It is widely known that vocabulary learning is only one aspect in mastering a foreign language. While grammar is important for meaning, without vocabulary no message is conveyed.
Undoubtedly, a rich vocabulary makes the skills of speaking, listening, reading and writing easier to perform. Students need to develop their vocabulary base to state their viewpoint and comprehend a speech. As they learn how to use more vocabulary properly, you will see an improvement in their writing and speaking. Unfortunately, new vocabulary is not always fun to learn. There exist several reasons that make learning new words difficult. They are:
range of meanings the words have;
core meaning of a word;
at what parts of speech the word can function;
what prefixes and suffixes the word can take;
particular positive and negative associations the word has;
with what other words it collocates;
if it is a frequently used word or an infrequently used word, etc.
Studying a foreign language, learner’s growth in vocabulary must be accomplished by opportunities to become fluent with that vocabulary. This fluency can be partly achieved through activities that lead to enrichment of vocabulary knowledge. Nevertheless, the essential element in developing fluency lies in opportunities for the meaningful use of vocabulary [1, 2, 5, 7, 9, 12, 13].
In addition a very important factor in learning is the quality of mental activity in the brain of the learner at the moment of leaning new words. If this activity is at a deep and thoughtful level, the learning will remain for a long time. If the activity is shallow and mechanical, learning will be less effective [2, 13]. Thus working with vocabulary, a teacher should consider the following important factors, new words should be:
related to previous knowledge;
used in context;
used in a goal oriented activity like solving problems.
Vocabulary needs to be taught from “natural” environment and exposure must occur in various ways (such as speaking and writing), before students will be able to remember the words. The following exercises illustrate this point:
Ranging tasks. The use of ranging tasks is a popular activity to encourage interaction between students, practice vocabulary that is relevant to the needs of particular learners and cover part of a given syllabus. Students are given a list of words that they should rank according to a certain criteria and explain their decision. They can choose words they like / dislike (e.g., based on the way they are spelled or pronounced, or the words they think will be easy / difficult to remember, and why). Doing these tasks students will make an effort to clarify unfamiliar words and then after using them to complete the tasks, these words are likely to be learned.
Sorting and ranking activities. In the case of learning a list of animals, for instance, learners can separate the new animals by dangerous / not dangerous, or eat / don’t eat meat. For a list of food, learners can rank the food items from those they like most to those they like least. For a list of human feelings and emotions, learners can rank words by positive / negative. For a list of sports, learners can rank them by indoor / outdoor. For a list of job, learners can rank the titles by manual / professional and so on.
Synonyms / Antonyms. These can be effective since this activity is based on words and phrases that students already recognize. So students can be given a dialogue or a text with bold words or phrases. They should read the dialogue and replace the words in bold with their synonyms / opposites from the list. Then they can act a similar dialogue using the given adjectives.
Prefixes and Suffixes. A group of three or four students is given a set of prefix and suffix cards. They have to write every word they can think of with that prefix or suffix. Each group is given 3-4 minutes.
Matching exercises. Students are given a list of words from a text and a list of definitions that need to be matched.
Association. Showing students how words are connected helps them to digest the vocabulary and see how relate to each other.
Pictorial representations. Small drawings in context (a picture of a room labeled with freezer, dishwasher, sink, cooker, oven, kettle, saucepan, frying-pan, food processor etc.) can aid retention of new words. Imaging, where learners use the way a word looks to associate it with its meaning, also helps.
Drawing: For visual students, drawing can be a fun medium to explain new vocabulary. For doing this task you do not have to be a perfect artist, basic sketches will often work well. This activity helps to strengthen students’ understanding of the vocabulary.
Individualized tasks – one more sentence. A teacher gives a sentence with a new word and asks a student to continue it logically (e.g. A restaurant is a building. People can buy a lot of delicious dishes there).
Guess the meaning. Students read a text and try to explain highlighted words.
Read and retell. This is an enjoyable activity in which use of new vocabulary is integrated with reading, speaking, listening and cooperative group work. The steps in the activity provide learners with the resources and the practice to expand their productive vocabulary use and to speak more fluently and for longer than they would otherwise be able to [4, 8].
Idioms in popular music. Both old and new kinds of music can be used for this, as long as they use English-language idiom and understandable vocals. Teacher can make a copy of the lyrics (with some words that are missed) and ask students to listen to the recording, complete the idiom and make their own illustration of the given idiom. Songs are one of the most enchanting and culturally rich resources that can easily be used in language classrooms. Songs offer a change from routine classroom activities. They are precious resources to develop students’ abilities in listening, speaking, reading, and writing. They can also be used to teach a variety of language items such as sentence patterns, vocabulary, pronunciation, rhythm, adjectives, and adverbs [3, 6, 11].
