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Vocabulary Myth

Myth 6: The best vocabulary learners make use of one or two really good specific vocabulary learning strategies.

“Regardless of how much instruction we do in schools, students will actually do most of their learning independently. It therefore makes sense to encourage students to adopt personal plans to expand their vocabularies over time.” Thus, one of the main classroom activities for teachers of vocabulary is the direct teaching of learning strategies related to vocabulary. Research has not proven one vocabulary-learning strategy to be better than the rest. Research has also proven that the cultural backgrounds of the students have a great deal to do with the type of language learning behavior likely to be used by students. The best learners utilize several vocabulary-learning strategies. Researchers have concluded that time and learner independence were the two factors most associated with success in vocabulary learning and higher overall English proficiency. One of the most important factors in learning a word is the number of times the learner retrieves it. Help students make a useful vocabulary notebook and refer to it often. Teachers should introduce students to as many strategies as possible.

  • Morphology: point out the meaning of the parts of a word. For example, review: re=again, view=see, thus review=to see again.
  • Imagery: use the letters of the word, the length of the word, the form of the word to connect it to meaning. For example, a valley looks like a large V.
  • Connotation: to teach the phrasal verb call off, ask students if off has a positive or negative meaning. Point out the negative meaning of call off.
  • Interactive-image mnemonics: a combination of a mnemonic device referring to a L1 word and an image associated with the new word. For example, when learning isu in Japanese, an English-speaker could think of the word easy in English which sounds similar. They then use imagery and come up with the sentence, “It is easy to sit in a chair.”

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Vocabulary Myth

Myth 5: Guessing words from context is an excellent strategy for learning second language vocabulary.

Using context clues is a reading-improvement strategy but not a vocabulary-improvement strategy. Students often guess the wrong meaning from context and don’t verify their assumption. As good readers, they focus on the general meaning of the passage instead of the meaning of every word, meaning that they ignore new vocabulary words in the passage. At best, students may partially and passively pick up on the meaning of a word from context. This does not lead to retention of that word. Even if learners look it up in the dictionary, the might not retain it. Teachers must call students’ attention to the words in the passage and explicitly teach them the correct meaning. Students will remember the new word by 1) paying attention to words deemed important, 2) marking down new words, and 3) reviewing new vocabulary regularly. Exercises that ask students to guess word meanings from context should be done in class so that the teacher can give immediate feedback.


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