Old and /or New Methods and Methodology in Vocabulary Teaching


‘Words – so innocent and powerless as they are, standing in a dictionary; how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to choose and combine them’
(Nathaniel Hawthorne)
I have chosen the above quotation as introductory to my paper, because I consider that it the most appropriate way to reason the purpose and the content of my paper. I really believe that vocabulary learning is central to language acquisition, whether the language is first, second or foreign. I think that not being able to find the words you need to express yourself is the most frustrating experience in speaking another language. Of course that vocabulary is not enough: the system of language (its grammar or structure) is also important. Nevertheless, it is possible to have o good knowledge of how system of a language works and yet not be able to communicate in an acceptable way without possessing the right vocabulary.
I base the above considerations on my experience as an English teacher at classes which are at elementary and intermediate level of studying English and for whom vocabulary acquisition is essential in learning the other aspects of the language and
In this respect, in the first three chapters I have presented some of the most outstanding old and new methods and approaches developed so far, as concerning teaching and learning vocabulary; theoretical and methodological principles as regarding methods, techniques, objectives, goals, assessment, teaching resources; communicative and traditional approaches to vocabulary with their advantages and disadvantages.
In chapter IV I have presented some theoretical considerations on traditional and modern approaches to teaching and learning vocabulary through examples of possible classroom activities.
Chapter V consists of a case study whose aim was to see the impact which combining modern and traditional methods and approaches can have on students’ learning and their vocabulary acquisition.
In conclusion, I really hope that this paper can be a helpful guide for my further vocabulary teaching and, why not, for other English teachers.

Old and /or New Methods and Methodology in Vocabulary Teaching; A Theoretical Approach
I. Methods and Approaches in Vocabulary Teaching
I.1 Grammar Translation’ Method
I.2 ‘Audio-Lingual’ Method
I.3 ‘PPP’ Method which stands for Presentation, Practice and Production
1.4 ‘Communicative Language Teaching ‘Method
1.5 ‘Task Based Learning’ Method
1.6 ‘Audio Visual Approach’
1.7 Audio ‘ Lingual Approach
Basic Principles in Teaching Vocabulary
II.1 Reflective Teaching Practice Needed Before Teaching Vocabulary
II.1.2 Principles and Techniques in Vocabulary Teaching
II.2 Teaching Vocabulary: Goals and Methods
II.2.1 Objectives
II.2.2 Goals
II.2.3 Approaches to Teaching Vocabulary
II.2.4 Students’ Vocabulary Assessment
II.2.5 Helpful Resources in Teaching Vocabulary
II.3 Students’ Needs in Vocabulary Acquisition

The Modern Communicative Approach to Vocabulary vs. the Traditional Approach through Translation: Advantages and Disadvantages
III.1. Modern Communicative Approach to Vocabulary
III. 1.1. Objectives
III. 1.2. Characteristics
III.2 Traditional Approach to Vocabulary through Translation
III. 2.1. Background and Principles
Types of Traditional and Modern Approaches to Vocabulary through Illustrative Activities, Based on Theoretical Considerations.

IV.1 Word-meaning exercises
IV.1.1 Inference exercises
IV.1.2 Synonym/antonym exercises
IV.1.3 Semantic field exercises
IV.1.4 Definition and dictionary exercises
IV.2 Vocabulary Games
IV.3 Learning English Vocabulary through Songs
IV.4 Learning English Vocabulary through Projects

A Comparison of the Effects of Two Vocabulary Teaching Approaches: The Modern Communicative Approach vs. the ‘Old-fashioned’ Method of Translation
V.I. The Aim of the Study
V.I.1 Setting Goals by Establishing a Common Ground of Learning Vocabulary as a Result of a Diagnostic Questionnaire
V.II. Classroom activities
V.III. Conclusions

Old and /or New Methods and Methodology in Vocabulary Teaching;
A Theoretical Approach

I. Methods and Approaches in Vocabulary Teaching
I.1 ‘Grammar Translation’ Method
I.2 ‘Audio-Lingual’ Method
I.3 ‘PPP’ Method which stands for Presentation, Practice and Production
1.4 ‘Communicative Language Teaching ‘Method,
1.5 ‘Task Based Learning’ Method
1.6 ‘Audio Visual Approach’
1.7 Audio ‘ Lingual Approach

