep onhow to teach English vocabulary, having on mind that the more complex the newinformation is, the more likely the students are to misinterpret it. We will explaininformation based on three important researchers, Michael Lewis, Solange Moras andPaul Nation, which provide meaningful and real activities for implementing in class andalso suggestions for efficiently teach vocabulary.Firstly, Michael Lewis is considered as an important contributor to Englishteaching, not only because he highlighted the importance of vocabulary as an essentialelement for communication, but also because of his controversial and thought-provoking ideas presented in his work. For instance, his Lexical Approach is one of hismost important contributions to language teaching and learning. Here, Lewis (1994)gives importance to the term meaning in vocabulary, which is important because ifstudents do not know the meaning of words they are learning, they are not going to beable to participate in real conversations, or even in class. In order to make thisparticipation improve, fluency becomes significant. On one hand he suggests thatvocabulary is not precisely stored only as individual words, but also as phrases andlarger chunks, which can be retrieved from memory as a whole, reducing in this way thedifficulties at the moment of processing. On the other hand, he states that learners whotend to learn individual words are going to need more effort and time to memorize theword, understand its usage and finally using it to express themselves. That is whyidentifying chunks and master their collocational range is very important and teachershould encourage students to organize and record these, and at least in the beginning,
  3. 3. help them with a lot of guidance. Moreover, in this approach, grammar joins vocabularyin terms of importance at the moment of teaching. Grammar should be totally presentwhen teaching vocabulary, either inductively or deductively. Otherwise the new wordsturn useless with time, which happens to most of EFL students nowadays. Moras (2001)mentions that learners can communicate well and make themselves clear, they recognizeitems and their meaning, they learn the basic structure of the new language and theymight have a wide range of vocabulary, nevertheless, their productive use of that widerange of vocabulary is commonly limited. The material used for these kinds of lessonsshould be real since the beginning of the lesson. Learners need to be engaged to whatthey are going to learn as they also expect attractive, meaningful, authentic and didacticmaterial to get involved in the class.Secondly, the way students acquire a language, word by word has a lot to dowith how our memory and storage system works. According to Moras (2001) it seemsthat everything we learn goes through our short-term memory first and when we startusing what we learn we transfer it to our long-term memory. In this case, vocabularyshould be taught by creating mental linkages (assimilation and accommodation),applying images and sounds (imagery, semantic mapping, using keywords, representingsounds in memory), reviewing in a structured way, using physical response or sensation(mechanical techniques). Noticing that students forget the words they have learnt seemsto be an inevitable process, unless teachers regularly encourage students to use theseitems they have learnt. Consequently, recycling is essential, and it should constantlyhappen one or two days after the initial input. We can use this information to facilitatethe learning process in students, by grouping items of vocabulary in semantic fields,such as topics.Thirdly and as mentioned before, meaning is one of the most important featuresof vocabulary, even though, it I not the only one. On one hand, Lewis (1994) and Moras(2001) mention the use of dictionaries as a way to discover meaning and foster learnerindependence. In addition to this, he suggests activities such as guided discovery, whichimplies the teacher asking questions or offering examples that guide students to guessmeanings correctly; and the contextual guesswork, which means that students guess theword by providing them the context in which the it appears. On the other hand, Nation(1974) provides activities such as word and meaning matching, labeling, sentencecompletion or crossword puzzles. Besides, teachers might focus on form and use in their
  4. 4. lessons. For focusing on form Nation states that following spelling rules, recognizingword parts or building word family tables are good options. For focusing on use,although, he suggests sentence completion, collocation matching or collocation tables.Whatever the activity is, it must be focused on useful words which learners are going touse in the future, and avoid interference by not relating unknown or partly known wordstogether.Fourthly, According to Paul Nation (2007) there are 10 best ideas to teachvocabulary and they are not exactly a list of simple vocabulary teaching techniques.Nation believes there are much better ways of using valuable learning time.The first idea to teach vocabulary is to apply principles learning of teaching andlearning. Nation believes that principled planning of vocabulary learning is moreimportant than particular techniques. He suggest that a principle such as provideopportunities for cooperative interaction should be more valuable at the moment toteach than making vocabulary learning exercises (hidden words, match the word andmeaning). The principles can be applied in different ways according to thecircumstances in which the language courses is taught.Second idea, approach high and low frequency words differently. Teachers should dealwith high and low frequency words in quite different ways. Nation suggests that highfrequency words deserve a lot of attention from teachers because at the moment they areall know , teachers should train learners to use