As every teacher knows, learning vocabulary can be very difficult. Not only must learners learn lots of words (upward of 5,000 according to some researchers), but they need to encounter vocabulary several times before they can retain it, and practice it in controlled situations before they can use it automatically. This means that rewriting and recycling vocabulary is very important. More than knowing just individual words, learners also needs a huge repertoire of word combinations- or “chunks”. These aid fluency and also contribute to learners’ ‘idiomaticity’, that is, the capacity to speak or write in a natural, idiomatic way. In most language courses, there is simply not enough time to learn all of the vocabulary that learners need, so much of it must be learned outside of class.
For these reasons, the teacher should focus on more than just teaching pre-selected words and phrases. Teachers need to introduce learners to strategies for learning vocabulary effectively and encouraging learner autonomy.
Some of the activities presented in this chapter, therefore, are designed to encourage learners to become more autonomous in their vocabulary learning. Introducing learners to online tools that they can easily use themselves outside of the classroom is one strategy, and here the teacher’s role becomes one of selecting and introducing these tools and showing learners which vocabulary-learning strategies to use, and how they can use these tools to help themselves in the future.
There are activities aimed at helping learners notice meaning by looking at vocabulary in context. Encouraging learners to use online dictionaries, a thesaurus and concordance software can help them acquire new vocabulary.
The activities in this chapter are arranged by level: first the lower-level activities (word-game activities, ect.), followed by those that are more advanced (e.g. using concordance software dealing with collocations, synonyms, ect.). Within this division, the activities are further arranged with productive practice activities following on from receptive practice ones.
Apart from the tools mentioned above, technology can help learners learn vocabulary because it has been shown that vocabulary is more memorable if it is presented in an interesting way, and if the learners engage with words and phrases emotionally. So technology can help the teacher find different, and sometimes fun, ways to introduce vocabulary to the class.
Some of the activities in this chapter try to make the vocabulary that is reviewed relevant to learners, so emphasis is placed on the learners selecting the words they want to remember or revise. The learners can be encouraged to make their own vocabulary tests for their classmates, selecting the words and phrases, and writing their own definitions.
There are also activities that encourage learners to perform tasks with the vocabulary, because this can make the words more memorable, and activities that encourage them to look at different aspects of meaning that certain words and phrases can have.