Jun 24, 2012 Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) 2794 Views
Vocabulary is essential to convey meaning. A student can't convey all that much without grammar, but can't convey anything without the use of vocabulary. A tourist visiting an English speaking country will be able to effectively communicate a request for directions by merely saying to a person "train!" or 'station!" A tourist with limited vocabulary yet with a good command of language structures will have difficulty getting their message across by saying 'I'm looking for the........' and not finding the correct word.
A large proportion of vocabulary work is taught as part of either a reading or listening skills lesson. Students may encounter new vocabulary during the course of a skills lesson and you will need to select the vocabulary which is essential for understanding of the tasks set. Pre-teaching new vocabulary will usually ensure that activities and tasks go ahead with limited disruption and a clear understanding of what is required of the students. Having said this, it is important to note that vocabulary can be taught on its own and not just simply as an add-on to a skills lesson.
Presentation of Vocabulary
It is estimated that the average native English speaker uses around five thousand words in everyday speech. Keeping this in mind, it is important to remember your students won't need to produce every word they learn. Some of them, they will just need to recognize. (Productive vocabulary is that vocabulary that we tend to use on a daily basis. Receptive vocabulary is those words that we understand yet do not use ourselves). Selecting what to teach, based on frequency and usefulness to the needs of your particular students is therefore essential. Once you have chosen what to teach, the next important steps are to consider what students need to know about the items, and how you can teach them.
The meaning of words The meaning of words may be presented to your students in a number of ways. You may consider:
• Visual stimuli • Miming and gestures • Verbal means • Use of dictionaries • Peer Tutoring
Relationships between words Relationships between lexical items are extremely useful in assisting an initial understanding of the word and as a key to remembering and recording them. The meaning of words is often clearest when they are seen in relation to other words. A word may, for example, typically occur with other words (e.g. depend on). This is known as collocation.
Words often have an opposite (antonym) or a synonym (of similar meaning) which may provide clarity or meaning to a particular lexical item. For example, the word "terrible" may be explained to students as the opposite of "good" or as having a similar meaning to "bad." It is also important to consider whether these meanings are exact or whether they are loose. Looking at the previous example, it may be more correct to define the word "terrible" as "very bad."
Another relationship which you may consider is whether there are a set of words associated with which the particular lexical item might be presented (e.g. boiling, hot, warm etc.)? Furthermore, are there any other words which sound the same (homonyms) or are spelled the same that might cause some confusion?
When looking at individual lexical items, you may consider how these individual words interact with each other (grammar or syntax). This may prompt you to think about what part of speech the lexical item is that you wish to present to your students (present, past, future or continuous tense?) Is it possible that other parts of speech may be formed from it and do students know these (e.g. adding -ing to walk to form the continuous form -walking)? Is the item irregular in any way (e.g. in the past, plural)? Have you considered whether the item is a countable (apple + s - apples) or an uncountable (money - money) noun? Can a prefix or suffix be used with the lexical item (happy + un - unhappy or create + tion - creation)?
Spelling and Pronunciation of words
The spelling and pronunciation of individual words is important in terms of avoiding ambiguity and possible confusion in meaning. Incorrect spelling may often give the reader the impression that the writer is careless and lacks education. One should also consider the differences between American spelling and British spelling.
Research suggests that unless we use the information that is stored regularly, it will slowly disappear from our memory. You as a teacher therefore need to provide your students with the necessary tools to improve their retrieval ability. It can therefore be said, that by giving the students opportunities to revise vocabulary in the classroom they will be better able to remember. Students often write new vocabulary items in their exercise books or specially designated vocabulary note books. These lists are often not looked at again and prove to be a waste of time. It is therefore a good idea to help students record new vocabulary learned in such a manner as to allow easy recall. Learning a set or category is often easier for students to learn and remember than learning seemingly unrelated words in a list. Students could be encouraged to create word spiders (word maps) or tables where relationships between different words are visually presented in a diagrammatic format. Students could be left to decide for themselves where the new words fit on the plan.