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Monday, March 30, 2009

How can a teacher help students enlarge their vocabulary?

Ways to help students enlarge their vocabulary

It is a self-evident truth that a good command of a language requires a knowledge of both its grammar and vocabulary as structural patterns serve as building blocks that hold lexical items together. Therefore, in addition to teaching grammatical rules, English teachers must help their students enlarge their vocabulary. This will not come as a daunting task to language teachers if they know that they can offer assistance to their students in their vocabulary learning and vocabulary expansion in the following ways.

Teachers can first help by raising students’ awareness of the importance of vocabulary learning and expansion. As can be seen, not all students are fully conscious of the necessity of having a wide vocabulary of English. Some students may emphasize the acquisition of linguistic structures over that of vocabulary because the former, in their opinion, can help them operate effectively inn English. However, it is not difficult to find cases in which it is words, not grammatical structures that help one get his message across. For example, a speaker can still make himself understood even though he produces a grammatically incorrect sentence like ‘Yesterday I meet mine old friend’. Therefore, language teachers should give priority to making students aware of the important role that vocabulary plays in language learning. Only when students realize the significance of knowing the lexis of a language will they make effort to learn words and increase their vocabulary.

Second, teachers can help students enrich their vocabulary by teaching words in context. The reasons for this technique are not difficult to understand. For one thing, the environment in which a word occurs with other words that will decide which meaning of the word is intended. Lexical items should thus not be presented to student in isolation; they should be presented in clear and meaningful contexts so that students can work out which sense of the word concerned in used. For another thing, students will get into the habit of guessing the meaning of new or unknown words form context, a badly needed skill for their vocabulary expansion. It is because when they first encounter new vocabulary items students will rely on the context as a clue to their intended meaning. In this way the meaning or use of the word will be retained longer in their mind.

Moreover, teachers can promote students’ vocabulary learning and expansion by teaching words in relation to other words. It is highly recommended that specific words such as red, blue, yellow should be related to the generic term color, that words like happy should compared with happily, happiness, unhappy, unhappily and unhappiness, that words like book should be extended to notebook, textbook and handbook and that acceptable combinations like headache, earache, stomachache should be identified as opposed to illegitimate ones like eye ache or throat ache. In other words, teachers do not simply teach certain words as discrete lexical items; teachers have to present words in a network established by such language phenomena as sense relations word formation and collocation. An additional teaching tip is that teachers can present vocabulary in categories of words depending on topics. Teachers can ask students to keep a notebook to record words in different sections for different themes or topics so that they can develop their vocabulary systematically. In this sense, students not only learn, for example, a single word happy but several connected forms like happily, happiness, unhappy, unhappily and unhappiness and other words referring to human emotional states like glad, pleased, sad, and depressed. This will certainly lead to a massive increase in the number of words students learn and acquire.

One more thing that teachers can do to help their students to widen their vocabulary is to train them in dictionary using skills. Naturally, teachers cannot provide students with all the words they need. So dictionaries will serve as their best source of reference outside class time. And that is the reason why students should be given practice in using dictionaries. Teachers can start by recommending a good bilingual dictionary such as an Oxford or Cambridge or Longman learners’ dictionary. Certainly, a monolingual dictionary has a role to play but an English – English dictionary would expose learners more to the language. As learners’ dictionaries often define more complex words by means of simpler words, students can get at the meaning without switching back to their mother tongue. What is more, as easy and familiar words are used to explain new words, the former are recycled, thus facilitating students’ comprehension and acquisition of the latter. Then teachers can spend some of their class time showing students how to use the dictionary they have recommended. For example, they can set exercises in which students have to look up some new words from their reading or listening texts. This will force them to get to know the symbols and abbreviations used in the dictionary and to choose the most appropriate meaning of the words from a range of meanings listed in the dictionary.

In conclusion, there are just a few ways in which teachers can help their students enlarge their vocabulary. It is hoped that with the help and guidance from the teacher, students can first discover the value of vocabulary learning and expansion in language learning and then develop strategies to increase their vocabulary.

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