There is now general agreement among vocabulary specialists that lexical competence is at the very heart of communicative competence, the ability to communicate successfully and appropriately.
In past years vocabulary teaching was often neglected because it was considered that it could be left to take care of itself. This low status of vocabulary study and teaching was mostly due to language teaching approaches based on American linguistic theories from 1940s, 1950s, .There was a theory based on American structural linguistics which emphasized grammatical and phonological structure. Because the emphasis was on teaching grammatical and phonological structures, vocabulary needed to be relatively simple, with new words introduced only as they were needed to make the drills possible. The assumption was that once students learnt the structural frames, lexical items to fill the grammatical structures in the frames could be learnt later, as needed.
The perspective on vocabulary changed in the late 1980s and 1990s due on exponential develop in vocabulary studies and thus, vocabulary teaching was coming into its own.
‘Grammar Translation Method’ which ‘introduced the idea of presenting students with short grammar rules and words’. Thus, the stress was on teaching and remembering rules. Another method which appeared in 1940s was named
‘Audio-Lingual Method’ which, according to Jeremy Harmer, ‘capitalized on the suggestion that if we describe the grammatical patterns of English, we can have students repeat and learn them’. By repeating, adepts of such method believed, the student would learn the rules of the language, being thus able to produce examples of these utterances in speaking. Anyway, the main disadvantage of this method is the fact that students are not faced with real vocabulary situations, so what they learn is highly artificial.
Some of the modern methods are deeply rooted in the so-called PPP method. This stands for Presentation, Practice and Production. In this method ‘the teacher presents the context and situation for the language [‘] and both explains and demonstrates the meaning and form of the new language’. (according to Jeremy Harmer). The main advantage of this method is that students are asked to work with real life situations, and their degree of freedom in using the language is higher than in the methods presented above. Students are presented a situation which focus on a language pattern and have to practice it in a simultaneous context. This assures them that their conversation goes on well, as it is controlled practice.
Communicative Language Teaching Method from the 1970s insists on two essential principles, namely ‘language is not only patterns of grammar and vocabulary slotted in, but also involves functions such as inviting, agreeing and disagreeing, suggesting, etc.’ These language functions are a basis in the modern methodology used nowadays, as language shall be used differently in different situations’. Last, but not least Task Based Learning asks students to ‘perform real ‘ life tasks such as getting information about bus timetables, or making a presentation on a certain topic with certain vocabulary. Later after the task has been completed, they can look at the language they have used and work on any imperfections that have arisen, correcting grammatical mistakes or thinking about aspects of style. According to Jeremy Harmer ‘the language learning had never been so realistic, so close to real life’. Many courses implemented nowadays are based on the combination between using language effectively and involving students in situations (using the proper vocabulary) that are closed to reality.
Teaching English vocabulary has to be based on a combination of methods used in various parts of the lesson. Due to the increasing number of technical devices in people’s homes has increased substantially in order to ease their life and thus, they have started to be used intensively in class and nowadays, an English lesson looks quite different from what it used to be like. The techniques which teachers introduce in their teaching are of great importance. They stimulate and maintain interest through varied activities. These methods encourage and promote a foreign language environment, they can supplement the textbook and the teacher’s voice and they also facilitate the understanding of what is being taught and tested.
The ‘Audio Visual ‘Approach, was elaborated by the Yugoslav phonetician Petar Guberina and has as a starting point a theory according to which since most information is communicated auditively nowadays, a foreign language should also be learnt in this way, in its natural form, as speech and not writing. The idea of this method is that sounds are imitated and no phonetic transcription is necessary. The pattern of such method applied to a lesson would imply listening to some utterances in various situations, repeating the structures, drilling, and, lastly, practicing them in the same or a different context and the essential element in this theory is the quality of the utterances.. One of the advantages of this approach is that the modern technical aids are a great help in learning a foreign language in its authentic form even outside the boarders of the area where it is spoken. Another advantage is that, as the words are broadcasted auditively and visually, one of the problems modern teachers have would be eliminated, and thus, with the elimination of a script certain problems of native language interference are excluded. The main disadvantage of this method is the cost of the visual or audio material, which can be high, unless the school is equipped with a language lab, in which case the use of such method is highly simplified.
The Audio ‘ Lingual Approach was worked out as a system and used in the United States. It has the starting point in the belief that ‘since people learn to speak their native language long before they learn to read and write in it, in the teaching of a second language the natural sequence of language learning should be followed: listening ‘ speaking activities should precede reading ‘ writing activities’ (according to Semlyen Eva and Filimon The problem is that the acquisition of the most important structural patterns is made through repetition and drilling and, at times, this procedure can become extremely unattractive, even boring for some students.
As comparing the old and the modern techniques, according to some methodologists, it can be stated that there is a certain pattern of teaching English in a modern way. No matter what the skills to be taught are, the structure, at least at the basic level, is the same. Modern teaching implies communication which can help teachers understand that it results in students’ ability to speak the language. But, there are some activities which are considered to be common ground when talking about modern teaching. Also, there is no clear distinction between modern and traditional approaches. As A.P.R. Howatt affirms, ‘a traditional approach can accommodate new techniques.’ Thus, there is no reason why communicative performance cannot be promoted on the basis of a traditional language syllabus, provided that the linguistic material is suitably selected, presented and exercised through communicative exercises, explicit and systematic.

