Teaching vocabulary

Trimis la data: 2010-05-04
Materia: Engleza
Nivel: Facultate
Pagini: 20
Nota: 9.85 / 10
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Autor: Luana Popescu
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For many people, the question "What is vocabulary?" has a simple answer: "Words". But which words? Are "am", "is", "was", "had" and "of" vocabulary items, or are they something else? On the other hand, we may wish to say that such words as "am", "is", "was", "has", etc. are part of our vocabulary in a general sense. What is a word? Is "put up with" ("tolerate") one word or three? It has three parts, certainly, but only one meaning. "Beat", on the other hand, has several meanings; is it one word or more?

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To know a word is to know much more than just its stress, its spelling and its most commonly accepted meaning. It is to know its grammar: is it a verb? an adjective? a noun? Is it followed by a gerund, an infinitive or a clause? What is its range of meaning (e.g. head of a school, head of a bed, etc.)? its diversity of meaning (e.g. light weight; light literature, light food; light: illuminate; lamp, etc.)? its collocations (e.g. keen on; interested in; to gamble on; raw materials; heavy traffic), and its connotations (e.g. dustman vs. refuse collector; chairman vs. chairperson; trendy vs. fashionable)? To conclude, to know a word is to be able to use it accurately in all its possible usages.

Many of us advise their pupils to write "new words" in special vocabulary notebooks. However, these are of little practical use unless some indication is given of how the new lexical item is used. Words do not have meaning in isolation. If we see the single word "beat", for instance, we have no way of knowing whether it is a noun meaning "rhythm", an area for which a policeman is responsible, or a verb meaning "defeat". Similarly, "round" may refer to the shape of something, but it is also another name for a bullet, a type of song and a number of drinks. Words take their meaning from the context in which they occur. It therefore makes sense to teach new vocabulary as part of a sentence or utterance that makes the meaning clear.

Coming to know a word is to absorb all the elements of its usage over time. In other words, during the first few encounters with a word the pupils will acquire a 'rough idea' of what it means and the way it is used. This rough idea will become more accurate with each new encounter of the word in context. Certain words tend to go together. We "make coffee", we "make the beds", but we "do the dishes" and "the shopping" We speak of "sweet" and "sour taste", but the opposite of "sweet wine" is "dry wine". We say that "wine" collocates with "dry", that "coffee" collocates with "make" and that "the shopping" collocates with "do".

Pupils therefore need to learn not only new items of vocabulary but also the words and phrases that collocate with these items. The collocations of a word are the combinations that it regularly makes with other words. There is a fundamental difference between the native speaker's process and the foreign language learner's process of learning vocabulary. This is to do with the semantic networks that each of them carries in his/her mind. To the native speaker, a new word is simply a new way of referring to something in an already very familiar cultural setting. To our pupil, a new word in English is a way of referring to something in an unfamiliar cultural setting.

So the pupil tends to incorporate the meaning of the new word into his/her own familiar cultural and semantic system. The meanings, both semantic and cultural, of the forms of a new language are most readily and precisely learned in the milieu where the language is spoken. Failing this, we need to surround the learner in the classroom with as much authentic speech, writing, aspects of the cultural environment, and contacts with native speakers as possible. Why? Because a language can only be truly and thoroughly absorbed in conjunction with its culture.
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