The Importance of Teaching Vocabulary
To know a language means to master its structure and words. Thus, vocabulary is one of the aspects of the language to be taught in school. The problem is what words and idioms pupils should retain. It is evident that the number of words should be limited because pupils have only 2-4 periods a week; the size of the group is not small enough to provide each pupil with practice in speaking; schools are not yet equipped with special laboratories for individual language learning. The number of words pupils should acquire in school depends wholly on the syllabus requirements. The latter are determined by the conditions and method used. For example, experiments have proved that the use of programmed instruction for vocabulary learning allows us to increase the number of words to be learned since pupils are able to assimilate them while working independently with the programme.
The vocabulary, therefore, must be carefully selected in accordance with the principles of selecting linguistic material, the conditions of teaching and learning a foreign language in school.
Scientific principles of selecting vocabulary have been worked out. The words selected should be: (1) frequently used in the language (the frequency of the word may be determined mathematically by means of statistic data); (2) easily combined (nice room, nice girl, nice weather); (3) unlimited from the point of view of style (oral, written), (4) included in the topics the syllabus sets; (5) valuable from the point of view of word-building (use, used, useful, useless, usefully, user, usage).
The first principle, word frequency, is an example of a purely linguistic approach to word selection. It is claimed to be the soundest criterion because it is completely objective. It is derived by counting the number of occurrences of words appearing in representative printed material comprising novels, essays, plays, poems, newspapers, textbooks, and magazines.
Modern tendency is to apply this principle depending on the language activities to be developed. For developing reading skills pupils need "reading vocabulary" (M. West), thus various printed texts are analyzed from the point of view of word frequency. For developing speaking skills pupils need "speaking vocabulary". In this case the material for analysis is the spoken language recorded. The occurrences of words are counted in it and the words more frequently used in speaking are selected.
The other principles are of didactic value, they serve teaching aims.
The words selected may be grouped under the following two classes (M. West):
1. Words that we talk with or form (structural) words which make up the form (structure) of the language.
2. Words that we talk about or content words.
In teaching vocabulary for practical needs both structural words and content words are of great importance. That is why they are included in the vocabulary minimum.
The number of words and phraseological units the syllabus sets for a pupil to assimilate is 1,200. They are distributed in the following way: 800 words in the nine-year school, the rest in the eleven-year school. The textbooks now in use contain more word units than the syllabi set.
The selection of the vocabulary although important is not the teacher's chief concern. It is only the "what" of teaching and is usually prescribed for him by textbooks and studyguides he uses. The teacher's concern is "how" to get his pupils to assimilate the vocabulary prescribed. This is a difficult problem and it is still in the process of being solved.
It is generally known that school leavers' vocabulary is poor. They have trouble with hearing, speaking, reading, and writing. One of the reasons is poor teaching of vocabulary.
The teacher should bear in mind that a word is considered to be learned when: (1) it is spontaneously recognized while auding and reading; (2) it is correctly used in speech, i. e., the right word in the right place.
Difficulties Pupils Experience in Assimilating Vocabulary.
Learning the words of a foreign language is not an easy business since every word has its form, meaning, and usage and each of these aspects of the word may have its difficulties. Indeed, some words are difficult in form (daughter, busy, bury, woman, women) and easy in usage; other words are easy in form (enter, get, happen) and difficult in usage. Consequently, words may be classified according to the difficulties pupils find in assimilation. In methodology some attempts have been made to approach the problem.
The analysis of the words within the foreign language allows us to distinguish the following groups of words: concrete, abstract, and structural.
Words denoting concrete things (book, street, sky), actions (walk, dance, read), and qualities (long, big, good) are easier to learn than words denoting abstract notions (world, home, believe, promise, honest). Structural-words are the most difficult for pupils.
In teaching pupils a foreign language the teacher should bear this in mind when preparing for the vocabulary work during the lesson.
Psychological and Linguistic Factors which Determine the Process of Teaching Vocabulary.
Words are elements of the language used in the act of communication. They are single units, and as such cannot provide the act of communication by themselves; they can provide it only when they are combined in a certain way.
