"TEACHER, HOW DO I IMPROVE MY VOCABULARY?

" Laxman Gnawali Senior Vice President, NELTA Associate Professor, Kathmandu University How many English words do you know? "How many English words do you know?" I ask participants of a short-term English teacher training programme. There are smiles, squeezed foreheads, I-have-no-idea expressions. I ask a further question, "Do you know at least two thousand words?" Again there is no clear response. "I think I do," one of the participants says. Then, I announce a test to decide whether they know at least two thousand words. Everyone seems excited but not without some sense of self suspicion. I have brought a list of "Most Frequently Used First Two Thousand Words in English" which I found on the Internet with the help of Google search. These are words which are most frequently used in written English and the list was developed after an exhaustive survey with the help of a computer software. I announce that the participants will have to go through the list and underline if they come across a word which they do not know. Heads start rising after ten minutes and I go to those who have finished and try to find out what words they have underlined. When all have finished, I ask individuals to share which words they found new or difficult. Actually, they did not have many. Only a few words such as forbade, molten, cast, sawn have challenged them. I ask, "Do you know two thousand English words?" Everyone goes loud, "YES!" This experience has boosted their morale that they know at least two thousand words. I promise to bring "Most Frequently Used First Three/Four/Five Thousand Words in English" when I come next. They are excited. As an English teacher, we are often approached by students with a usual expression, "I am not good at words. How do I improve my vocabulary?" Definitely, they are in need of proper guidance. As teachers, we try to give them meanings thinking that that is what helps. We do that with good intentions. But, if we do not use proper scaffolding, our efforts go in vain. So, in this article, I try to share with you how we can help students to learn new vocabulary as well as retain them for use as and when required. There are three important things we need to be doing in teaching vocabulary: raising awareness, presenting new vocabulary and consolidating the vocabulary students have learnt once. Let me explain them briefly. a. Raising awareness Learners need to be aware of possible ways of learning new vocabulary on their own. This is what is called study skills: how can I learn new vocabulary? What is my style of learning vocabulary? What resources are available for me? In raising awareness, we can train students to use of dictionaries, provide information about local libraries, radio programmes, cassettes and CD's, and if possible connect students with students of the same level in English speaking countries. Once they follow any of these, students will realize that they can improve their vocabulary on their own and start undertaking their own initiatives. This will ease our burden as teachers. In the experience I mention in the beginning of this article, I have tried to raise awareness about a few things: helping teachers to know how much they know, we need to learn the most useful words and the

Then. stapler. to find antonyms and synonyms by themselves. Mr. Presenting new vocabulary This is actually what we do most in the classrooms. Realia in the bag I have used this vocabulary activity several times with students of different ages. but if we present the etymology of those we know. only they go in to the repertoire. bringing the real thing into the classroom. or to write a composition in which these are practically required. giving synonyms and antonyms. If we can present the words in a proper way. onion. paperweight. he was never invited to social gatherings. we need to have a dictionary that gives etymology of words. Together with the meaning. For the teachers and learners who have no access. shoe brush. The word boycott was used with the meaning we know after his name. keys. Preparation Find a cloth bag. Every time I use it. tooth brush. I have chosen this activity as it serves all three purposes discussed above. using a model. it is easier for learners to remember. spoon. No one wanted to be with him. and as a result. if we can tell this etymology. board marker. In the 18th century. I would do something else. we can get students to form sentences with the words. . They can be anything that you can find around you: chalk. translate into the local language. we need to use a variety of techniques not just explanations such as these: draw pictures. When we use games we need to make sure that they not only become fun but also help us in moving on with the syllabus and the textbook. For this. who was very unsociable and unfriendly. students will easily remember this word. Consolidating It is not always possible to remember all words we have learnt once. We may not know etymology of all words we are teaching. box of staples. Collect at least 20 different objects. we can help students to be better familiar with the words. In the classroom setting. Adults are usually surprised that they do not know the names of the objects they always use or see. There are a variety of games we can choose from: Bingo. I would like to share with you an activity which I have been using in my English language classes with success. Boycott. Creating situations in which the words learnt once have to come in use. miming. Spelling contest are very useful for learners to remember the shapes of the words. In presenting the meaning. small bottle. magnet. not hardened. etc. match box. It should be as big as a school bag and made from normal cloth. b. to unscramble the words. and if nothing else works. The word boycott means to stay away from.Internet can provide a lot of information. We need to use them again and again. Tell-me-themeaning. Hangman. The other way particularly for the school level is to use language games. giving a context and letting students guess. ruler. c. play with them and hear them in context. fork. we focus on the meaning and leave out the aspects like their usage and etymology. there was a Navy Admiral. We need to decide wisely what works with which words. duster. students can learn them and add them to their repertoire. potato. demonstrating. Usually. I see that all types of students have similar fun in learning new words when the learning involves some suspense.

Wallace M. Get one student to name three to five items only so that many students get a chance. It's heavy. correct the list on the board. Watcyn-Jones P. we need try to integrate different aspects so the learning is rich. ladle. London: Heinemann. kettle lid. it's round. you can ask them simply to name the item they think there is. OR It's thin and long. & Rivolucri M (1986) Vocabulary Oxford: Oxford University Press. Whenever we do an activity. so it must be a ruler. They will feel the items from outside and name them. paper clips. (1987) Teaching Vocabulary 3rd Edition. Gairns R. When they feel and decide what the item is. Put all of them in the bag and button it up. they have to say: It's thin and long. & McCarty M.lime. tin opener. bottle opener. list the names on the board. It's heavy. As they name the objects. so it must be a paperweight. (1986) Working With Words Cambridge: Cambridge University Press McCarthy M. OR I have found a ruler. so it is a ruler. (1996) Vocabulary Oxford: Oxford University Press. . etc. to copy them in their exercise books or to draw some items. (1989) Build Your Vocabulary Hove: Language Teaching Publications. can opener. so it is a paperweight. if we can get students to use a particular structure in naming the objects. & Redman S. Taylor L. If the students have named any items wrongly. they not only learn vocabulary but also consolidate the structures. Here. Procedure Tell your students that they are going to find out what objects there are in the bag without looking. Hemel Hempstead: Prentice Hall. & Berman M. Useful books for teaching and learning vocabulary Carter R. perfume bottle. If you are using this article with lower classes. Depending upon the level of students. (1990) The Lexical Syllabus. The difficulty level of the structures of the sentences can be raised depending upon the level of the students. You can choose items that you want to teach about. London: Collins. (1993) Vocabulary Games and Activities for Teachers London: Penguin Willis D. (1992) Vocabulary in Action. Morgan J. you can either ask them to make sentences using the words. wooden block. When most items have been named: display all items one by one and get the class to name them aloud and spell the words. (1988) Vocabulary and Language Teaching Harlow: Longman Flower J. I have found a paperweight. corkscrew. it's round.

This article was first published in the Shikshak Magazine. April-May 2009 .

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