Basic Principles in Teaching Vocabulary

II.1 Reflective Teaching Practice on Vocabulary
II.1.1 When Is the Right Time to Teach Vocabulary?
II.1.2 Principles and Techniques in Vocabulary Teaching
II.2 Teaching Vocabulary: Goals and Methods
II.2.1) Objectives
II.2.2) Goals
II.2.3) Approaches to Teaching Vocabulary
II.2.4) Students’ Vocabulary Assessment
II.2.5) Helpful Resources in Teaching Vocabulary
II.3 Students’ Needs in Vocabulary Acquisition

Although vocabulary has not always been recognized as a priority in language teaching it has grown in the recent years and there has appeared a systematic and principled approach to vocabulary by both the teachers and the students. Questions like: ‘What does it mean to know a word?’ ‘Which words do students need to know? ‘How will they learn them?’ reflect the current focus on the needs of students in acquiring lexical competence and on the role of the teacher in guiding them towards this goal.

II.1 Reflective Teaching Practice on Vocabulary

In order to move from the older teaching model to the newer one as regarding vocabulary, English teachers need to think about what they do, and how and why they do it. Reflective practice allows them to consider these questions in a disciplined way.
‘Which teaching model am I using?’
‘How do I apply it in specific teaching situations?
‘How well is it working?’
‘How effective is it?’
‘How are the students responding?’
‘How can I do it better?’
All teachers start with an initial theory of vocabulary teaching and learning, based on personal experiences as a student and, in some cases, reading or training.
According to Coady, this is a useful starting point for teachers who are looking to gain insights into themselves, into their teaching and where they fit into the broader picture of vocabulary instruction. By answering the questions, teachers might be able to gain a fairly clear picture of their thoughts on the teaching vocabulary. After doing it, teachers will need to think if they are happy with the situation and then decide on what to teach and how to teach it, even when they are presented with set curricula.
The answers at all these questions should be clear after establishing the objectives, the goals and the proper approach in order to make them be achieved successfully.
The aim of good vocabulary work is to present and practice new language in ways that help the students retain the information in their long term memory, so that in the future it can be easily recalled and used.

