Vocabulary is the knowledge of words and word meanings. As Steven Stahl (2005) puts it, “Vocabulary knowledge is knowledge; the knowledge of a word not only implies a definition, but also implies how that word fits into the world.” Vocabulary knowledge is not something that can ever be fully mastered; it is something that expands and deepens over the course of a lifetime. Instruction in vocabulary involves far more than looking up words in a dictionary and using the words in a sentence. Vocabulary is acquired incidentally through indirect exposure to words and intentionally through explicit instruction in specific words and word-learning strategies.
What is involved in knowing a word?
Form Spoken Receptive What does the word sound like? Productive How is the word pronounced Written Receptive What does the word look like? Productive How is the word written and spelled? Word parts Receptive What parts are recognizable in this word? Productive What word parts are needed to express this meaning? Meaning Form & meaning Receptive What meaning does this word form signal? Productive What word form can be used to express this meaning? Concept & referents Receptive What is included in the concept? Productive What items can the concept refer to? Associations Receptive What other words does this make us think of? Productive What other words can we use instead of this one? Use Grammatical functions Receptive In what patterns does this word occur? Productive In what patterns must we use this word? Collocations Receptive What words or types of words occur with this one? Productive What words or types of words must we use with this one? Constraints on use (register, frequency…) Receptive Where, when and how often would we expect to meet this word? Productive Where, when and how often can we use this word?
Source: Nation, P., 2001, Learning Vocabulary in Another Language, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, p. 27
How should vocabulary be effectively taught to EFL learners?
According to Michael Graves (2000), there are four components of an effective vocabulary program:
- wide or extensive independent reading to expand word knowledge
- instruction in specific words to enhance comprehension of texts containing those words
- instruction in independent word-learning strategies, and
- word consciousness and word-play activities to motivate and enhance learning
When thinking about how to teach vocabulary, it is important to remember that learners need to have both active and passive vocabulary knowledge.
That is, students must vocabulary should consist of English words the learners will be expected to use themselves in original sentences, and those they will merely have to recognise when they hear them or see them written down by others.
Teaching passive vocabulary is important for comprehension – the issue of understanding another speaker needs the listener to have passive vocabulary, that is, enough knowledge of words used by others to comprehend their meaning. This is also called receptive knowledge of English.
Teaching active vocabulary is important for an advanced in terms of their own creativity. This is because in order to create their own sentences, students need active vocabulary
Active vocabulary contains the word a student can understand and manipulate in order to use for their own personal expression. This is called productive knowledge of English
This is very useful for more concrete words (dog, rain, tall) and for visual learners. It has its limits though, not all items can be drawn.
This lends itself particularly well to action verbs and it can be fun and memorable.
- Synonyms/Antonyms/Gradable items
Using the words a student already knows can be effective for getting meaning across.
Make sure that it is clear (maybe check in a learner dictionary before the lesson if you are not confident). Remember to ask questions to check they have understood properly.
If you know the students’ L1, then it is fast and efficient. Remember that not every word has a direct translation.
Think of a clear context when the word is used and either describe it to the students or give them example sentences to clarify meaning further.