Vocabulary teaching is one of my most favourite topics. And this is because it is essential to language learning and effective communication, while at the same time a challenge with adults, who have no time to study.

 

How do we help our learners acquire new words?

Do we give them lists of words and we ask them to find the definition?

Do we give them lists of words with definitions and we ask them to study them?

Do we give them lists of words with examples of usage and we ask them to study them?

Do we give them lists of words with examples of usage and we ask them to create their own examples of usage?

In my view, we should constantly be questioning our techniques. We should always ask ourselves:

How useful is this technique or activity?

The above also meaning: How time-effective is it? (i.e. time spent vs effectiveness).

 

Inextricably linked to the above is the question on how successfully we help our learners to be ready to retrieve a new word when they need it. Isn’t this how we evaluate whether they have acquired a word?

So here is my two-pence on what direction our activities should have.

When we teach a word we have to think of the words with which it goes together well.

Example:

Advice

Practical advice, professional advice, good advice, legal advice are a few of the most frequent collocations with the word advice. It is very useful to present these word combinations rather than the word advice on its own. It is even more useful to present the word within full sentences (short if possible so that they can be memorized), so that the learner can absorb further word combinations (with verbs for instance):

He gave me very good advice.

He gave me his professional advice.

I asked for his legal advice.

Could I ask for your advice?

 

Acquiring  the word within these sentences makes it less likely for the learner to consider acceptable a sentence like He gave me his professional advices. Not because the learner would remember the grammar rule behind it, but because he/she will have incorporated this sentence as pre-fabricated without attempting to change it.

The characteristic of the above sentences is their high frequency of occurrence. In fact their frequency is such that if you try to complete these phrases:

He gave me very good ….

 

Written by Zoe Hadjianastasiou, LTES Academic Director and Co-founder