II.1. The Right Time To Teach Vocabulary

When deciding when and what vocabulary to teach the main question ‘what is the aim of the lesson?’ should be kept in teachers’ mind. This will dictate when and if to teach vocabulary and what to teach, too.
Many teachers are tempted to explain non-essential vocabulary that is unnecessary to focus on the main aim of that particular stage of the lesson.
a) Teachers may teach vocabulary at the beginning of the lesson when there is no supporting text and they may teach a range of vocabulary in order to help the students with a task in which they use the vocabulary.
b) A pre-text can be given to students to ensure them understand the key lexis in order to complete the reading or the listening text.
c) Mid ‘ text ‘ is given as a support for students to complete the tasks and warn them they might not understand every word.
d) Post-text ‘ its aim is to make the students focus on the vocabulary input once the general and detailed meaning of the text has been understood, and further uses the language from the text in a controlled or freer practice activity.
e) After a production task
The teacher may notice that students needed certain vocabulary when they were doing a production task and teaches it when the task is ready. It might happen that the vocabulary practiced and presented is still being avoided by the students so a consolidation work is required.
Students may have problems with vocabulary at any point of the lesson. The teacher can respond in a variety of ways, from telling the students to look the word up as homework or, if the word is a key target language and the whole class is struggling with the same word, the teacher needs to stop the whole class to do meaning work and check understanding.
No matter when teachers teach vocabulary or whether it is pre-taught. There are various ways of integrating it in the flow of active speech. However, teachers should carefully consider before planning the lessons in the logical steps as to be taken in task-based activities.
1. Engagement activities are meant to arouse the student’s interest in the topic and its related vocabulary and through the text the vocabulary may be introduced as well.
A discussion or interaction may provide an opportunity for students to consider the topics in the light of their own experience and a word task get the students involved in doing a matching activity as a way of introducing the topic area and giving them the information they need for a discussion.
2. ‘Study’ activities are meant to explore the words which the topic has introduced in more detail. These activities can be done by:
a) Completing charts that focus on word formation or words which go together.
b) Fill-ins ‘ filling in the blanks in sentences or paragraphs using words the students have been learning ‘ select the correct word from a box, use the correct form (part of speech) in the blanks.
c) Searching for word meaning ‘ finding in the text words which have a certain meaning, using a dictionary to help them to be sure of the meaning of words.
d) Choosing between different words ‘ the students are asked to choose between two different meaning and two different words.
3. ‘Activate’ activities ‘ these activities are meant to give students the opportunity to use words which have been learnt by telling stories or other writing tasks such as descriptions, dialogues, adverts.

