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How Should Educators Teach Vocabulary to Advanced Language Learners?

Aug 16, 2008
Advanced learners of languages generally communicate well using the basic structures of a foreign language. Although this is the case, there is still the obvious need to widen these learners' vocabularies so that they are better able to express themselves and they can cope with other situations that are beyond the basic scenarios.

Even though the student might already be able to speak to like a local, there is certainty that his vocabulary is limited and this is where the educator or trainer should be focused. Along with being able to learn a new language, it is much more important to be able to understand how words are used and to account for factors such as formality and writing styles.

Vocabulary Expansion

Traditionally, those who have opted to learn a second (third or even fourth) language were taught with limited vocabulary--ones that can be used in day-to-day conversation or reading. It was presumed that those who mastered a foreign language would be able to learn the other vocabularies once they indulge into much speaking.

Sadly, this is not the case as vocabulary can only be properly learned and expanded if it is taught as a part of a syllabus. Some authors even argue that vocabulary should be the central part of learning any language.

Nowadays, vocabulary teaching is very much a part of any foreign language course. In teaching vocabulary, there are several aspects of lexis that need to be considered such as:

* Conceptual meaning boundaries--this means pointing out what lexis refers to and where the boundaries are set. For instance, related meaning of words should be separated (for example--mug, cup, or bowl).

* Homonymy--knowing the different meanings of one word such as files which can be used to define putting papers together or a tool.

* Polysemy--how to tell apart the various meanings of a single word such as the word head which could mean the head of a pin; the head of a person; or the head of a group.

* Synonymy--telling apart the different shades of meaning in synonyms such as extend, expand or increase.

* Homophyny--knowing the meaning of words that sound similar such as flour and flower.

* Translation--knowing the similarities and varieties between foreign and native languages.

* Chunks of language--such as idiomatic expressions, lexical phrases, or collocations.

* Grammar of vocabulary--learning the principles behind building words out of a single word such as play, played, and playing.

* Pronunciation of foreign words--the ability to recognize and to reproduce the items while speaking.

Meaning of Words

One of the most important aspects of learning languages is to understand the meaning or meanings of words. Guided discovery means offering examples or asking questions that would guide the learners to the correct meaning of the foreign word. Permanent learning or language retention is necessary and can only be achieved through semantic processing.

Knowing how words are formed (such as the use of prefixes or suffixes) can guide a language learner to discover the meaning of many words. There are many techniques and practical approaches to contextual guesswork such as learning the use of verbs, nouns and adjectives in sentences. Dictionaries play an essential role on the identification of a foreign word's functions in a sentence.
Conclusion
It is important to set apart students who already know the basics of a foreign language. The materials, tasks and approaches should be at a higher level and teachers play a great role in motivating language learners towards fluency or perfection.
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