strategies for learning and dealing withlow frequency words.Third idea, use the four strands. According to Paul Nation a well-balanced vocabularycourse should have equal proportions of opportunities for learning in each of the fourstrands of meaning focused input where students learn vocabulary throughcommunicative listening and reading activities such as listening to stories, watching TVor films and shared reading, but learners do not produce anything. The second strand ismeaning focused output where students learn vocabulary through communicativespeaking and writing activities such as talking in conversations, writing a note keeping adiary. The third strand is language focused learning; learners give deliberate attention tolanguage features such as pronunciation, spelling, vocabulary, grammar and discourse.The last strand is fluency in the development in the four skills of listening, speaking,and reading and writing, here learners are helped to make the best use of what they
  5. 5. already know through typical activities such as speed reading, repeated reading,repeated retelling, ten minute writing and listening to easy stories.The fourth idea is to implement an extensive reading program. Learners should read aleast one book every two weeks and a major aim should be that students gain pleasurefrom the reading without interference from the teacher; moreover, an extensive listeningprogram would be a very useful idea.The fifth idea is to carefully design speaking and writing activities. The teacher shoulddesign speaking and writing activities. This involves written or spoken input in theactivities that each piece of input contains about L2 words that may be new to thelearners.The sixth idea, use a variety of activities aimed at fluency development. Nation prefersthat learners do not meet or use any new vocabulary; instead, they become more fluentat using what they already know.The seventh idea to teach vocabulary is to provide extended training and practice inguessing unknown vocabulary from context. The eventual goal is to become fluent atguessing. This is a strategy very useful for dealing with both high and low frequencywords. It can be approached in many ways, but it is best to use a bottom–up guessingstrategy that relies on language instead of background knowledge.The eighth idea is to train students to use words cards. According to Nation an excellentway to increase vocabulary in Students is train them in the strategy of learning wordsusing small cards with a foreign word or phrase in one side and the L1 translation on theother.The ninth idea is to teach the high frequency affixes of English. A good useful tool tohelp student to remember the meaning of the many Latinate words of English is getstudents to learn the most useful 15-20 English prefixes and suffixes.Finally, the last best idea to teach vocabulary is to encourage learner autonomy. Isimportant to encourage students to take responsibility for their own vocabulary learning,it means, if students know what vocabulary to learn and how to learn it they learningcan be much effective.
  6. 6. To summarize it is remarkable to say that vocabulary should be at the centre oflanguage teaching, mainly because language consists of grammaticalized lexis and notlexicalized grammar. In another words, vocabulary relies a lot on grammar, makingthese two elements essential to be taught together. We as future teachers must beconcerned about how students learn, how their minds work in order to acquire the newlanguage. As learners’ productive use of a wide range of vocabulary is limited,strategies for vocabulary teaching agree on the fact that teachers should turn student’sreceptive vocabulary items into productive ones, which means, encourage students tolearn and to use lexical items eventually. To reinforce this, teachers need to useauthentic material to expose the students to rich, contextualized, naturally-occurringlanguage. Learning vocabulary is fundamental for any student learning English as aforeign language. If learners want to do normal activities such as writing a story,talking in a conversation or comprehending written pieces of text, they need to knowvocabulary for each situation they face. There are many strategies to teach vocabularythat we have to keep on mind to make our students learn more effectively. In this essaywe provided just some choices from a wide variety of strategies for teachingvocabulary. As Paul Nation suggests, learners should read at least one book every twoweeks to improve their vocabulary and to comprehend more. Besides, students not onlyhave to learn new words, but also they have to repeat them a lot because when studentssee a word repeatedly they can acquire an idea of what it means faster that if they justsee a word once. We notice the importance of vocabulary at the moment of learninganother language because acquiring vocabulary implies the developing of speaking,writing, listening and writing skills. We cannot write or tell a story without knowingwords and their meaning, we cannot even comprehend a text. We acquire vocabularythrough meaningful activities and as explained before, learners have to noticecollocations and deal with meaning. Teachers need choose suitable tasks includinggroup work as a way of exchanging knowledge in class and making students use thelanguage in realistic context. It is important to remark that students’ production willdepend highly on motivation, and this is what teachers should constantly promote.
  7. 7. ReferencesLewis, M. (1994). The Lexical Approach. Hove, England: Language TeachingPublications, Volume 1, Number 2.Moras, S. (2001). Teaching Vocabulary to advanced students: A Lexical Approach. Saocarlos, Brazil.Nation, I.S.P. (2007) The four strands. Innovation in Language Learning and Teaching1, 1: 1-12.Nation, I.S.P. (1974) Techniques for teaching vocabulary. English Teaching Forum 12,3: 18-21.