Rule 1 for the teacher: While teaching pupils vocabulary, introduce words in sentence patterns in different situations of intercourse. Present the words in keeping with the structures to be taught.
Information is composed of two kinds of elements: simple (words) and complicated (sentences).
A word may be both a whole which consists of elements (speech sounds) and at the same time an element which is included in a whole (a sentence). In teaching words attention should be given both to a word as an element (in sentences) and a word as a whole (isolated unit) with the purpose of its analysis.
Rule 2 for the teacher: Present the word as an element, i. e., in a sentence pattern first. Then fix it in the pupils' memory through different exercises in sentence patterns and phrase patterns.
Speech is taken in by ear and reproduced by the organs of speech.
Rule 3 for the teacher: While introducing a word pronounce it yourself in a context, ask pupils to pronounce it both individually and in unison in a context, too.
Any word in the language has very complicated linguistic relations with other words in pronunciation, meaning, spelling, and usage.
Rule 4 for the teacher: In teaching words it is necessary to establish a memory bond between a new word and those already covered.
For instance: see - sea; too - two; one – won (in pronunciation); answer - reply; answer - ask; small - little (in meaning); bought - brought; caught - taught; night - right (in spelling); to fight somebody - бороться пpотив кого-либо; to doubt something – сомневаться в чем-либо; to mention something - упоминать о чем-либо (similar word combination).
The process of learning a word means to the pupil: (1) identification of concepts, i. e., learning what the word means; (2) pupil's activity for the purpose of retaining the word; (3) pupil's activity in using this word in the process of communication in different situations.
Accordingly, the teacher's role in this process is: to furnish explanation, i. e., to present the word, to get his pupils to identify the concept correctly; to get them to recall or recognize the word by means of different exercises; to stimulate pupils to use the words in speech.
Hence there are two stages in teaching vocabulary: presentation or explanation, retention or consolidation which are based on certain psycholinguistic factors.
How to Teach Vocabulary in School.
Presentation of new words. Since every word has its form, meaning, and usage to present a word means to introduce to pupils its forms (phonetic, graphic, structural, and grammatical), and to explain its meaning, and usage.
The techniques of teaching pupils the pronunciation and spelling of a word are as follows: (1) pure or conscious imitation; (2) analogy; (3) transcription; (4) rules of reading.
Since a word consists of sounds if heard or spoken and letters if read or written the teacher shows the pupils how to pronounce, to read, and write it. However the approach may vary depending on the task set (the latter depends on the age of pupils, their progress in the language, the type of words, etc.). For example, if the teacher wants his pupils to learn the word orally first, he instructs them to recognize it when hearing and to articulate the word as an isolated element (a book) and in a sentence pattern or sentence patterns, alongside with other words. (This is a book. Give me the book. Take the book. Put the book on the table, etc.)
As far as the form is concerned the pupils have but two difficulties to overcome: to learn how to pronounce the word both separately and in speech; and to recognize it in sentence patterns pronounced by the teacher, by his classmates, or by a speaker in case the tape recorder is used.
If the teacher wants his pupils to learn, the word during the same lesson not only for hearing and speaking but for reading and writing as well, he shows them how to write and read it after they perform oral exercises and can recognize and pronounce the word. The teacher writes down the word on the blackboard (let it be spoon) and invites some pupils to read it (they already know all the letters and the rule of reading oo). The pupils read the word and put it down in their notebooks. In this case the pupils have two more difficulties to overcome: to learn how to write and how to read the word; the latter is connected with their ability to associate letters with sounds in a proper way.
Later when pupils have learned the English alphabet and acquired some skills in spelling and reading they may be told to copy the new words into their exercise-books and read and write them independently; this work being done mainly as homework. The teacher then has his pupils perform various oral exercises during the lesson, he makes every pupil pronounce the new words in sentence patterns and use them in speech. Since this is the most difficult part of work in vocabulary assimilation it can and must be done during the lesson and under the teacher's supervision.