II.2. Principles and Techniques in Vocabulary Teaching

The quantity of vocabulary to be learnt depends on factors varying from class to class and student to student. The words learnt by students should become part of students’ active vocabulary. If there are too many new words, the students may become confused, discouraged and frustrated, but, in the opposite case, if the teacher feels that his students could cope with a larger vocabulary input, he may decide to supplement the students’ vocabulary from sources other than the text-book.
The quantity of the vocabulary to be thought also involves choosing the specific items focusing on their frequency, availability and learning difficulties.
In most cases the choice will be made by the teacher as according to the text-book or syllabus. Thus, the choice of vocabulary is direct related to the aims of the syllabus and the objectives of individual lessons. Sometimes, the students are the ones who choose the vocabulary to be taught in the situation where they have to communicate and gets the words they need, as they need them, using the teacher as an informant.
Questions like: ‘Teacher, how do I say’?’ or ‘What is the name for this’?’ are very common during the English lessons focused on vocabulary.
However, there has to be a certain amount of repetition until it is clear that the student has learnt the target word. The easiest way to check this is by seeing if the student can recognize the target word and identify its meaning. If the word needs to be part of the students’ productive vocabulary, they must be given the opportunity to use it, as often as it is necessary to be recalled, with the correct stress and pronunciation. Anyway, this thing can’t be done during only one lesson but also in later lessons.
In order to be successful in teaching vocabulary, the teacher needs to use a meaningful presentation. As well as the form of the word, the student must have a clear and specific understanding of what it denotes or refers to. This means that the word should be presented in such a way that its denotation or reference must be perfectly clear and unambiguous.
Thus, the students should learn words in the situation in which they are appropriate. Due to the fact that words very seldom occur in isolation, they must appear in their natural environment, among the words they normally collocate with. Yet, a lot of vocabulary teaching is done incidentally as it arises naturally out of the discussion of the meaning of the text (passage).
Vocabulary can be presented systematically, on the blackboard, but, it should not be a separate section of the lesson plan called ‘vocabulary work’.
In this respect, many textbooks do the teacher a disservice by having a list of words and phrases listed separately under ‘vocabulary’, which tempts the teacher to teach them separately and not as they arise naturally from the lesson. Thus, the teacher should decide if it is not possible to have these words/phrases explained by the students as they appear in the text, rather than as something separate from the total meaning of the passage. The total meaning of the test must always be a priority, as words or phrases can often be related to one another in a meaningful way, and the teacher should find opportunities to do that, when it fits in with the overall aim of the lesson. It is better for the teacher to devise his own vocabulary questions than to follow the textbook. This usually makes lessons livelier and more interesting because too many textbooks are concerned with testing vocabulary rather than teaching it. Many textbooks make extensive use of multiple-choice questions. These can be useful for testing vocabulary, but are not necessarily the best way of teaching it. A good vocabulary teaching requires flexible, oral approach in order to lead the students to a reasonable guess as to the meaning of the target word/phrase.
When the teachers ask the students to explain the meaning of a word or phrase, they should make sure that the students are able to do this with their own language resources.
Another common technique is for the teachers to ask: ‘Does anyone know the meaning of this word?’, a question which could save a lot of time. Anyway, teachers shouldn’t over-use this method and, in this respect, it is often a good strategy to find out which students know the meaning, then to help the others guess the meaning.
A useful technique is also to provide the students with the meaning and then to ask them to find the word or phrase: ‘There is a word in a text we have just read which means ‘unhappy’ ‘ can you find it? If the students are still in difficulty, the teacher can help them by indicating them in which paragraph/line of the text it appears.
It happens very often that vocabulary is taught in context, but is not stored and memorized in context. The students are very preoccupied with noting down new vocabulary item they encounter. This enthusiasm is very heartening for teachers but, unfortunately this is usually a chaotic jumble of isolated words and phrases written in different notebooks but useless from the point of view of retrieval and memorization.
Since the new vocabulary is forgotten among hundreds of words and phrases it is difficult to be recalled when needed. Very often, the students write down the new word or phrase with its mother tongue equivalent or, less frequently, an explanation in English.
Yet, noting new vocabulary is not something teachers would wish to discourage. This method can be made more efficient by using vocabulary cards which have the new word/phrase on the one side and the translation or explanation on the other. The advantages of cards for retrieval are that they can be arranged alphabetically by target word or translation or by the topic. The vocabulary cards can become a kind of ‘word-bank’ on which the students use according to their vocabulary needs, for example when writing a composition. The cards can also help memorization, since vocabulary learning then becomes a kind of contest which the students play as a game when trying to remember and guess what on the other side of the card is.
Another technique which can be very effective when learning the basic vocabulary is the attempting to make some meaning connections between the new word/phrase and its translation in the first language (L1) ( For example, the number ‘two’ in English can be connected in Romanian with the personal pronoun ‘tu’).
At the elementary level, students can be encouraged to make their own picture dictionaries, using drawings instead of translations. Also, an interesting group activity might be making posters related to a theme for the classroom wall: ‘Means of transport’ or ‘At home’.
The posters could contain magazine cut outs, personal photos, with target language equivalents.
If the students use traditional vocabulary notebooks then the presentation of vocabulary on the blackboards becomes very helpful to them.
However, learning vocabulary in context has long-term benefits as students want to store vocabulary and will have to memorize it and the teachers should help them in any way they can.
Of course, it is not possible for the student to guess the meaning of the new words or phrases on every occasion. It may be simply too difficult or it might take up too much of class time. Thus, one of the alternative techniques is the use of translation. Anyway, at one time almost all English language teaching was done in this way.
All expressions and phrases in the English language were immediately translated, and new words were usually written in vocabulary notebook the result of this approach was usually that vocabulary was very little used in the English language lessons and thus, most of the time was taken up with the Romanian language. In this way, the students had little opportunity to practise the English vocabulary in conversation or writing and also of thinking in the foreign language. Many teachers had a strong reaction against this approach and attempted to exclude the use of the mother tongue from their classes completely but, the use of the mother tongue, especially at elementary stage, can save a lot of time and also encourage and reassure the students in what might be a threatening situation. However, translation of vocabulary into the mother tongue should be kept under tight control. From the lower intermediate level outwards it is better to explain a word by using simple explanation in the English language, a method which can be useful when students do not remember a word and they can make use of explanation or finding synonyms. Students who have generally been taught by translation techniques often give up if they cannot find the exact word or phrase to express themselves instead of finding alternative phrasing to make themselves understood.
Some of the modern techniques in teaching vocabulary refer to exercises and activities that include learning words in word association lists, focusing on highlighted words in texts and playing vocabulary games. More recently, computer programs that include the sounds of the words as well as illustrative pictures provide opportunity for practice with a variety of contexts, both written and spoken. A successful method to learn a large number of words in a short period, especially at elementary levels, is teaching word lists through word association techniques. This is due to the fact that the meaning of a word depends in part on its relationship with similar words, and words in a word family are related to each other by having a common base. Semantic mapping is an activity that helps understanding the relation between the words in a text. A text is chosen based on the words to be learned and students are asked to draw diagrams of the relationships between particular words found in the text. Word association activities can also be constructed with lists of words that are to be learned. For example, students could be given word-match lists such as the following and asked to draw-words in the left column to those that seem most closely related in the right column.
E.g. ‘Cough blue
Grass pepper
Red tea
Salt kitten
Puppy sneeze
Coffee green’
The pairs to be matched should have a clear, associative link and teachers should be careful with giving pairs of words whose meanings are very similar.
Antonyms, synonyms and other closely related semantic groupings (food, clothing, and body parts) are problematic because of interference or cross associations. The best method is to integrate the new words with the old ones by teaching the most frequent or useful word first and only after to introduce its less frequent partner.
One way to present word families is by giving definitions for each word. Another way is by isolating the word families that occur in a particular text by highlighting them so the students can see the relationship.
By highlighting passages or words in the text the teacher provides the students a more natural context in which they can trace words through the discourse and see how the forms change according to discourse function. The texts selected may be authentic material or simple but natural texts constructed by the teacher.
An important aspect in teaching vocabulary is the way of processing it. The reason is that learning may involve short-term memory or long-term memory.
The aim of promoting a deep level of processing is to transfer information from short-term memory to long-term memory which has unlimited storage capacity. The more students use and think about a word, the more likely is that the word will become a part of the long-term memory.

