One of the most difficult aspects of teaching english
students is vocabulary. Native speakers learn vocabulary through immersion and trial and error. From when they are very young, they pick up most of their basic vocabulary from their environment. The esl
student does not have the benefit of this method of language acquisition. Their environment does not usually assist in the acquisition of english
vocabulary, therefore teaching this aspect of english
is one of the most challenging. teacher
s will need to give and create an environment that can complement the acquisition and more importantly the retention of vocabulary.
This paper will consider the teaching strategies of vocabulary for esl
students where their primary environmental language is not english
and their ages range from the late teens to adult. I will discuss the areas of  acquisition of vocabulary,  methods of practicing vocabulary,  retention of vocabulary and  discovery of new vocabulary.
Acquisition of Vocabulary
True acquisition of vocabulary is not just simply knowing the word and knowing the definition of it. It must involve several aspects.
1 - Ability to define the word
2 - Recognition of written and spoken form
3 - Pronunciation and spelling of the word
4 - Use in appropriate grammatical form
5 - Ability to use the word properly in a sentence
6 - Understand any connotations of the word
7 - Ability to recall the word and use is properly
As stated previously, the teacher
must be able to create an environment where the esl
student can grasp all the aspects stated above. This is the most challenging due to the lack of external environmental assistance. The challenge is to create a realistic environment in an unrealistic situation.
Explicit teaching of vocabulary is an effective and efficient way of improving student's vocabulary. This in conjunction with learning from context will enable the student to learn the basics of the word [acquisition 1-4] and the usage of the word [acquisition 5-6]. This combination of teaching strategies will enable the student to improve and more importantly increase the vocabulary library.
Explicit teaching of vocabulary is pretty straight forward. In this area, there will be a lot of board work, visual presentation, repetition and choral type speaking. This is an efficient method of teaching vocabulary, but the teacher
should not rely strictly on a teacher
to student communication mode. Discovery is a very good method of student's retention of new vocabulary. Elicit targets and have students create their own word picture and usage format. Studies have shown that this greatly increases the student's ability to retain and use the vocabulary during the practice and later.
Learning from context is an important skill for the student to have. The ability of guessing the meaning of the word from the sentence and/or story is skill that is paramount to further language acquisition. This allows the student the ability to learn vocabulary in an individual environment. Once this skill is taught the student has the ability to keep expanding their word library without the assistance of a teacher
Methods of Practicing Vocabulary
Listed below are some activities to practice target vocabulary. They are targeted for explicit learning of vocabulary as well as practicing the skill of learning from context. These are just some examples. The internet is full of other innovative ideas.
1 – Gap fill sentences: Students will fill the gap with the target vocabulary.
A – Used for different grammar forms of the same root word.
B – Used to practice correct pronouns (ie: I, me, he, him, etc.)
2 – Comic Strip (with words deleted): Students will prepare a story.
A – Used for practicing sequence markers.
B – Used for vocabulary talking about process (ie: cooking, building, etc.)
3 – Visuals: Students can match the word to the picture.
A – Good for demonstrating of vocabulary.
B - Useful in recognizing thematic vocabulary (animals, fruits, etc.)
4 – Students creations: Students to draw their own image of the word and/or write their own definition and sentence.
A – Students retention is usually greater if they create their own image.
B – Students remember vocabulary better if they create their own definition/use.
5 – Role plays: Students to freely use the learnt vocabulary.
A – Students can demonstrate a process (cooking, etc.)
B – Students can be a zoo guide
6 – Reading: Students to read short or longer passages.
A – This is good for practicing the skill of learning from context.
B – Students can practice word recognition.
7 – Watching/listening to Videos/CD's:
A – This is good for the practicing the skill of learning from context.
B – Students can practice word recognition.
Retention of Vocabulary
The retention of vocabulary is probably the most difficult skill for students that do not have the opportunity to practice the learnt words in the outside world. Therefore, the teacher
must create an environment in the class that will expedite the use of targeted vocabulary in the lesson and lessons that follow. Students should also be encouraged to review learnt vocabulary periodically and listen to/watch english
The exposure to the vocabulary in the lesson should touch all the senses if possible. TPR (total physical response) is used quite often when teaching children
, but adults can benefit from this method of teaching. Throughout the class students should be tested on the vocabulary for maximum exposure.
should also expose the students to past learnt vocabulary in subsequent lessons. The lesson that follows should try to use the previous lessons vocabulary targets and in other lessons the teacher
should elicit past targets.
Students should be encouraged to keep an english
vocabulary book, with their drawn image, their own definition, and their own use in sentences. Encouraging them to come up with their own ideas reinforces retention. Reviewing this book is also critical. By reviewing the vocabulary periodically, students will more likely be able to retain and remember the words.
Discovery of New Vocabulary
As students continue their journey through english
, they will always encounter words that they do not know. Native speakers have learned to recognize parts of the word to come up with a definition. We use the prefix, root, and suffix of the word to attempt to understand its meaning. We look at other words we know and can take the leap of faith in recognizing the new word. esl
students do not have this natural ability, so teacher
s must teach them about this method of recognizing words.
The word “autobiographer” is a good example because it has four parts that students can easily recognize. There are “auto” as in automatic and automobile, “bio” as in biology and biomass, “graph” as in photograph and autograph, and “er” as in teacher
and dancer. By demonstrating the construction of words in this form, the realm of learning vocabulary will not frighten your students, but encourage them.
When the student has accumulated a good base of words in their vocabulary library, they will be able to use this system effectively and in combination with the skill of learning by context, the world of vocabulary will open up to them.
There is no right way or wrong way in the teaching of vocabulary to esl
students. What is important is that the teacher
matches the strategy to the needs of the students. With that said, the basic strategy stated in this paper is a good guide
line for the esl teacher
regarding the teaching of vocabulary. The key word is “guide
line”, not “rule”. In my experience as an esl teacher
, I have had so many different situations and students that required differing strategies. Remember, If the lesson matches the needs and wants of your students, the more likely your lessons will be successful.