A. The importance of vocabulary
"Without grammar very little can be conveyed; without vocabulary nothing can be conveyed." (Wilkins 1972:111)
"When students travel, they don't carry grammar books, they carry dictionaries." (Krashen in Lewis 1993: iii)
"The more one considers the matter, the more reasonable it seems to suppose that lexis is where we need to start from, the syntax needs to be put to the service of words and not the other way round." (Widdowsen in Lewis 1993:115)
B. How many words are needed for effective communication in L2?
Level Number of Words Text Coverage, % High-frequency words 2,000 87 Academic vocabulary 800 8 Technical vocabulary 2,000 3 Total to be learned 4,800 98 Low-frequency words 123,200 2 Total 128,000 100
from Nation and Newton, 1997, p.239
C. What words to teach?
1. Some criteria for selecting vocabularies
Criteria Definition Your rating of importance range the extent to which a word occurs in the different types of texts coverage the capacity of a word to replace other words frequency the number of occurrences of a word in the target language learnability the extent to which a word can be learned without difficulty language needs the extent to which a word is regarded as "required" by the learner in order to communicate
2. Some useful word lists
General Service List University Word List Academic Word List
D. What to Teach While Teaching Vocabulary
sociolinguistic and stylistic restrictions
slangs and idioms
E. What is involved in Teaching Vocabulary
1. Presentation (outcome: establish an entry in the episodic memory with correct form and basic meaning)
Ways of Presenting the Meaning of New Items (Ur, 1996, p. 63 Box 5.1)
-- concise definition (as in a dictionary; often a superordinate with qualifications: for example, a cat is an animal which...)
-- detailed description (of appearance, qualities...)
-- examples (hyponyms)
-- illustration (picture, object)
-- demonstration (acting, mime)
-- context (story or sentence in which the item occurs)
-- opposites(s) (antonyms)
-- associated ideas, collocations.
2. Practice and Consolidation (outcome: store the item in the long-term memory; turn passive vocabulary into active vocabulary)
Ideas for practice and consolidation
-- songs and games (Cobuild Fill-the-Blank Competitions)
-- semantic field and semantic mapping (an example)
-- key word method (an example)
-- vocabulary exercises (examples)
-- regular review
3. Lexical/Semantic Development (outcome: integrate lexical/semantic information into entries; move words from episodic memory to lexicon)
Ideas for lexical/semantic development
-- extensive reading
-- communicative activities (examples)
F. Incidental Vocabulary Acquisition (IVA)
1. Limitations of explicit vocabulary teaching
-- Much of the lexical and semantic information cannot be or is not described and taught as explicit knowledge;
-- There is too much information involved in vocabulary that it is just impossible to teach it all.
-- What is taught does not necessarily lead to lexical competence on the learner's part.
Conclusion: much lexical competence has to be developed through natural communication.
2. What is IVA?
Definition: IVA is the learning of new words as a by-product of a meaning-focused communicative activity, such as reading, listening, and interaction. It occurs through "multiple exposures to a word in different contexts." (Huckin and Coady, 1999, p. 185)
2.1. Learners are able to pick up vocabulary
-- through extensive reading
-- through communicative interactions
-- through exposure to natural input such as movies, TV.
3. Conditions of successful IVA?
a. The leaners should have a sight vocabulary of 2,000 to 3,000
b. The input should be comprehensible and interesting to the learners. (unknown words no more than 2%)
c. Input enhancement may be beneficial (an example from Batia Laufer and Monica Hill "What lexical information do L2 learners select in a CALL dictionary and how does it affect word retention? Language Learning & Technology Vol. 3, No. 2, January 2000, pp. 58-76)
d. Guessing should be encouraged and guessing strategies should be trained.
4. Advantages of IVA:
a. It is contextualized, giving the learner a richer sense of a word's use and meaning than can be provided in traditional paired-associate exercises,
b. it is pedagogically efficient in that it enables two activities--vocabulary acquisition and reading--to occur at the same time, and
c. it is more individualized and learner-based because the vocabulary being acquired is dependent on the learner's own selection of reading materials. (p. 182)
d. presentation, consolidation and lexical/semantic development occur at the same time (parallel vs. serial process of lexical development);
by Nan Jiang
Definition of lexical competence: Lexical information that is integrated into the mental lexicon and that can be retrieved automatically for and in natural communication
-- IVA does not work for learning the basic core vocabulary.
-- there is no control over what is to be learned; IVL may not always occur;
-- Incorrect guessing may lead to incorrect understanding of vocabulary;
5. Some Conclusions about incidental vocabulary acquisition
The following conclusions about incidental vocabulary learning are drawn by Thomas Huckin and James Coady (1999, SSLA, 21, 190-191) based on their review of the literature:
1. Incidental learning is not entirely "incidental," as the learner must pay at least some attention to individual words. However, the amount of attention and the amount of learning varies according to a number of factors, including context, type of attention, and task demands.
2. Incidental learning requires a basic sight-recognition vocabulary of at least 3,000 word families. For university-level texts, a knowledge of 5,000-10,000 word families may be needed.
3. Although incidental acquisition takes place incrementally over a period of time, there is no agreement as to how many and what kinds of exposures are needed for successful acquisition.
4. Effective word guessing requires the flexible application of a variety of processing strategies, ranging from local ones such a s graphemic identification to global ones such as the use of broader contextual meanings.
5. Some strategies seem to arise naturally but others need to be taught.
6. Students generally benefit from explicit vocabulary instruction in conjunction with extensive reading.
7. Some kinds of reading texts are more conducive to incidental learning than others--inn particular, texts that are personally interesting to learners.
8. Input modification, including glossing of specific words, is generally effective, especially if it involves the learner interactively.
9. Incidental learning depends on educated guesswork and thus can lead to imprecision, misrecognition, and interference with the reading process. To overcome these problems, learners need to have a well-developed core vocabulary, a stock of good reading strategies, and some prior familiarity with the subject matter.
Explicit vocabulary teaching is necessary for teaching the core vocabulary, particularly for the learning of basic lexical and semantic knowledge. Incidental vocabulary acquisition should be encouraged for further lexical and semantic development of the words learned through explicit instruction and for learning additional vocabulary.