II.2. Teaching Vocabulary: Goals and Methods

‘Vocabulary is not an end in itself. A rich vocabulary makes the skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing easier to perform. Learners’ growth in vocabulary must be accompanied by opportunities to become fluent with vocabulary. This fluency can be partly achieved through activities that lead to the establishment and enrichment of vocabulary knowledge, but the essential element in developing fluency lies in the opportunity for meaningful use of vocabulary in tasks with a low cognitive load’ (nation, 1994).
II.2.1. Objectives
In teaching vocabulary, teachers must have clear objectives such as:
– to be aware of different approaches to teaching the meaning of language teaching;
– to have reasons for using a certain approach when dealing with vocabulary;
– to use specific techniques for showing the meaning of new words;
– to be equipped with lesson planning competence in vocabulary teaching;
– to provide and use resources (material) for teaching vocabulary.

II.2.2 Goals
The goals needed in the achievement of the above mentioned objectives should be:
– to meet new vocabulary for the first time;
– to establish previously met vocabulary
– to enrich previously met vocabulary
– to develop vocabulary strategies
– to develop fluency with known vocabulary
In order to be successful in the process and selection of the criteria for teaching vocabulary, teachers must think what activities to do with students, either to introduce vocabulary or to consolidate and enrich the previously taught vocabulary.

