Vocabulary Teaching: Effective MethodologiesNaveen Kumar Mehta
The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (New Delhi, India)
IntroductionVocabulary is the first and foremost important step in language acquisition. In a classroom where students are not finding themselves comfortable with L2, language learning can be made interactive and interesting with the introduction of appropriate vocabulary exercises. This paper is an attempt to study and explore the various methodologies that can be incorporated in the teaching of vocabulary items in a language classroom.
Patterns of Difficulty in Vocabulary
Robert Lado (1955) talked about patterns of difficulty in vocabulary
teaching. He highlighted key issues related to words, the native
language factor and about patterns. He even analyzed Spanish,
French and Mexican patterns of difficulty in their respective
vocabulary items. He stated that while dealing with vocabulary one
should take into account three important aspects of words - their form,
their meaning and their distribution - and one should consider various
kinds of classes of words in the function of the language. He said that
the forms, meaning distribution and classification of words are
different in different languages. He revealed that these differences
might lead to vocabulary problems.
Vocabulary and AnatomyVisnja Pavicic (2003) dealt with a way to improve students' abilities to explore, store and usage of vocabulary items. He determined the role of vocabulary teaching and how a teacher could help their learners. He laid emphasis on self initiated independent learning with strategies, in which formal practices, functional practices and memorizing could be included. He said that the teacher should create activities and tasks to help students to build their vocabulary and develop strategies to learn the vocabulary on their own.
Teaching Vocabulary in English Language: Effective MethodologiesIt is noteworthy to mention here that vocabulary items are imparted mostly by translation: either a list of words with their translation at the beginning of the lesson or the translation of the content having new words or glossaries at the very end. This is an erroneous practice as it leads to a state of confusion for the learners. On the teaching skills of vocabulary items, Frisby (1957) commented that "While the teacher is not, himself, concerned with the actual selection of vocabulary for text book purposes since practically all the books we use are based on limited vocabularies, it is important that he/she (the teacher) should know the principles, which underlie vocabulary selection". Thus it signifies that a language teacher should be innovative and proficient in the application of methodologies pertaining to teaching vocabulary items in a classroom situation. Following are the main methodologies for teaching vocabulary items in an English language classroom.
Caeful listening to the words may
be a good option in teaching vocabulary
items in a heterogenic classroom. "Let the students hear the word in
isolation and in a sentence. If the sounds of the word have been
mastered, the students will hear it correctly with two or three
repetitions." (Robert Lado: 121) Slow pronunciation without distortion
will help. Breaking the word into parts and building up to the whole
word will also be helpful.
Pronouncing the WordPronouncing the word enables the students to remember it longer and identify it more readily when they hear or see it.
Methods of Grasping the MeaningThe teacher should try to get the meaning to the class without using translation. This is not preferable on the ground that translation may or may not provide the meaning of the word accurately and precisely. It is advocated as it enables the class to go without grasping the meaning of a word that they have learned to pronounce rather than to depend upon the translation.
Key Strategies in Teaching VocabularySome of the key strategies to unfold the information and meaning of a new word to a class are as follows:
DefinitionsDefinitions in the target language may be very handy if they are expressed in terms that are better known or more easily guessed than the word that is defined. In this direction teachers and students can refer to authentic and reliable dictionaries.
Self-defining ContextThe context makes the situation clear, and this in turn illuminates the meaning of the new word. This practice saves time and develops an intensive reading habit and better understanding.
AntonymsWhen one member of a pair of opposites is understood, the meaning of the other can be easily comprehended. This helps the student to understand the different shades of meanings of a word.
SynonymsA synonym may be used to help the student to understand the different shades of meaning if the synonym is better known than the word being taught. Synonyms help to enrich a student's vocabulary bank and provide alternative words instantly.
DramatizationThis method can be practiced at ease. It can win the favour of the students as learners like dramatizations and can easily learn through them. Many situations can be dramatized or demonstrated.
- Sing [Sing a song]
- Open [Open a book]
- Close [Close the book]
Pictures and DrawingsPictures of many types and colours can be used successfully to show the meaning of words and sentence. Handmade pictures can also be used as there is no need to be very artistic.
- into [Raj goes into the circle.]
- in [Rahman is in the circle.]
RealiaReal objects or models of real objects are very effective and meaningful in showing meanings but in handling of real objects, a teacher must be practical and should not be superfluous.
Series, Scales, SystemsThe meaning of words such as the months of the year, the days of the week, the parts of the day, seasons of the year, ordinal numbers, cardinal numbers, etc. that form part of well-known series can be made clear by placing them in their natural order in the series.
Parts of WordsThe parts of complex and compound words may be more common than the words themselves. Separating such words into their component parts generally elaborates the meaning.
Illustrative SentencesMost words have a variety of restrictions on their use. Systematic descriptions of these restrictions and idiomatic uses would be laborious and not very effective in teaching. It is better to give appropriate examples that elucidate the range and variation of usage.
Practice from Meaning to ExpressionThis is controlled practice in which the class does not create new uses or new contexts but simply recalls the ones presented. There are many types of practices for this purpose. Pictures, realia, context, and dramatization can be used. Series and systems can also be used.
Reading the WordReading words aloud is also very beneficial. It makes a learner familiar with the word and also improves pronunciations of the learners.
Writing the WordIt will enable the class to write the new word while the auditory memory is fresh, even if the objective is only to read. Writing or copying the word from the blackboard will give the student a chance to understand the grammatical aspect of the word such as noun, verb, adverb, adjective etc.
Shift of AttentionUnder this practice, the teacher provides a context by description or through reading which elicits the use of the word. The learners should be asked to pay attention to and develop an attitude or a point of view which he defends or attacks.
Strategy for Special Types of WordsSpecific techniques or special combinations of the above techniques may be applicable for particular groups of words.
Words That Are Easy to LearnIt has been seen that the words that are similar in form and meaning to the first language are easy to understand and comprehend. They should be taught for listening and reading rather than for speaking and writing.
Words of Normal DifficultyWords of normal difficulty are best taught in contextual realms, such as food, clothing, sports, work, and so on. There are advantages to using a connected context illustrating the words that are to be taught. Additional words can be taught as alternatives to those chosen in the connected context. Practice can be controlled in varying situations by changing a key word or phrase.
Difficult WordsSome words and sets of words are especially difficult to understand. They have to be taught as special problems with the strategy determined by the particular problem in each case.
ConclusionAn efficient language teacher can use selected vocabulary activities or can use integrated activities. All this depends upon ability and level of understanding and interest of the learners. There is no sure fire remedy or method to enhance vocabulary in a day or two. A student's vocabulary bank can be enriched on a gradual basis and one should always show keen interest and enthusiasm in finding, learning and understanding new words.
- A.W. Frisby (1957), "Teaching English", The English Language Book Society and Longmans Green and Co., p.98.
- Robert Lado (1964), "Language Teaching: A Scientific Approach", McGraw Hill: New York, p.121.
- Robert Lado (1955), "Patterns of difficulty in vocabulary" International Journal Language Learning, 6, p.23-41.
- Visnja Pavicic (2003), "Vocabulary and Autonomy"
The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. XV, No. 3, March 2009