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The Effects of Teaching Vocabulary Learning Strategies on EFL Learners Vocabulary Development

The Effects of Teaching Vocabulary Learning Strategies on EFL Learners Vocabulary Development | ITTT | TEFL Blog

Vocabulary has always been one language area about which students usually complain and claim that it impedes language learning. The main purpose of this study is to investigate whether using the context for guessing the meaning of new vocabulary can solve this problem. The learning of vocabulary is an important part of foreign language learning. The meaning of new words is very frequently emphasized, whether in books or verbal communication. And also, English teachers have an important role in teaching new vocabularies. In this research, we will study different kinds of teaching vocabulary by using a dictionary or guessing on the context. Further, the study also attempted to reveal what kind of factors hinder or facilitate learning a word in context.

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

It is an irrefutable fact that vocabulary plays an important role in the academic lives of EFL learners. This is because if foreign language learners lack a mature vocabulary, their other language skills suffer significantly. That is why David Wilkins (1972, P. 111) very rightly says that ―Without grammar, very little can be conveyed. Without vocabulary, nothing can be conveyed.‖ Therefore, the teaching and learning of vocabulary in any foreign language classroom form a very significant place. While doing so, various methods and strategies are employed to develop the vocabulary knowledge of EFL learners. However, the success of any methodology, strategy, or material used depends on the nature of the material and perceptions of EFL learners towards that methodology, strategy, and material. In that respect, this paper attempts to investigate the role of short-stories in developing a vocabulary of EFL learners. According to Hatch and Brown (1995), there are five essential steps of learning vocabulary: The first one is having a source for encountering new words, the second one is getting a clear image for the form of new words, the third one is learning the meaning of new words, the fourth one is making a strong memory connection between the form and the meaning of the words, and certainly the last one should be using the words.

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It is helpful to distinguish between expressive and receptive vocabulary. A word is in your receptive vocabulary when you understand it when others use it. A word is in your expressive vocabulary when you think to use it. Well over half of the average adult's vocabulary is receptive. Will (1990). In addition to using verbal workout. Come to add words to your vocabulary; you can use it to move words from receptive to expressive vocabulary. According to Beck at all (2002). The findings in Macaro’s survey (2003) indicate to add a word to your expressive vocabulary, leave it on your short-term review list until you develop the habit of using it. Usually, you'll add words to your verbal review list by checking them after the computer has presented them to you. But if you hear a word elsewhere that you want to add to the list, use the Find link at the top of many verbal screens, to find the word and flag it for review. Blachowicz & Fisher, P. (2004). The words that EFL learners need to master and use come in two forms: oral and print. Oral vocabulary includes those words that were recognized and used in listening and speaking whereas print vocabulary includes those words that we recognize and use in reading and writing. Another distinction is also made based upon the knowledge of words. Based on the knowledge of words, vocabulary can be receptive and productive. Receptive vocabulary includes those words that we recognize when we hear or see them. Productive vocabulary, on the other hand, includes those words that we use when we speak or write. It is also argued and believed that our receptive vocabulary is typically larger than our productive vocabulary.



A complete inventory of VLS will be conducive to pertinent studies in this area. However, just as Skehan (1989) argues, the field of learner strategies is still in an early stage of development. His remark is particularly applicable to VLS in that a comprehensive list or taxonomy of strategies in this specific area is not present (Schmitt 1997). To address this gap, Schmitt (1997) attempted to propose as exhaustive a list of VLS as possible and classify them based on one of the current descriptive systems. He primarily referred to Oxford’s(1990) classification scheme and adopted four strategy groups (Social, Memory, Cognitive, and Metacognitive) which seemed best able to illustrate the wide variety of VLS. Social strategies involve learners using interaction with other people to facilitate their learning. Memory strategies consist of those approaches helping relate new materials to the existing knowledge system. Skills that require ―manipulation or transformation of the target language by the learner‖ (Oxford 1990, p.43) fall into the Cognitive strategies. Lastly, Metacognitive strategies ―involve a conscious overview of the learning process and making decisions about planning, monitoring, or evaluating the best way to study‖ (Schmitt 1997, p.205).

