Teaching vocabulary It is common knowledge that learning


It is common knowledge that learning grammar can be a complex process. However, learning vocabulary is not as simple as many assume it to be. And retaining it for a lifetime is not simple at all. One model for learning new vocabulary consists of five stages. Having sources for encountering new words, receiving a visual and auditory image of the word, learning meaning, making memory connections to strengthen recollection and finally, using the words.

In many instances, the teacher is given mandatory books and lesson materials to use as resources. Since the final stage of using the words is the result of the middle three stages, those are precisely the stages the teacher should focus on.

The author recommends synonym usage to assist in the learning of new vocabulary. So a thesaurus, as well as a dictionary may be useful for pre-intermediate and higher levels. He suggests introducing new vocabulary of five to fifteen words in a brief time span, and then revisiting them in the proceeding days and weeks. The traditional method of 'dumping' a large amount of new vocabulary at one time and discussing meanings over the course of a full class period or more is discouraged.

This author has written in detail on a number of activities for learning, but one in particular caught my attention and I will use it in future classes. He calls it 'intersections' and it is similar to the crossword puzzle concept. However, it is simply a number of synonyms which intersect with the target word at the spot where they share a common letter (some words aren't actually synonyms but their meanings overlap with the target word). This visual representation is excellent for recollection of spelling and meaning.

The issue of dictionary use within the classroom has been debated. A bilingual dictionary may harm the student by leading him or her to an incorrect equivalent in the native language. Some teachers forbid use of the bilingual, but allow the monolingual dictionary. More advanced students could work through multiple translations in the monolingual through processes of elimination and common sense, but less advanced may not be capable of doing so.

Familiarity with dictionary usage would expose students to symbol interpretation and understanding of abbreviations, phonemic transcriptions and stress marks. The learner benefits from the monolingual in that every time he or she looks up a word, further reading practice in English is obtained. Lastly, the student gains more independence in their language learning, especially if this dictionary is further used outside the classroom.

A secondary aspect in the science of vocabulary study is the issue of idioms. I believe at a minimum, intermediate or advanced learners should at least be made aware of the more commonly used idiomatic expressions. The question to be asked is, how to present the myriad of idioms in a systematic way should you teach them in depth. The Macmillan Dictionary lists more than forty idiomatic expressions containing the word 'head'. Another issue is whether to compare idioms in the target language with the equivalent in the native language. Of course the TEFL doctrine precludes any introduction of native language use in the classroom. Idiomatic comprehension by the student may however necessitate an exception to this doctrine.

Study of grammar is considered to be an art; vocabulary study should be considered likewise.