Vocabulary keys for interaction. These tasks teach students to respond verbally to show surprise, consent, disagreement, dismay, or other emotions. Give student different responds and ask them to prepare various situations or dialogues using the phrases. For example:
I definitely / quite / absolutely / absolutely agree;
I couldn’t agree more;
I quite agree/ I agree entirely.
Certainly it’s true that …, but on the other hand …;
I can see that … But surely …;
I am in total agreement with you about … but we also have to consider ...;
Agreed, BUT if we accept … then it must also be true that …
I am afraid I disagree with you …;
Well, you have a point there, but …;
Perhaps, but I don’t think that …;
I see what you mean, but ...;
Grouping words by collocations. Another way for learners to manipulate and remember new words is to join them according to the words they are often found with. So teacher gives a list of words and a list of adjectives. Students should match them:
food to get music to do job
to have hotel to make career
___ (career): brilliant, promising, brilliant, glittering;
___ (job): permanent, steady, demanding, high-powered;
___ (music): background, band, chamber, choral, classical, folk;
___ (hotel): family-run, run-down, luxury, smart;
___ (food): home-cooked, finger, ready-to-cook, junk,
___ (to do): a course, a research project, a degree/diploma;
___ (to get): an education, a grade, a qualification;
___ (to make): a decision, an effort, a mistake, a choice, friends, progress;
___ (to have): an argument, a feeling, a try, a conversation, an experience.
Reality: When it is convenient, bringing in the actual item can help students remember the word better and allows for a hands-on experience. You can also use this to introduce step-by-step concepts, like e.g. how to prepare food, use a tool or run a computer program.
Vocabulary quizzes. Using quizzes with students on vocabulary keeps them constantly learning words.
Learners must always be involved in the teaching-learning process. Involving the learners gives students the much needed encouragement and propels them to take responsibility for their learning. In this case such dull and difficult activity as teaching vocabulary can become extremely interesting and rewarding if learners teach learners. For example, a student chooses two or three words from the word list. Then he should explain to the class this words and its meaning. If a word has several meanings and can be used as a verb as well as a noun. He is also supposed to tell the class what part of speech it is. The students turn is decided which word form the list is explained. Once all the students have had their turn they start all over again from the top of the list. The whole exercise is extremely rewarding; it does not take a lot of time and students feel motivated and proud of not only the end product, but also of the words they are dealing with. They feel encouraged and important because they are teaching others in their group. What is more, they remember these words themselves during the process of explanation.
English vocabulary is tremendous and grows steadily with technological and cultural assimilations. The vast majority of new introduced words, and a great percentage of the words used to express abstract ideas, are complex words that are made up of simple word parts (prefixes, roots, and suffixes) that have their own definitions and, when familiar to the student of English, can be understood in context without an exact definition. As most vocabulary words are learned from context students should read more. The more words they’re exposed to, the better vocabulary they will have. While students read, they should pay close attention to unknown words, trying to figure out their meanings from context and then look the words up. Teacher should provide opportunities for reading and listening to challenging material so that students will be exposed to many new words. The choice of texts depends on your students’ needs, ambitions and, assuredly, syllabus (e.g. newspaper pages, novels, scientific articles, etc). We agree with most scientists who state that students need to be given tasks they can accomplish without understanding everything from a given text, because this is what they will need as users of the language. Besides it is better to work intensively with short extracts of authentic material, so they are not too daunting for students and can be explored for diverse collocations .
After a time students have learned new vocabulary on a particular topic, go back to that theme. Firstly, language teacher should remind the vocabulary. It can be achieved by means of reading or listening (learners need to “meet” the words in a variety of contexts). Secondly, make situations where students are forced to use those words (learners best remember words when they have manipulated them in multifarious ways, so variety is essential for vocabulary teaching). Activities that are focused strictly on one thing, like silent filling out a sample job application in a workbook aren’t very helpful for practice. Instead, reinforce vocabulary by having students talk in English about different job, job responsibilities, promotion, corporate culture, trade unions, labour market, etc. discuss where they have or want to work. It should be always kept in mind that the majority of lesson activities should be connected not with reading and understanding but with giving students opportunities to use the language. Learning a word won’t help very much if you promptly forget it. Make up as many associations and connections as possible. Say the word aloud to activate your auditory memory. Relate the word to words you already know. Play with words. Play linguistic games like Scrabble, do crossword puzzles.
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