Since Oxford’s system deals with LLS in general and thus seems not to be able to cover certain specific strategies used in vocabulary learning, Schmitt created a new category for those strategies learners employ when discovering a new word’s meaning without consulting other people, namely Determination Strategies. Also, a helpful distinction suggested by Cook and Mayer (1983) and Nation (1990) was incorporated into Schmitt’s classification scheme.

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Discovery strategies include several determination strategies and social strategies. A learner may discover a new word’s meaning through guessing from context, guessing from an L1 cognate, using reference materials (mainly a dictionary), or asking someone else (e.g. their teacher or classmates). There is a natural sense that almost all of the strategies applied to discovery activities could be used as consolidation strategies in the later stage of vocabulary learning (Schmitt 1997).

4.1. Guessing Through Context

Nation (2001, p.232) maintains that ―incidental learning via guessing from context is the most important of all sources of vocabulary learning‖. Over the past two decades, this strategy has been greatly promoted since it seems to ―fit in more comfortably with the communicative approach than other, more discrete, Discovery Strategies‖ (Schmitt 1997, p.209). Context tends to be more interpreted as a simple textual context. Nevertheless, some other important sources of information should also be taken into account when guessing, such as knowledge of the subject being read, or knowledge of the conceptual structure of the topic. In Liu and Nation’s (1985, cited Nation 2001) study, it is found that a minimum requirement for the guessing to happen is that 95% of the running words are already familiar to the learner.

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4.1.1. Dictionary Use

Reference materials, primarily a dictionary, can be used in a receptive or a productive skill in language learning. However, since we likely have insufficient time to consult a dictionary during the process of speaking and listening, more look-up work happens during reading and writing. A common situation is that, for example, when a learner meets an unknown word in the text and fails to infer the meaning through context, they might be advised to consult a dictionary. Looking up a word in a dictionary is ― far from performing a purely mechanical operation (Scholfield 1982, p.185); instead, a proficient dictionary user ― is often required to formulate and pursue several hypotheses and make use of prior knowledge of various sorts, especially information derived from context (Scholfield 1982, p.185). Except for locating the unknown word in the alphabetic list, which seems to be the skill most dealt with in respect of training dictionary use, other important facets involving effective dictionary use receive little attention (Scholfield 1982). Since many lexical items in a language have more than one meaning, learners should be instructed on how to reduce multiple options by elimination. Scanning all of the definitions in the entry before deciding which is the one that fits is a good idea proposed by Underhill (1980). After choosing a seemingly reasonable sense from the definitions in the entry, a user then needs to ― understand the definition and integrate it into the context where the unknown was met (Scholfield 1982, p.190). The most sophisticated parts involving dictionary use arise when none of the senses in the entry seems to fit the context of more than one fits. In these situations, a user may need to infer a meaning that comes from the senses in the entry or ― seeks further contextual clues in the source text to disambiguate (Scholfield 1982, p.193).

opened book on the bed

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Vocabulary is the basis for learning the language. Educational research shows that vocabulary strongly relates to reading comprehension, intelligence, and general ability. As children learn to read, they must learn to decode (sound-out) print, but they also must have a vocabulary base (word knowledge) to make sense of what they decode. By third grade, however, children are reading to learn. For example, a child who is reading to learn about the Revolutionary War needs to know words like war, army, and horses (a basic vocabulary) to understand the history lesson.

At the same time, however, the child will likely learn new words like artillery and revolution—continuing to build his/her vocabulary. Though there exist many methods and strategies of teaching and developing vocabulary of EFL learners, the importance of wide reading in the growth of EFL learners’ vocabulary is critical (Nagy and Anderson, 1984). It is argued that students who read widely have extensive vocabularies (Blachowicz & Fisher, 2004). Brabham & Villaume(2002) assert that ― A serious commitment to decreasing gaps in vocabulary and comprehension includes instruction that allows all students to learn and use strategies that will enable them to discover and deepen understandings of words during independent reading‖ (p. 266). By using short-stories to develop a vocabulary of EFL learners, EFL teachers have the benefit of teaching vocabulary through context.

