Teach English in Shangguan Zhen - Xinzhou Shi

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Within first and second language acquisition studies in the academic field of linguistics, there is much debate about what methods are the best to employ in the learning and teaching of vocabulary. It is, after all, one of the most fundamental parts of the ability to communicate in any language. In this essay, two different methods of acquiring vocabulary will be discussed, along with my experience with the corresponding teaching methods based on these theories. To conclude, I will briefly discuss how different specific teaching methods discussed by linguists can influence vocabulary learning for students. Tomlinson (1996) argued in favour of the importance of visualisation in learning vocabulary. That is, words that are easy to visually recreate in our minds are easier to learn compared to words that are harder to visualise. Tomlinson showed from his own research that those who read in their L2 and visualise what they read can retain the text read and importantly, individual words than those who don’t read in their L2. I tested this method on Italian students of English by selecting ten basic words at random which were slightly above their level as to ensure unfamiliarity with the vocabulary. I presented them with the words in English on the left and their Italian counterparts on the right and asked them to look at both columns for three full minutes. When the time was up, I removed the words and asked the students to write down all the words they could remember and their Italian translation. Analysing the results, all the students got the first 2 words on the list correct with accurate spelling and translation. However, the remaining eight words were littered with spelling mistakes, incorrect meanings in Italian for English words or some couldn’t remember the words in neither English nor Italian and so wrote nothing. Several factors could have influenced the results, such as the type of words chosen, the amount of time spent looking at them or the fact that they were lists and not full texts, as Tomlinson suggests. However, I concluded personally as a language teacher that it was not an efficient or long-term successful method of L2 acquisition and decided to not use it again in class. This method of visualising words as you read touches upon another theory of how to learn words of an L2 whereby through reading texts alone, one can acquire new vocabulary through the context of the word within the sentence. According to Krashen (1989, p. 441) this method of “incidental learning”, whereby the new words you come across as you read are acquired unconsciously by focusing entirely on the message and meaning of the whole text, is the best form of learning new vocabulary. Krashen argued this was more effective compared to the skill-building view of learning words by rote after consciously studying individual rules, such as prefixes or suffixes, and developing them through exercises. Brown and Hatch agreed, saying learning words can happen “through exposure when one’s attention is focused on the use of language rather than on learning” (1995, p.116). Adapting this theory to teaching, whereby a student will ask what a word in a sentence means and you ask them to guess from the context of the sentence, can be effective as the student often recalls the word later in a different situation as they were able to figure it out for themselves. When I tested this theory by giving a multinational group of B1/B2 level English students sentences with the target word underlined and asked them to guess the word from context, the main difficulty came from students giving a definition that was related to the word but not the exact meaning, e.g. in the sentence “I spoke to him without animosity”, some definitions given for “animosity” were “anger”, “argument” and “fighting”. How a language is taught is intrinsically linked to learning vocabulary and, indeed, any language aspect. Wilkins (1990) divides teaching methodologies into two categories; deductive methods that require conscious attention to attempt to master grammar rules before using the language, such as the traditionalist grammar-translation (GT) method, and inductive methods that have little emphasis on conscious learning, such as the audiolingual method (AL) of teaching. The benefits and disadvantages of the GT method can be clearly seen when one starts teaching, the biggest disadvantage being the emphasis on the L1 while conducting the techniques of GT (explaining grammatical rules and systems, translating texts and memorising lists of vocabulary, etc.). The production of the L2 is therefore not as organic as a teacher would hope for in language learners, particularly oral production, as the emphasis is on explaining with a heavy reliance on the L1. One of the biggest advantages from my experience of the GT method when teaching English vocabulary was the study of words within grammar lead to a better understanding of the structure of the language. This helped students to compose new sentences or try to use more complex words when writing compositions as they felt more confident as to what was correct or incorrect. The fact that vocabulary can be learned by rote learning through GT also proved incredibly useful for certain students as they were able to build their lexicon quickly. However, this method can be very monotonous for students and they prefer to learn vocabulary organically, through games and games, using English language media, etc. The best approach, in my opinion, is the communicative method, which is a blend of GT and AL. In this way, a teacher can cater for the range of different types of learners in their class. A wide range of vocabulary is essential for all forms of communicating with a language, from oral skills to reading and even aural comprehension. It is therefore essential as language teachers that we study different theories and methods posed by linguists, educators and psychologists on how a student can acquire vocabulary in their second language and the different methods we can use to teach as a result. This allows us to experiment to see which one is the most effective for our own teaching style and, more importantly, for the expansion of vocabulary for our students. REFERENCES Brown, C. and Hatch, E. (1995) Vocabulary, Semantics and Language Acquisition, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge Krashen, S. (1989) We Acquire Vocabulary and Spelling by Reading: Additional Evidence for the Input Hypothesis. The Modern Language Journal, Vol. 73, No. 4, 440-64 Tomlinson, B. (1996) Helping L2 readers to see. In Hickey, T. and Williams, J. eds (1996) Language, Education and Society in a Changing World, IRAAL/Multilingual Matters, Clevedon, 253-62 Wilkins, D. A. (1990) Second Languages: How they are learned and taught. In Collinge, N. E. (eds) (1990) An Encyclopaedia of Language, Routledge, London, 518-50