II.2.3 Approaches to Teaching Vocabulary

Vocabulary is in fact the knowledge of words meaning and teachers can use many approaches in teaching it.
As Steven Stahl (2005) puts it: ‘Vocabulary knowledge is knowledge; the knowledge of a word not only implies a definition, but also implies how the word fits into the world. Vocabulary knowledge is not something that can ever be fully mastered; it is something that expands and deepens over the course of a lifetime.”
Instruction in vocabulary involves for more than looking up words in a dictionary and using the words in a sentence. Vocabulary is acquired incidentally through indirect exposure to words and intentionally through explicit instruction in specific words and word-learning strategies.’
Direct vocabulary learning is a conscious effort made by students to remember new words when teachers do exercises and activities in class that focus the students’ attention such as: guessing meaning from the context, matching exercises, spider games, vocabulary games, etc.
What do students need to know about vocabulary acquisitions? What does it mean to ‘know’ a word? How many words do students need to know?
Different researchers provide teachers with different numbers mainly due to whether the researcher is counting ‘words’ or ‘word families’ ‘ base forms and their derived and inflected forms; e.g. crowd, crowded, overcrowded etc. The question is what type of vocabulary is needed and how many words students need to know in order to perform well at any language ‘ proficiency level. Students need to acquire a large enough vocabulary to reach what is often referred to in literature as the ‘lexical threshold’ (Laufer, 1997).
In fact, the actual number of words needed to reach a ‘threshold’ varies from study to study. Anyway, almost all the researchers agree that learners need to acquire a fairly large set of basic vocabulary in order to read with any degree of success. Laufer and Sim (1985), Nation (1994) and Laufer (1997) base their number of frequency lists ‘ the higher the frequency the more likely it is to be encountered and by extension the more important for a person to know. Laufer (1997) sets the lexical threshold for reading comprehension at about three thousand word families (approximately five thousand words). He argues that this will cover about ninety-five percent of the words in all texts.
Nation (1994) has suggested that two thousand word families are enough. He says that, ‘these two thousand words/ word families are used so often that make up about eighty-seven percent of the running words in formal written texts and more than ninety-five percent of the words in informal spoken texts’. According to Laufer (1997) ‘By far, the greatest lexical obstacle to good reading is insufficient number of words in the learner’s lexicon. Lexis was found to be the best predictor of success in reading, better than syntax or general reading ability. Whatever the effect of reading strategies is, it is short-circuited if the vocabulary is below the threshold’. It is accepted across a range of literary sources that the words which teachers choose to teach should be based on the usefulness and frequency of words. This will depend on a range of factors which a teacher of English as a foreign language will have to take into account.
Teachers should adapt the number of vocabulary items taught during a lesson as they believe appropriate and should take account of factors such as the students’ objective of each lesson and the ability of the students. The most important things students need to know when learning vocabulary are: meaning of the word, word use, word formation and word grammar.
To ‘know’ a word in a foreign language means the ability to:
– recognize it in its spoken or written form;
– recall it at will
– relate it to an appropriate object or concept;
– use it in the appropriate grammatical form;
– pronounce it in a recognizable way;
– spell it correctly in writing;
– use it with the words it correctly goes with – the correct collocation;
– use it at the appropriate level of formality;
– be aware of its connotations and associations.
Some of the things that can go wrong in students’ vocabulary acquisition are:
a) Inability to retrieve vocabulary that has been taught
b) Use of vocabulary inappropriate to a given situation
c) Use of vocabulary at the wrong level of formality
d) Possessing the wrong kind of vocabulary in certain situations
e) Using vocabulary in an unidiomatic way
f) Using vocabulary in a meaningless way
g) Incorrect use of a dictionary
h) Use of incorrect grammatical form, spelling, pronunciation or stress.
Thus, in order to achieve a good vocabulary acquisition, students need to know the basic aspects of lexis:
1) Form and meaning
2) Structure and Content
3) Connotation
4) Relationships between words
5) Productive and Receptive vocabulary
6) Pronunciation and Spelling
7) Stress
8) Correct Form
9) Cognates and ‘False Friends’
10) Collocations
11) Idioms
12) Lexical Phrases