Teaching vocabulary through context simply means to look for clues in the sentence that might tell the reader something about the meaning of the word in question. Researchers have studied the impact of visual and verbal clues on learning words in context. In this regard, Walters (2006) reported that improved reading comprehension resulted when 11 ESL students, ranging in age from 17 to 47, enrolled in an English language program were shown strategies of how to derive meanings of unfamiliar words from context clues. Researchers have also found that word meanings are retained longer when they are included in numerous classroom assignments. To know a word, students must be able to use it in more than one context; it must be used in writing, speaking, and listening (Rupley & Nichols, 2005). And the use of short-stories in the EFL classroom offers these opportunities for integrating vocabulary with other language skills.


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Many studies have also shown that context-clue vocabulary instruction using short-stories can cause an increase in word usage compared with word-list instruction (Dixon-Krauss (2002) and Dillard (2005)). Another benefit of using short-stories is the culture load in storytelling. Culture load refers to the way language and cultures are related and the amount of cultural knowledge required comprehending meaning to participate in an activity (Meyer, 2000). English students need to learn the words in English as well as the cultural background and need to learn words in context to understand the meaning. This can be made possible with the use of selected short-stories by the EFL teachers. The use of short-stories for developing vocabulary also makes EFL learners more autonomous. As students read and try to comprehend the meaning from the context, this strategy also develops autonomous learning among EFL learners. Therefore, this use of short-stories needs to be explored as it has many pedagogical benefits.

It is a shared belief among the researchers that vocabulary is the principal aspect to convey the meaning in a reading text and because of that, vocabulary and its instruction are vital parts of not an only second language, but also first language teaching. Vocabulary has been neglected for many years but it has retrieved the place that it is supposed to be in. The purpose of vocabulary learning should include both remembering words and the ability to use them automatically in a wide range of language contexts when the need arises (McCarthy, 1984). Evidence suggests that the knowledge aspect (both breadth and depth) requires more conscious and explicit learning mechanisms whereas the skill aspect involves mostly implicit learning and memory (Ellis, 1994). Vocabulary learning strategies, therefore, should include strategies for "using" as well as "knowing" a word.

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Learning vocabulary and the process of vocabulary retention have an important role in foreign language learning. People, all over the world, learn languages, and use it to express themselves and communicate their ideas to others. Good communication entails appropriate word choices along with accurate structures. One of the major components of language is the knowledge of the words which are believed to be the building blocks of language, so teaching a language is not apart from teaching its vocabulary. Before 1990, vocabulary was taught with grammar (Nyikos & Fan, 2007). To learn a word, two aspects of form and meaning should be taught. Meaning includes grammatical uses, collocation, connotation, and form involves spelling and pronunciation. Vocabulary is a central part of any language and there is no language without words. It is the component of language that not only is inherently the most important linkage in the ring of skills and components that keeps the chain of language connected but also is the very first medium and facilitator for them to be taught and learned. Vocabulary instruction forms a very important aspect of any foreign language teaching and learning. This is because the knowledge of vocabulary determines and decides the level of a foreign language learner. The knowledge of vocabulary also plays a very crucial role in the major language skills: listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Mastery over required knowledge of vocabulary can make a foreign language learner an effective speaker, good listener, reader, and writer. On the other hand, lack of vocabulary significantly affects these four language skills. Therefore, the teaching and learning of vocabulary need special attention both from teachers and learners. Therefore, a deliberate and structured approach needs to be taken for enriching the vocabulary of EFL learners.

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The findings of this study showed that contextual guessing affected the students' vocabulary learning and helped them keep the second language vocabulary in their minds longer. In the case of fixing a good number of vocabulary items in mind, short stories help significantly. In general, the purpose of this study is to provide an insight into the effects of using the context technique in a short story for learning vocabulary among high school intermediate level EFL learners in Iran.

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