Do we teach vocabulary or do we enable our students to acquire new words independently?

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During English courses, students want to incorporate new words into their “English” in order to speak fluently. In fact, the construction of vocabulary is a skill that students must develop in order to enrich their repertoire of vocabulary for themselves.
 
Here are some tips you can provide your students:
 
Avoid having your students memorize vocabulary lists. Instead, it is more productive to learn words in phrases. Therefore, learning “collocations” is more effective than learning an isolated word. For example, when they learn the word “steak”, students can at the same time memorize words that usually go with “steak”: well done, medium or rare. Another example is the noun “story” where a student can immediately learn the collocation “tell a story”.
 
Show students that learning new words that belong to the same semantic category is not only easier, but easier to remember. For example: when they learn the cooking verb “bake”, students can learn another two or three cooking verbs such as steam, fry, boil,  etc.
 
Teach students to find relationships between words and to represent that relationship. For example, when teaching the adjectives “cold” and “freezing” instead of giving students a wordy explanation, write this on the board:
 
 Cold +
Freezing ++
 
 
The use of the plus symbol easily  transmits the difference in meaning between these two words.
 
But how do teachers check their students’ comprehension of new words without translating them into their native language?
 
To begin with, we must avoid our tendency to ask “empty questions” such as: do you understand the meaning of this word? or do you have any questions? 
 
Instead of asking this kind of questions, guide your students to process the meaning of a new word, BUT to do this, teachers need to be good at asking effective questions. Consider the following example: our students face the word “shy” for the first time and the teacher gives them an explanation of its meaning in English. But how do we know that the students understood the meaning?
 
a)   By giving synonyms or antonyms of the word “shy”?
 
b)   By eliciting examples of people who are “shy”
 
Even though the two options can be helpful, they are not as  effective as the appropriate “guiding questions” formulated by the teacher. Look at the following examples of guiding questions for the understanding of the word “shy”:
 
a)   Do shy people enjoy meeting strangers?
 
b)   Is it easy for shy people to make friends during a trip?
 
Let’s consider another example: Mary wishes she were in Brazil.
 
Getting the meaning of this sentence is more difficult because of the use of “wish + subjunctive”. Thus the following guiding questions would come handy:
 
 
a)   Is she in Brazil now?
b)   Does she want to be in Brazil?

Always remember that our memory works better when we are involved in the process of working out the meaning of a new word.
 
 

 

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