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Teaching Vocabulary to Chinese Native Speakers

Teaching Vocabulary to Chinese Native Speakers | ITTT | TEFL Blog

The Oxford English dictionary defines Vocabulary as "the body of words used in a particular language". From this definition, it is obvious that teaching vocabulary to new students of the English language will not be an easy thing due to the complexity and nature of the language. Context is very important when teaching vocabulary. The Shakespearean language of the 16th Century has evolved from the Victorian era, or to that of the early 20th century and today's 21st century. The location also determines the use of certain vocabulary and expressions. For example, the English spoken in London is different from that of Liverpool, Glasgow, New York, Houston, Ottawa, etc. It is important for a good teacher to be well versed and open-minded about certain expressions and idioms. This essay will try to give some useful tips on how to effectively teach vocabulary to Chinese students.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Pisso N. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.

Age and Level

Firstly, it is important for the teacher to know the level or ages of the students before choosing a particular method or not. For example, when teaching younger students, it is better to use more visual teaching aids such as flash cards, Total physical response (TPR) such as signs or the use of games and songs. This is important because experience shows that most children have a short attention span. They need to feel engaged and participate in a joyful and safer manner.

Also Read: Understanding Multiple Intelligences as a Learning Bedrock

Teaching Materials

Again, as concerns teaching adults, it is better to use multimedia visual aids such as videos or slides from a PowerPoint. Another way is to enrich the vocabulary and explain the use in an interesting manner. From my experience, foreign students will use a vocabulary if they find it sophisticated and useful. It is the teacher’s responsibility to render the teaching of these vocabularies interesting and appealing. Researchers and other experienced teachers have shown different ways of teaching vocabulary. One of my favorite authors is Robert J. Marzano an educational assessment theorist and expert. He proposes that in all content areas, direct vocabulary instruction is essential and suggests six steps; (Marzano, R. J. (2004). Building background knowledge for academic achievement: Research on what works in schools. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.)

Also Read: How do you bring language to life in the classroom?

A Step-by-Step Plan

  • Step one: The teacher explains a new word, going beyond reciting its definition (tap into prior knowledge of students, use imagery).
  • Step two: Students restate or explain the new word in their own words (verbally and/or in writing).
  • Step three: Ask students to create a non-linguistic representation of the word (a picture, or symbolic representation).
  • Step four: Students engage in activities to deepen their knowledge of the new word (compare words, classify terms, and write their own analogies and metaphors).
  • Step five: Students discuss the new word (pair-share, elbow partners).
  • Step six: Students periodically play games to review new vocabulary (Pyramid, Jeopardy, and Telephone).

Also Read: Do I need a TEFL certificate to teach?

Do you want to teach English to non-native speakers?

Robert J. Mazarno’s Marzano's six steps do something revolutionary to vocabulary learning: They make it fun. Students think about, talk about, apply, and play with new words. His methods are important in creating engagement for students while making it fun to learn new words. The brain is perpetually excited and focused, which helps in retention. Teaching new vocabulary in China should consider the local context where a lot of students have the tendency of wanting to memorize forcefully without fully understanding the utility or context of the word. This sometimes causes some Chinese students to use improper English or a mixture of Chinese words and English words “Chinglish” which may sound correct but is actually wrong.

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