II. 2.4. Students’ Vocabulary Assessment

If the objectives and the goals must be very clear for teachers before teaching vocabulary, the same must be students’ assessment in order to check whether the teaching process went on well. A good teacher is always assessing his students’ progress (or lack of it). In this sense, almost every question that the teacher asks is a kind of informant test. Anyway, at times, the teacher feels the need to set a more formal type of test, usually to supply information or to motivate the students to study! If the purpose of the test is to supply information, then the information should be accurate.
Before giving a test the teacher has to take into consideration the following aspects:
– The instructions for each section have to be clear and all the items in a section have to fit the instructions
– The vocabulary in the instructions and the items have to be at the desired level of difficulty
– The examples of how to complete each section (where applicable) must be good
– In structured or open-ended sections the instructions should indicate the approximate length of the response that is to be made
– If the test is timed, the timing has to be realistic
– The students must be informed in the instructions as to whether the section is timed and how long they have
– The instructions must indicate the value of the particular section with respect to the overall test score
– The students must be informed on the purpose of the test
– The test must cover the objectives of the course
– A test must test the desired receptive and productive language skills
– The content of the test must cover the intended aspects of communicative competence (vocabulary, grammar, socio-linguistic competence)
– The test must be informed whether the register (formal, casual, intimate) or dialect (standard or non-standard) are considered correct in one or all sections of the test
– The items which are tested must have the same objective worded and spaced in a way that one item does not provide a giveaway for the others
– The items must be placed so that even the poorest students should experience at least a modicum success at the test.
– The item response formats should be the most appropriate ones for what the teacher wants to test (e.g. would matching be a more efficient means of testing vocabulary than completion or multiple-choice; or it would be better to use several formats?)
– The technical arrangement of the items on the printed page must be easy to follow.
– The spacing between and within items must be adequate
– If the test has been photocopied, it must be printed legible
– The methods for scoring the test or grading a procedure or section must be adequately determined
– The items or sections must be weighted appropriately in scoring the weightings.
Vocabulary tests should also be valid and reliable. A valid vocabulary test is one which tests what it is supposed to test. Yet, there are many tests which do not have this basic requirement.
For example, a test which is designed to find out whether students understand the meanings of certain words in a writing context can be problematic because it is possible that the students understand the meaning of a word without necessarily being able to produce another word or phrase which has the same meaning. This is therefore a test of both comprehension and production.
If the teacher is only interested in comprehension then he should adapt another testing strategy, for example by rewarding the instruction. (E.g. ‘Look at the following list of word meanings. Opposite each one, write down a word from the text which has that meaning’). This involves the student only in matching the meaning with a word taken from the text, a purely receptive skill.
A similar problem arises with the use of translation as a means of testing vocabulary. If the students are asked to translate a vocabulary item in a given context from English to the mother tongue they may know what the word means but cannot find the exact way of expressing it. Yet, translation can be a valid technique of testing but the teacher must be clear what it is exactly that he is testing.
Another example of tests which may not be valid often occurs with multiple-choice questions. Sometimes, the test-designer makes the multiple-choice question so difficult or tricky that what is being tested is not the understanding of the test, but the understanding of the questions. A reliable vocabulary test is one which will always give the same result under the same conditions.
In testing composition or speaking competence, for example, there is often a subjective element which has to be overcome, by using a detailed grading scheme. This is the reason why, the multiple-choice technique is as popular as a testing device. Multiple-choice questions are usually organized so that the student has a number of options, only one of which being correct. Multiple-choice tests can ask the students to supply the missing word of a collocation, to find a word for a definition, to unscramble some letters, to order some items, etc.
Another testing procedure that is sometimes used for testing vocabulary is a cloze test. These tests are claimed to be a general indicator of language proficiency, not only on vocabulary. In a cloze test, a text is taken and the words are deleted from it at regular intervals. The students can use the words that seem acceptable and not only the original words. The original word method is more reliable but the other method seems more valid to many teachers. Cloze tests may be modified in various ways. For example, the number of possible answers can be reduced and the test made easier, by supplying the first letter of each word. Other possibilities include: deleting only one class of word (nouns, verbs, and prepositions); deleting only certain chosen words; supplying a list of the missing words, so that they can be matched with the text; giving multiple-choice answers for each ‘gap’ or missing word. (These are in fact gap-filling tests rather than real cloze tests.)
The teacher has to decide what items of vocabulary to test (what skills to include) and select the topics and situations which are appropriate to students.
In testing the speaking skills, the tasks could be such as:
– questioning the students about themselves (family, friends, hobbies, school life, etc)
– Role-play activities (speaking on the telephone, asking for direction, buying something in a shop, etc)
– Using pictures that students have to compare and contrast
– ‘information gap’ activities
If the teacher wants to test the writing skills, he can choose tasks as the following:
– Writing compositions or stories
– Writing formal or informal letters
– Newspaper articles about a recent event
– Brochures about their school or town, etc.
The reading skills can be tested through:
– Multiple choice questions to test comprehension of a text
– Inserting certain sentences in the correct place in the text
– Choosing the best summary of a paragraph or a whole text
– Transferring written information to charts, maps, graphs
– Matching jumbled headings with paragraphs
– Matching written descriptions with pictures of the items.
In testing and listening skills, the tasks can be designed such as:
– Identifying the speaker’s mood: (if he is amused, encouraging, enthusiast, disappointed, etc.)
– Completing charts with facts and words from a listening text
– Identifying the speakers;
A conclusion at the vocabulary testing is that a more constructive view of language testing exists when testing is seen as an opportunity for interaction between teacher and students, and the students are judged on the basis of the knowledge they have. The tests are intended to help students improve their skills and the criteria for success on the test should be clear to students. They receive a grade for their performance on a set of tests representing different testing methods and the teachers should return the tests promptly and discuss the results.

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