Learning vocabulary can sometimes become a tricky thing, one that can make even a devoted learner step back and reconsider his or her own strengths and capabilities. Teaching vocabulary, however, can be even more complicated because the tutor always needs to strike a balance between the useful but dull information and maintaining the student’s interest. While grammar and sentence structure are immensely important, it is the word that carries the basic meaning, and the ability to hear, comprehend and reproduce the new words will have a great impact on further understanding and learning of the language.
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There are many ways of teaching the vocabulary, but most of them are variations of the same archetypical examples that most teachers use in their practice in one way or another. In fact, it would be best to try as many approaches as possible, because students actually need to be exposed to a new word in many ways, in order to grasp its meaning and understand where and how to use it. The key points in understanding and remembering the word are listening and pronunciation, which is closely related to phonology and phonetics.
When a tutor teaches a student how to pronounce a new word, he or she has to deal with the great influence of a student’s mother tongue. Suzanne Irujo (n.d.), and author of the article on teachin g reading to English learners, notes that being literate in one’s first language can become an advantage in learning English; moreover, when the students are already familiar with phonetics and are literate in their native language, will be able to transfer these skills to other language studies (par. 1-40).
The next step in learning new vocabulary is to learn the definition of the word. At first, the best practice would be to introduce only the basic meanings of the word, limited by two or three most common meanings, if such exist. The context, in this case, should be very helpful as it allows the students to try and guess the meaning of the word on their own, in fact, it is a well-known technique for translator training. An experienced translator might able to guess about 10% words from context, but such exercise may be useful for any level of studies.
A lucky guess may stir up the student’s interest and encourage another try. The use of synonyms and antonyms, for example, while playing, can give better results for material revision and redundancy. In fact, games and gaming methods during the lessons today has gained popularity even among the teachers of adult groups. The editor of Simulation & Gaming Journal, David Crookall (2007) reports on the topic:
Nowadays, the use of simulation/gaming methods in language acquisition is wide-spread and encouraged. Thousands of teaching books at all levels now include various forms of role-playing, games, simulations, and other exercises. … [it] has become a hallmark of quality and creativity and is seen as a “guarantee” that learners would become involved, and perhaps even learn. (7)
The next large part of the learning strategy can be combined in a group with a code name “Demonstration.” It includes showing or drawing illustrations for a new word, acting it out with students, when such activity is possible, creating tables, systems, and scales, using words in sentences that are able to illustrate their meaning, and other activities aimed at creating a distinguished picture in one’s mind’s eye, as well as helping to remember the usage variation and working with context.
At this phase of training, it might also be useful to dissect the words into parts to single out the meaning of each part. Such activity is sometimes called “root analysis” and can be very useful for later individual work. Pupils are known to respond well to such activity because it allows them to look inside the word structure, find simple elements inside, learn their meanings, and a guess a combined meaning of a word, based on this knowledge.
When everything is said and done about the pronunciation, meaning, and illustration of a new word, a time comes for a new experience – using the learned word in practice. This section will also combine various activities, such as reading and writing, both solo and with some kind of context. The shift from using a single word to usage within an expression can be subtle enough for students that they would not be confused with meaning variations, however, learning word combinations and set phrases can further expand their vocabulary without much effort.
Later this activity will naturally proceed into learning the words in context and using sentences for illustration. At this stage, depending on the learning abilities of the student or the group, a few idioms can be introduced for spiking their interest and understanding of the meaning cluster.
To revise the material, homework exercises might be advisable in cases when the student’s individual work permits them. It might also be very important to remember that actually, students should have a voice in the selection of the appropriate vocabulary to learn. This can be a perfect way to emphasize the mutual respect between the teacher and the student, as well as maintain the latter’s interest and encourage him or her in studies. While it might be difficult to decide which is better, a special lesson devoted completely to new vocabulary or short but numerous introductions to vocabulary, for example, during each lesson, it should be noted that such issues are highly individual, and every teacher makes his or her own decision about the course of studies.
|LEARNING THE VOCABULARY|
|Listening||Basic Meanings||Illustrations||Reading and Writing|
|Guessing From Context||Acting||Use in Expressions|
|Pronunciation||Synonyms/Antonyms||Root Analysis||Use in Context|
To draw a conclusion, it might be fair to extrapolate the previous statement to the work of the teacher as a whole. Of course, the methods and techniques among tutors may vary significantly, and their curriculum always depends on the level of students, their learning abilities, their age, and a great deal of other factors, which probably every teacher of English as a second language is familiar with. However, one thing remains unchanging for every lesson, every study, and every piece of knowledge that has ever been passed from one person to another: it is the interest.
The most important thing for the tutor is to keep the students motivated and interested, for without sufficient motivation, teaching becomes nearly impossible, and it may do harm to the teacher as well as the student. It might be appropriate to end this article with a quotation from Noam Chomsky (1988), who stated this in his lectures:
As any good teacher knows, the methods of instruction and the range of material covered are matters of small importance as compared with the success in arousing the natural curiosity of the students and stimulating their interest in exploring on their own. What the student learns passively will quickly be forgotten. What students discover for themselves when their natural curiosity and creative impulses are aroused not only will be remembered but will be the basis for further exploration and inquiry and perhaps significant contributions. (p. 135).
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Chomsky, N. (1988). Language and Problems of Knowledge: The Managua Lectures. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Crookal, D. (2007). Editorial. Second language acquisition and simulation. Simulation and Gaming, 38(1), 6-8. Web.
Irujo, S. (n.d.). What Does Research Tell Us About Teaching Reading to English Language Learners? Web.