Strategies to develop vocabulary [Archives:2007/1102/Education]

November 12 2007

Dr. Mohammad Ejaz Alam
[email protected]
Assistant Professor,
Department of English
University of Science &Technology, Sana'a

Teaching vocabulary is an arduous task and it involves a considerable amount of expertise. It is not so easy as it seems to be. If a student asks the question how to develop vocabulary, the very stupid answer is to memorize dictionary. But it will spoil the sense of learning and endanger the spirit of language. Hence several explanations have been made to find out the ways to learn vocabulary. Some linguists advise to listen to songs, rhymes, or stories. Some of them are in favor of word-level reading and writing games such as matching words with pictures. Native speakers intuitively know word collocations, i.e. how words go together naturally, such as “tall” rather than “high” to describe trees, or “take” medicine rather than “drink or eat” it.

Non -native speakers have to face a lot of difficulties as the range of English vocabulary is very wide. They meet with many sets of words which add greatly to our opportunities to express subtle shades of meaning. Therefore, learning vocabulary is inevitable and the teachers of vocabulary have an important task to perform.

Vocabulary knowledge, according to Saville- Troike, is the single most important area of second language competence. It includes to the concern of all four language skills. It is related to both reading, with its receptive understanding of language, and writing, with its productive use. Nattinger expresses that ” comprehension of vocabulary relies on strategies that permit one to understand words and store them, to commit them to memory, nd by using them in appropriate situations”. Students of English often express a need to expand their vocabulary as they are facing several difficulties in using a word correctly; they have a poor stock of words and have confusion between similar sounding/ looking words.

Now the very pertinent question is what kind of vocabulary is to be taught. Linguists have divided vocabulary into two types: Core vocabulary and Academic Vocabulary. Sinclair and Renouf are more specific in the determination of criteria for core vocabulary.

They are :

a) the commonest word forms in the language;

b) their central pattern of usage;

c) the combinations which they typically form.

Carter describes core vocabulary as a basis of ” subject-specific vocabulary” which is ” not neutral in field and is immediately associated with a specific topic.” Academic vocabulary is subjected to ” the university word List.” According to Nation , it can be used as a 'checklist and aim for students' or 'guide and focus for teachers in different activities.'

Cowan identifies ” sub-technical vocabulary” as essential for university students' reading needs:

“Context independent words which occur with high frequency across disciplines, e.g. function, inference, isolate, relation, basis, pre-suppose, simulate, approximately, etc.”

Vocabulary learning, taken into account both short-term and long-term memories. It has been discovered that ” words in our mental lexicon, are tied to each other not only by meaning, form and sound, but also by sight.” Hunter discussed and exemplified several memory systems, e.g. visual- symbol, successive-comparison, digit letter systems. The best of them is learning by heart or visual imagery.

The most effective way for students to increase their vocabulary is to be involved in the learning process. It is possible under the guidance of a teacher or on a self-access basis. It can be planned in a systematic way rather than than be subjected to incidental learning. The learning and practice could involve the use of collocations (a word that is often used with another word) and semantic fields that (words in the same network or field share some aspects of meaning) etc. It will enable the students to develop their own strategies of enriching vocabulary.