There are two methods of conveying the meaning of words: direct method and translation. The direct method of presenting the words of a foreign language brings the learner into direct contact with them, the mother tongue does not come in between, it establishes links between a foreign word and the thing or the concept directly. The direct method of conveying the meaning of foreign words is usually used when the words denote things, objects, their qualities, sometimes gestures and movements, which can be shown to and seen by pupils, for example: a book, a table, red, big, take, stand, up, etc. The teacher should connect the English word he presents with the object, the notion it denotes directly, without the use of pupils' mother tongue.
There are various techniques for the use of the direct method. It is possible to group them into (1) visual and (2) verbal. The first group involves the use of visual aids to convey the meaning of unfamiliar words. These may be: objects, or pictures showing objects or situations; besides, the teacher may use movements and gestures.
The use of the direct method, however, is restricted. Whenever the teacher is to present words denoting abstract notions he must resort to the mother tongue, i. e., to translation.
The translation method may be applied in its two variants:
1. Common (proper) translation:
to sleep - cпать
flower - цветок
joy - радость
2. Translation - interpretation:
to go – eхать, идти, лететь (движение от говорящего)
to come - хать, идти, лететь (движение к говорящему)
to drive - вести (что?) машину, поезд, автобус, трамвай
education - воспитание, образование
afternoon - время с 12ч. дня до 6ч. вeчера
in the afternoon - днём
The translation method is efficient for presenting new words: it is economical from the point of view of time; it ensures the exact comprehension of the meaning of the words presented. As far as the stages of instruction are concerned, the methods of conveying the meaning of unfamiliar words should be used as follows:
visual presentation prevails in junior forms;
verbal means prevail in intermediate and senior forms;
translation in all the forms, especially in senior forms.
From psychology it is known that the process of perception is a complicated one; it includes various sensations and, at the same time, is closely connected with thinking and speech, with pupils’ attention, their will, memory, and emotions. The more active the pupils are during the explanation of new words the better the results that can be achieved.
The choice of methods and techniques is a very important factor as it influences pupils’ assimilation of words.
And, finally, pupils are recommended to get to know new words independently; they look them up in the word list or the dictionary. The teacher shows them how to consult first the vocabulary list at the end of the book, then the dictionary.
Once dictionaries have been brought into use the teacher should seldom explain a word, he should merely give examples of its use or use it (as if the class already knew it) in various speech patterns. This is the case at the senior level.
The choice of the method for conveying the meaning of a word depends on the following factors.
1. Psychological factors:
a) pupils’ age: the younger the pupils are the better is the chance for the use of the direct
b) pupils’ intelligence: the brighter the child the more direct the method.
2. Pedagogical factors:
a) he stage of teaching (junior, intermediate, senior);
b) the size of the class; in overcrowded classes the translation method is preferable because it is economical from the standpoint of time required for presentation, so more time is left for pupils to do exercises in using the word;
c) the time allotted to learning the new words; when the teacher is pressed for time he turns to the translation method;
d) the qualifications of the teacher: the use of the direct method requires much skill on the part of the teacher.
The direct method is usually a success provided the teacher can skillfully apply audio-visual aids and verbal means.
3. Linguistic factors:
a) abstract or concrete notions; for conveying the meaning of abstract notions the translation method is preferable;
b) extent (range) of meaning in comparison with that of the native language; in cases where range of meaning of a word does not coincide in the mother tongue and in the target language, the translation-interpretation should be used (e. g., education).
Whatever method of presenting a new word is used pupils should be able to pronounce the word correctly, listen to sentences with the word, and repeat the word after the teacher individually and in unison both as a single unit and in sentences. However this is only the first step in approaching the word. Then comes the assimilation which is gained through performing various exercises.
R e t e n t i o n of w o r d s. To attain the desired end pupils must first of all perform various exercises to fix the words in their memory.
Constant use of a new word is the best way of learning it.
