vocabulary and encouraging
by Sam Smith
Teaching a group of upper intermediate
learners on a course timetabled to finish mid year, followed
by a five month break led me to think of ways in which to
help them maintain their level and learn on their own during
I thought of different ways of doing this
reading extensively, listening to what is available via international
media such as satellite TV, watching films in English and
as is quite popular here in Madrid, a conversation exchange.
We have discussed these methods in class and the school's
resources being available during the break, the students have
responded quite positively.
What I have decided to focus on here though is maintaining
and expanding the students' vocabulary as at this level, when
students have a fair ability to express themselves, have a
good grammatical knowledge and are reasonably competent in
skills work and especially reading, expanding their vocabulary
can help them noticeably. As Michael Lewis points out in Implementing
the Lexical Approach, (grammar) mistakes are often made due
to a lack of vocabulary. (M.Lewis, 1997,48) The number of
times a student has asked me or another student ' How do you
say (Spanish word)? ' or ' How do you say (lengthy description
in English)? ' or simply spent a long time explaining something
better expressed by a single lexical item, is countless. For
example to say 'timetable' without knowing the word would
involve a lengthy description of where you can find it, what
it is and probably quite a few grammatical and lexical mistakes.
A larger vocabulary will also help a student receptively.
Expanding vocabulary is also something students will be able
to do on their own.
Gail Ellis and Barbara Sinclair make some
useful suggestions for extending and recording vocabulary
in Learning to Learn English, and look at ways of getting
students to be more active in this. They include:
what you need to know. i.e. What vocabulary is worth learning
and how, productively or receptively, and what you need
to know about the lexical item, what part of speech it is
and its collocates and pronunciation etc.
Setting yourself goals based on real
experience and working out ways of achieving them. For example,
a student finding she was lacking the vocabulary to hold
a conversation about nuclear accidents, set out to read
newspaper articles about Chernobyl.
Looking at ways of remembering vocabulary
by finding out what methods suit you best. For example,
using semantic pictorial or personal associations, stress
patterns, the number of syllables, initial consonants or
final clusters or part of speech for organising and revising
(Gail Ellis and Barbara Sinclair,1989,2.1-Extending
see these 3 points as important to pass on to my students.
They can essentially be expressed as:
1. Encouraging learner Autonomy
2. Knowing what vocabulary is useful and
in what way
3. Recording vocabulary in a way that is
memorable and accessible
To aid remembering and using vocabulary
it is helpful to approach it in the form of collocations.
As Morgan Lewis points out in Teaching Collocations, knowing
a word is much more a case of knowing how to use it and what
words collocate with it than simply knowing what it means.
He exemplifies 'wound' and 'injury', the difference being
only their collocational range, for example 'a stab wound'
but not 'a stab injury'. (Teaching Collocations,2000,13) Rob
Batstone makes a similar point and applies it to grammatical
correctness. You can say 'He was admired by Jane' but not
'He was fonded by Jane' (Rob Batstone,1994,8).
Halliday even goes so far as to say:
The lexical system is not something fitted
into grammar. The most delicate form of grammar is lexis.
As grammar becomes more specific, choices are more and more
realised by a choice of lexical item than a grammatical structure.
This is something Michael Lewis sees as essential,
saying in The Lexical Approach that the grammar - vocabulary
dichotomy is false. (Lewis,1993,115)
To increase the learners vocabulary then is
an important way of improving the learners' language as a
whole. Morgan Lewis actually states it as THE way of improving
at this level:
The reason so many students
are not making any perceived progress is simply because they
have not been trained to notice which words go with which.
They may know a lot of individual words which they struggle
to use, along with their grammatical knowledge, but they lack
the ability to use those words in a range of collocations
which pack more meaning into what they say or write.
One more thing is worth mentioning at this point.
As Michael Lewis says in Teaching Collocations, collocations
are concerned with the way language naturally occurs. Encountering
and recording the whole is more efficient than in its constituent
parts. Exemplifying 'initial reaction' he says that it is
much easier to break down from the whole for production separately
than to try and put it together from the two parts. By
knowing one lexical item, you therefore know three.
So where can we find collocations as they
As Jimmy Hill suggests in Teaching Collocation,
a newspaper article is really suitable. While comparing fiction,
a financial report and a newspaper article for their richness
of collocation and usefulness in class he says:
The 1st and most obvious point to make about
factual texts …. is the high percentage of words which
occur in fixed phrases and collocations. This is completely
typical of such texts. Collocation is either so commonplace
that it is unremarkable or so inherent in text that it should
have a central place in all teaching. These texts are clearly
more suited to the EFL class room than the extracts from fiction.
(Teaching Collocations, 2000,58)
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