A letter to the teachers of English: 48How to develop your learner’s vocabulary (2) [Archives:2004/724/Education]

March 25 2004

Dr..M.N.K.Bose ([email protected])
Associate Professor of English,
Faculty of Arts, Ibb.

Dear Fellow teachers,
Now that you have some idea about vocabulary, let's talk about the ways in which we can help our learners to develop their vocabulary. As I said in my last letter, vocabulary development is a lifelong process; what we can do is to create an interest in our learners so that they may continue this process throughout their lives. The first and foremost, in my view, is that we should be a good model to them, involving ourselves in the process of developing our own vocabulary. Only a burning candle can light the other candles, says an old Tamil saying. There is no shortcut to develop our vocabulary overnight; the only way is to read and read and read, anything and everything. An avaricious reader, no doubt, has a large vocabulary at his/her command.
Let's see what makes words in a text difficult. Most of the time it is the idiomatic use of the words makes it difficult for the reader to understand them. Similarly, the metaphorical use of the words creates problem for the reader. Sometimes, one word carrying different meanings in different contexts adds to the problem of the reader.
In one of the earlier letters, I suggested that the learner, while reading a text, should be encouraged to infer the meaning of the new word from the context before he or she looks it up in a dictionary; it is a useful strategy for developing vocabulary.
There are several useful classroom techniques to develop our learner's vocabulary in English. A number of books on ELT, including mine (Unit 8), have suggestions in this regard, which you can make use of. I'll discuss some of them here.
Most of the activities useful for vocabulary development can be turned into language games to attract the learners in the beginning classes. For example, you can write a long word like 'aeroplane'on the blackboard and ask the learners to create as many words as they can, using the letters in that word; they can come up with words like 'plan, open, lane, no, rope, ear' etc. This can be played as a group game as well. It is a very interesting and useful game in the preparatory as well as the secondary classes.
You can similarly use games such as Word Pyramid or Word Magazine or Word Gun or Word Volcano; all these have the same process, though the names are different, and help the learners expand their vocabulary. Jumbling the spelling of a word and asking the learner to decode the word is also a useful way of learning new words, especially the spelling of the words. Several English magazines publish games such as Crossword Puzzle, Word Quiz, Scramble, Increase Your Word Power etc, and our learners can be encouraged to play these games in order to develop their vocabulary.
The CECY Pupil's Books and Workbooks have a lot of activities to help our learners develop their vocabulary; to quote a few examples, look at WB1 pages 28, 53, 73; WB2 pages1, 3, 19,76; WB3 pages20, 51, 82; WB6 pages 78, 79, 54. But it is important that you should encourage your learners to do these activities on their own and you should help them only if necessary; over-helping will deprive them of the thrill in their learning. With a bit of imagination you can innovate several activities and games for developing your learner's vocabulary. Try and share your success with me. Good luck.
Yours fraternally,