a. Problems when learning new words Meaning Ø A word may have more than meaning (e.g. odd, cut, patient). o `Words may have different connotations, i.e. the meaning can be interpreted in different ways (e.g. slim/think/skinny). Ø A student may understand the meaning of a word, but not the appropriate context in which to use it. This is particularly true of language which is especially formal or informal.
Form Ø The spelling may be very different from the sound (e.g. cough). Ø Students may be competent speakers of the language but poor writers. Ø A word may be more than one part of speech (e.g. it may be a verb and a noun). Ø If you teach a word like to rely, you also need to teach that it is followed by on. Ø Some words are irregular (e.g. the plural of person is people, the plural of sheep is sheep). Ø Different varieties of English have different spelling e.g. color/colour. Ø Spelling patterns are not obvious, e.g. happy/happier….hit/hitting).
Pronunciation Ø The Sound may not correspond to the spelling. Ø Students may have difficulty knowing how many labels the word is broken up into (a typical mistake being clothes pronounced with two syllables). Ø It is hard to know which syllable is stressed. Ø Some words have shifting stress, e.g. his conduct/to conduct. Ø A group of consonants together- a consonant cluster-can be difficult, e.g. crisps. Ø A speaker of a particular language might have difficulty with certain sounds, e.g. the Arabic with /tf/ Ø Some words with different spellings and meanings are pronounced the same, e.g. bear/bare.
b. How can we illustrate meaning effectively. (Harmer, 2000) 1. Use pictures or drawings. For example, rather than explaining what lorry/tuck is, show them a picture of one. 2. Use realia (the actual object). For example, rather than explaining what a credit card is, show them one. 3. Use mime. For example, rather than explaining what tired or jump is, mime it 4. Use contrasts. For example, with heavy you could also pick up something which is not heavy to emphasize the point. 5. Use synonyms of a lower level. For example, for exhausted you should say ‘a word meaning very tired’. 6. Use spoken gap-fill sentence. For example: I ate four pieces of cake….I was very__________.
7. With higher levels, try to use more student-centered approaches to increase learner independence. This respects the fact that your students already have a good level of English. Higher levels need to be challenged more, and they quickly get bored if there is too much coming directly from the teacher. One way is to provide contextualized sentences- a sentence containing the word and making the meaning clear. 8. Matching exercises can combine some of the above approaches. 9. Following a reading task, students can look at given words in the text and match them with, or deduce, their meaning. The idea of illustrating meaning rather than explaining it, and of starting with meaning rather than the written or spoken word, makes the learning of meaning more effective.
c. How will the students remember what they have learned? Students have different ways of remembering. Some prefer to write up their own personalized dictionary with translations into their language, for example. Some try to learn and remember a certain number of words a day/week. Others keep a record of what they have learned, but in a disorganized, random way. So what can the teacher do to help the longer-term learning process?
Tips ( Carter, 1988) 1. Show students how they might keep an organized record of their work (not just vocabulary)- there is no ‘right way’, but there are plenty of ‘wrong ways’! One possibility is according to themes or topics. 2. The record should include a guide to meaning, form and pronunciation. The word should appear in a contextualized sentence. 3. Students should be encouraged to be selective in choosing the words they really feel are useful to them longer-term. They should disregard the others. They also need to know the difference between ‘active ‘and ‘passive’ Vocabulary . 4. Students need to be encouraged to personally review what they have learned in whatever way they find helpful. 5. Teachers should do review activities in class from time to time- you can’t just teach something in one lesson and never return to it!
d. The pros and cons of students using dictionaries. We need first to distinguish between different types of dictionary. An Arabic student, for example, may want to use his English/Arabic dictionary. Or a standard English/English dictionary. Or an English/English dictionary produced for English students (and available at different levels). Of course, this student will need his Arabic/English dictionary out of class. However, teachers should greatly limit the use of the bilingual dictionary in the classroom, especially at higher levels, because literal translation is not always helpful or
accurate. But I believe it is unreasonable for students to be prevented from referring to dictionaries in the class only for a teacher to say “No dictionaries”? Dictionaries, after all, have many advantages they provide: Ø Meaning (but see disadvantages below!) Ø Spelling Ø A pronunciation guide (syllables, stress, sounds) Ø Information about the part of speech (e.g. v for verb) Ø And sometimes, example sentences. Ø All meanings will given, not just the one your students need-so they can be confusing. Ø In an ungraded dictionary, the definitions may be too complex .
Ø Students may not know to find the information they need (thus the need for dictionary training). Ø If they are using a bilingual dictionary, the definition given may not be “correct” (false friend.) Ø Students may become too reliant on dictionaries.
So the teacher needs to encourage use of English/English dictionaries in the classroom. S/he needs to provide some training on how to use them. S/he needs to allow use of the dictionaries, but not at any time. S/he needs to be realistic in allowing students occasional use of their own dictionary-sometimes it s a bit of time! But s/he had to make sure that the student doesn’t rely on the dictionary as a substitute teacher, or as a constant ‘check’ on what the teacher has said!
More Tips for Teaching vocabulary 1. You should avoid “what does this mean? “approach 2. It is usually more effective to start with meaning and then elicit or give the word 3. Avoid giving non-simplified definitions or explanations of words 4. Train your students how to use their dictionaries. Limit, but do not put a ban on their use in the classroom. 5. Be aware of some of the problems students have learning vocabulary. As this will help you in your planning. 6. Use variety of ways to illustrate meaning depending on the level of the class. 7. With higher levels especially, but not exclusively, encourage learner independence: student-centered learning. 8. Check the meaning really has been understand. 9. Check the pronunciation. 10. Check that students are clear about the from of the word sentence fit. 11. Make sure that words are being taught for a lesson that they will be used in the lesson! 12. Help students to keep effective records of what they have learned. 13. Review what has been learned form time to time.