Teaching Vocabulary Paul Nation Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand Biography: Paul Nation teaches in the School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. He has taught in Indonesia, Thailand, the United States, Finland, and Japan. His specialist interests are language teaching methodology and vocabulary learning. Introduction:Deliberately teaching vocabulary is one of the least efficient ways of developing learners= vocabulary knowledge but nonetheless it is an important part of a well-balanced vocabulary programme. The main problem with vocabulary teaching is that only a few words and a small part of what is required to know a word can be dealt with at any one time. This limitation also applies to incidental learning fromlistening or reading, but it is much easier to arrange for large amounts of independent listening and reading than it is to arrange for large amounts of teaching. Teaching can effectively deal with only a small amount of information about a word at a time. The more complex the information is, the more likely the learners are to misinterpret it. Table 1: Ways of quickly giving attention to words 1Quickly give the meaning by (a) using an L1 translation, (b) using a known L2 synonym or a simple definition in the L2, (c) showing an object or picture, (d) giving quick demonstration, (e) drawing a simple picture or diagram, (f) breaking the word into parts and giving the meaning of the parts and the whole word (the word part strategy), (g) giving several example sentences with the word incontext to show the meaning, (h) commenting on the underlying meaning of the word and other referents. Draw attention to the form of the word by (a) showing how the spelling of the word is like the spelling of known words, (b) giving the stress pattern of the word and its pronunciation, (c) showing the prefix, stem and suffix that make up the word, (d) getting the learners to repeat the pronunciationof the word, (e) writing the word on the board, (f) pointing out any spelling irregularity in the word. Draw attention to the use of the word by (a) quickly showing the grammatical pattern the word fits into (countable/uncountable, transitive/intransitive, etc), (b) giving a
few similar collocates, (c) mentioning any restrictions on the use of the word (formal, colloquial, impolite,only used in the United States, only used with children, old fashioned, technical, infrequent), (d) giving a well known opposite, or a well known word describing the group or lexical set it fits into. Principles 1 Keep the teaching simple and clear. Don’t give complicated explanations. 2 Relate the present teaching to past knowledge by showing a pattern or analogies. 3 Use both oral and writtenpresentation - write it on the blackboard as well as explaining. 4 Give most attention to words that are already partly known. 5 Tell the learners if it is a high frequency word that is worth noting for future attention. 5 Don’t bring in other unknown or poorly known related words like near synonyms, opposites, or members of the same lexical set.
We need to see learning any particular word asbeing a cumulative process where knowledge is built up over a series of varied meetings with the word. At best, teaching can provide only one or two of these meetings. The others involve deliberate study, meeting through meaning-focused input and output, and fluency development activities. The positive effects of vocabulary teaching are that it can provide help when learners feel it is most needed.This is particularly true for vocabulary teaching that occurs in the context of message-focused activities involving listening, speaking, reading and writing, and where the teaching deals with items that learners see as being very relevant for the activity. Table 1 lists ways of quickly dealing with words. The small amount of research on such teaching indicates that it has a strong effect on...