For this purpose it is necessary to organize pupils’ work in a way permitting them to approach the new words from many different sides, in many different ways, by means of many different forms of work. The teacher can ensure lasting retention of words for his pupils provided he relies upon pupils’ sensory perception and thinking, upon their auditory, visual, and kinesthetic analyses so that pupils can easily recognize the words while hearing or reading, and use them while speaking or writing whenever they need. To use a word the pupil should, first, search for it in his memory, choose the very word he needs, and then insert the word in a sentence, i.e., use it properly to express his thought. Thus correct usage of words means the correct choice and insertion of the words in speech.
For this reason two groups of exercises may be recommended for vocabulary assimilation:
Group I. Exercises designed for developing pupils’ skills in choosing the proper word.
Group II. Exercises designed to form pupils’ skills in using the word in sentences.
Group I may include:
1. Exercises in finding the necessary words among those suggested. For example:
- Pick out the words (a) which denote school objects:
(1) a pen, (2) a cup, (3) a blackboard, (4) a desk, (5) a bed, (6) a picture, (7) a car (pupils are expected to take (1), (3), (4), (6);
or (b) which denote size:
red, (2) big, (3) good, (4) small, (5) great, (6) green
(pupils should take (2), (4), (5).
- Choose the right word:
The horse is a (wild, domestic) animal.
They (ate, drank) some water.
The (sheep, fly) is an insect.
The (rode, road) leads to Minsk.
- Arrange the words in pairs of the same root:
usual, danger, development, usually, dangerous, develop
(pupils are expected to arrange the words usual — usually, danger — dangerous...).
2. Exercises in finding the necessary words among those stored up in the pupils’ memory. For example:
- Name the object the teacher shows (the teacher shows pupils a book, they say a book).
- Give it a name: (1) we use it when it rains; (2) it makes our tea sweet; (3) we sleep in it (pupils are expected to say an umbrella, sugar, a bed).
- Fill in the blanks: They saw__ __ a little in the forest
The hut was __ __ .
- Say (or write) those words which (a) you need to speak about winter, (b) refer to sports and games.
- Say (or write) the opposites of:
remember, hot, day, get up, answer, tall, thick.
Group II may include:
1. Exercises in inserting the necessary words in word combinations, phrases, sentences; the words and sentences being suggested. For example:
- Combine the words:
(a) sky fine b) speak late
rain blue run fast
snow heavy come loudly
(Pupils have to say (or to write): (a) blue sky, heavy rain, white snow, fine weather;
(b) speak loudly, run fast, come late.)
- Insert the words met; built; posted in (1) The house was ... last year. (2) The delegation was... at the railway station in the morning. (3) The letter was ... three days ago.
- Make statements with: a few days, a few words, a few people, a few friends, a few hours: e. g., We worked in the field for a few hours.
2. Exercises in using word combinations, phrases, sentences stored up in pupils' memory in connection with situations given. For example:
- Say what you can see here. (The teacher shows his pupils pens and pencils of different colour and size for them to say a blue pen, a long pencil, etc. Or he can use situational pictures for the purpose.)
- Say where the pen is. (The teacher puts the pen in different pi aces for pupils to say
on the table, in the box, under the bag, over the blackboard, and so on.)
- Make statements. (The teacher either displays objects or uses pictures for pupils to say this is a blue pencil, it’s raining hard, the girl can’t skate.)
3. Exercises which help pupils to acquire skills in using vocabulary in speech which may be stimulated by (a) visual materials; (b) verbal means; (c) audio-visual materials.
There are three problems the teacher is to deal with in vocabulary retention:
a) the number of exercises to be used;
b) the type of exercises to be used;
c) the sequence or the order of complexity in which the selected exercises should be
In solving these problems the teacher should take into consideration:
- The aim of teaching a word. Do pupils need it for speaking or only for reading? If it is a word designed for speaking then it should go through most of the exercises mentioned above. If it is a word designed for reading only then it is not necessary to use exercises for developing pupils' skills in using the words in oral language.
- The nature of the word. There are English words which are difficult for Russian or Kazakh-speaking students. To master these words pupils should do a great number of exercises which require the use of the words in speaking.