Any discussion of vocabulary acquisition and of language performance needs to draw a clear distinction between comprehension and production, because they are different skills that require different methods in the classroom.
Comprehension of vocabulary relies on strategies that permit one to understand words and store them, while production concerns strategies that activate one´s storage by retrieving these words from memory and then by using them in appropriate situations.
The priority this distinction assigns to comprehension is one of many reasons why a growing number of researches believe that comprehension should precede production in language teaching.
The object of a vocabulary lesson is one of enhancing the different strategies for comprehension and production.
- Enhance understanding: The first task is helping students what unfamiliar words mean. It would be well at the beginning to assure them that they do not have to know all the words of a passage before they can understand its meaning, that a single mysterious word, or 2 or 3 will not prevent comprehension, and that it is this understanding of the text that will be their greatest aid in deciphering these difficult words.
We must also assure them that they need not know all the meanings of any particular word, but that they can be content knowing only a general meaning for it.
We have to convince students that instead of looking up every word in a dictionary, they should rely on the techniques discussed below for discovering meaning. The dictionary means security but we should advise that the dictionary be used only as a last resort.
- Context clues: Guessing vocabulary from context is the most frequent way we discover the meaning of new words, and do it, we have learned to look for a number of clues. Secondly we are guides by other words in the discourse to help us guess. Finally, grammatical structure as well as intonation in speech and punctuation in writing contain further clues.
- Word morphology: Morphology also offers clues for determining word meaning. Students have to interpret unfamiliar words for them by using the meanings of the affixes they have learned.
- Enhance storage in memory: The second task in teaching comprehension is helping students remember words or more precisely helping them store words in memory.
Function words can be omitted to memory rather quickly, simply because there are few of them and because they reoccur frequently. Most problems will occur with those content words that are not so easily pictured, that is, those nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs that stand for abstract concepts.
A second fact about vocabulary and meaning is that form may be more important than vocabulary in remembering a vocabulary item. We rely on the form of a word to lead us to its meaning. Knowing the meaning of a word becomes the task of knowing its associations with other words, therefore to teach it the most effectively, we must present it in this network of associations.
- Mnemonic devices: One way we can enhance storage is by encouraging students to use memory techniques that will aid them in committing words to memory. Although there is a great deal of resistance in many countries towards introducing mnemonic techniques in the classroom, students everywhere seem to use these techniques and find them very helpful.
- Loci: They are the world´ s oldest and best-known memory device, described in every self-help book on improving memory. Loci are based on the fact that we operate by cognitive maps which are familiar sequences of visual images that can be recalled easily. To memorize an item, one forms a visual image of it and places it at one of the loci in one´s imagined scene. Retrieval of these items then comes about effortlessly when the entire scene is brought back to mind.
- Paired associates: The familiar direct method often attempts to associate a visual image with anew word. In teaching the word hard, the teacher might hold up a rock so that hard would be stored not as an isolated item but as one paired with the image of a rock.
- Key words: The student learns a word in the target language by associating it with its translation in the native language in a special way. For example, in learning that the Spanish word perro means dog one might notice that the first syllable of the new word sounds like pear and would then visualize a large pear-shaped dog waddling down the street.
- Perception and action: They are basic processes that affect language acquisition. The subject´ s interaction with the environment is a major factor in language acquisition, for this relationship provides the associations and requires the mental activity necessary for language learning.
- Formal grouping: It is by the form of vocabulary items that we usually try to remember a word. A knowledge of basic affixes helps learners decode words. Since Latin and Greek affixes often occur as compound words with bound bases, they are handled differently from roots with derivational affixes f.i: tele: far distant, phone: sound, photo: light, graph: write.
- Word families: Many words built about a particular root are gathered. Even though the meanings of these words may be slightly different, clustering them will aid students in remembering their general meaning.
- Historical, orthographical similarities: A knowledge of the sound changes separating the 2 languages will be of help, not only for understanding the vocabulary of classical languages, but for contemporary ones as well.
Likewise a knowledge of spelling conventions is useful. English students of French are aided greatly by recognizing the relationship of French ê to English es.
- Collocations: The meaning of a word has a great deal to do with the words with which it commonly associates. Collocations permit people to know what kinds of words they can expect to find together: to draw a conclusion
- Vocabulary use: It is more important for students to use the newly stored language as effortlessly and quickly as possible than it is for them to wait for control of precise vocabulary, even though what they produce may stay far from the standard.
- Pidginization: One way to promote fluency is by encouraging pidginization, urging students to put language together the best they can and avoid the self-monitoring that would inhibit its use
- Derivation: in which we take the root and add affixes to it, is the most common method for creating new words, for it allows us to expand vocabulary without memorizing new words and thus aids fluency.
