Teaching Vocabulary: Is it essential for English learning?
2019-05-09 Elizaveta Pachina Alumni Experiences
Just as quarks are the building blocks of atoms and the periodic table of elements, letters are the building blocks of words. And just as the 118 elements are the foundation of our physical life, the 26 letters of the English alphabet are the foundation of the 470 000 words English language (Wikipedia, 2019), so that each word with all its variation and diversity is part of a living and evolving cosmos of vocabulary.
Today the English language is one of the most diversified and colorful languages alive and numerous words evolve to enrich this lexicon each year. It is this diversity that allows free and fluent thought in English that is the epitome of native English speakers and it is for this reason the vocabulary forms the basis for English learning.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Scott R.
Vocabulary teaching methods
Although Beginners initially learn isolated functional nouns before more complex language can be constructed. Generally vocabulary words are not taught in isolation since alone they have limited intrinsic value, instead, they require learning the meaning, context, spelling, pronunciation, use, and interaction with and the effects on other words. Notwithstanding, no other aspect of English can be taught without vocabulary words to construct meaning or purpose.
There are various methods of teaching vocabulary, and the effectiveness of the lesson will reflect the method of teaching the word. Some words may be familiar to other known words or have a similar etymological derivation to a word in the native language. For example, the word ‘airplane’ is similar to Tagalog ‘airplane’ and ‘important’ in English is similar to the Spanish word ‘importante’.
Many vocabulary words can be taught through the use of inauthentic or authentic material in lessons designed to be unrelated to vocabulary. Alternatively, vocabulary can be taught through specific targeting techniques such as; crosswords, gap fill, picture matching, flashcards, choral repetition or 3x3 drills (three times as a class and followed by three individually).
An effective way to teach vocabulary
Importantly, with any lesson, it is critical to gain the interest and enthusiasm of the students such that they are receptive to learn. One useful method of teaching the English language is by using the Engage, Study and Activate (ESA) method or a variant of this such that the lesson always starts with Engage, has Study components and ends with Activate.
The ESA method is useful for teaching language including English vocabulary because it portends to specifically ‘engage’ the students to be receptive and in the mood for learning English. Once engaged the students are subsequently taught a specific skill as a ‘study’ or sequence of ‘study’ components. The last phase of every lesson is Activate, where the lesson learning can be embedded, incorporated and ‘made active’ through activities or processes that utilize the Study material. Vocabulary is paramount during the Activate phase, and by utilizing groups, student-student pairs or individual task activities, a well-constructed Activate phase can develop and expand vocabulary irrespective of the lesson target objective or skill.
The study skills of functions, grammar, structure, the receptive skills of reading and listening, and the productive skills of writing and speaking are all aspects of the English language. However, these study skills are all predicated upon the foundation of vocabulary - the building blocks of all English language.
In George Orwell’s classic novel “1984”, the aim of ‘Newspeak’ was to destroy much of the vocabulary to mitigate thoughts that could lead to ‘thought crime’. This word reduction objective was to minimize fluency of thought by mitigating the ambiguity and nuance and variant meanings of synonyms and antonyms, thereby reducing English to a purely functional and pragmatic language. For example, the adjective ‘good’ and Newspeak opposite ‘ungood’ can be egregiously extrapolated to ‘doubleplusgood’ and ‘doubleplusungood’. Thereby eliminating any subtlety of the language and subsequently thought because everything is reduced to a single adjective ‘good’. Such minimalism is reflected in Pidgin trading languages where words such as ‘truplaman’ (true-plus-man) would reflect a Newspeak variant of a “doubleplusgood person”.
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Therefore it is argued that as there are approximately half-a-million words in the English lexicon, the richness of which is evolving every day, English is not a purely functional or trading language, furthermore as all language skills are built on words. Teaching vocabulary is the basis for English learning.
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