- Compounding: Another common way of forming new words is by compounding.
- Vocabulary retrieval: The storage of information does not guarantee its retrieval. Techniques that enhance production will have to be centred on the meanings of words rather than on their forms, because most of our production has to do with searching for an appropriate meaning to fit the particular occasion.
The most effective associative bounds for production connect the word and its meaning. The following are techniques that gather words in such a way:
- Situational sets: They are cohesive chains of lexical relationships in discourse: they are groups of words that are associated because of the subject of the text, its purpose or its construction. They are words related to a particular situation. A conversation about a department store would contain vocabulary such as price, floor, sales, charge, clothes, shop assistant, customer etc.
- Semantic sets: Words can be grouped as:
– Synonyms: sofa, couch
– Antonyms: wide, narrow
– Cordinates: oak, elm
– Superordinates: skunk, animal
– Subordinates: fruit, pear
Another kind of semantic set has to do with stimulus-response pairs such as accident-car and baby-mother.
- Collocations: They are useful for teaching production as they are for teaching comprehension. Collocations teach students expectations about which sorts of language can follow what has preceded.
- Lexical phrases:
- Prefabricated speech: Many theories of language performance suggest that vocabulary is stored redundantly. This prefabricated speech has both the advantage of more efficient retrieval and of permitting speakers to direct attention to the larger structure of discourse, rather than keeping it focused narrowly on individual words as they are produced. Two and three-part verbs (put up, put up with), noun compounds (card player) and idioms and sayings (keep tabs on) are usually treated no differently from other vocabulary.
- Reasons for teaching lexical phrases: These phrases will lead to fluency in speaking and writing, for they relieve the learner of concentrating on each individual word as it is used by allowing them to focus attention on the larger structure of the discourse and the social aspects of interaction.
- Methods of teaching lexical phrases: One method of teaching lexical phrases is to make students to make use of them the same way that first-language learners do, that is, by starting with a few basic fixed phrases which they then analyse as smaller, finally breaking them apart into individual words, and thus finding their own way to the regular rules of syntax. We can divide them in:
1. Social interactions:
– Greetings/ Closings: hello, good morning, goodbye, see you later.
– Politeness/ routines: please, if you don´t mind, thank you
– Question/ answer: do you….? Are there…? Of course, yes, there…
2. Necessary topics:
– Language: How do you say?
– Shopping: too expensive
– Autobiography: My name is…, I am from…
– Quantity: How much is..? a great deal
– Time: What time…?
– Location: Where is…?
3. Discourse devices:
– Fluency devices: you know
– Conjunctions: which means
– Subordinators: in other words
– Logical connectors: in spite of
– Temporal connectors: the day after
Social interaction and discourse devices provide lexical phrases for the framework of the discourse, whereas necessary topics provide them for the subject at hand.
Criteria for selecting texts:
First of all we must select the type of dialect, register, style and medium to be taught. In making this choice we will be guided by the objectives and other external factors such as level, time etc. After the type of language material has been delineated, we have to make a decision about how many and which items should be selected.
- Objectives: The selection must be such that will enable the learners to carry out the tasks described in the objectives. It makes an important difference whether the selection is made within the framework of FLT for general purposes or of FLT for special purposes.
- Level: A course for beginners will not contain the same type and the same amount of language material as a course for advanced students.
- Time: It is not the same whether the course in question is an intensive one or a non- intensive one.
Selection of type of language material:
- Dialect: This choice will not be a difficult one, especially with beginners, since the foreign language learner will in general find out most use for the standard language. It is the variety mostly used in the media and in education.
- Register: It is very useful for FLT for special purposes. Registers are usually distinguished at the lexical level. It is the terminology belonging to a certain situation or subject area that distinguishes one register from another.
- Style: There are 5 styles: frozen, formal, consultative, casual and intimate ranked in a hierarchy of decreasing formality. The normal choice for a FLT for general purposes will be a formal style.
- Medium: It relates to the distinction between spoken and written language. There are significant differences between written and spoken language.
When selecting a text we have to pay attention to the degree of L2 proficiency the learners have already attained, to their interests, to whether the texts provide reliable information about the people whose language is being taught and the society they live in, to the degree of difficulty of texts, which is not only determined by the number of words and structures known, but also by things such as the subject matter of the text, the way in which the writer approaches the subject and the knowledge the learners already have about the subject.
Authentic texts are hardly usable in elementary courses. At an advanced level it will be necessary to use authentic written and spoken texts if the objective is for learners to be able to understand the foreign language as it is used by native speakers.
Lastly the possibilities for exploitation of a text need to be taken into account. If one for instance selects original spoken texts, one should realize that such texts can usually only be used for training listening comprehension and as a starting point for discussion.