Vocabulary is the first means for the EFL/ESL (English as a Foreign Language/English as a Second Language) learners to communicate using the target language. Meaningful listening, speaking, reading, and writing at any levels of education mainly depend on the proper use of vocabulary. However, it is not always true that one having a good stock of words would be expert in the areas of four language skills. Students always need to play with words; in how many ways the words can be used. In a word, without the proper stock and knowledge of vocabularies, the EFL learners are as if they are in the boat without a sail. Why do students usually feel difficulty to learn new words and why they, in most cases, cannot use the right words in the right places when they are asked to write a composition on any topic? They usually consider speaking and writing communication exhausting due to poor stock of words; they fumble for words while speaking or writing English. However, my experiences as a teacher say that teachers can help students improve this situation through applying various strategies.
English vocabulary is complex with the aspects related to pronunciation, meaning, spelling and use. Innovative strategies, if used in teaching vocabulary, can make the vocabulary learning enjoyable and lasting. When a child starts communication, they start with a single word. Gradually a learner memorizes new words to challenge the surroundings. Watching a movie with or without subtitles, listening to an English songs, reading a text, writing a letter to a friend, and writing a draft on any issues, can be good practices for improving vocabulary. One has to be careful about the form (pronunciation and spelling) and meaning (what meaning it gives) of vocabulary while learning them. Usually, meaning of a word changes based on the situation.By the beginning of 1970s, the Direct and Audio-Lingual methods were emphasized for teaching vocabulary. Direct method of teaching English encouraged students to practise the meanings in English. That is, English words were taught using synonyms and antonyms. In Audio-Lingual method, the learners were asked to listen to the words and to repeat them several times.
At present time, English teachers can select any method to teach and improve the learners’ vocabularies. Other than the strategies mentioned, teachers at present time contextualize the words; they engage students in making sentences with the words. Moreover, if applicable, some modern teachers use technology to teach vocabulary. Sometimes they show the images of the words through the multimedia projectors but some teachers bring real objects in the classrooms. However, if the words give abstract meaning, teachers tell stories to make the meaning understandable. In order to make the meaning clear to learners, some teachers mime and act out. A small number of teachers use online dictionaries (For example: Cambridge onlinedictionary.com) to show the meanings, examples, and pronunciations of the words. Students forget words and their meanings if they memorize without understanding. In order to get rid of it, teachers and learners must be participatory in learning and teaching vocabulary; teachers will have to engage the learners to use the words in different contexts.
Nowadays, language games have been popular with the teachers and the students. Teachers may prepare some word-making games like Cross-Word games. Teachers may play word-games and puzzles with learners where they need to brainstorm and need to consult the dictionaries making the learners more confident in English. I think, all or some of these techniques will help the students learn words joyfully.
Vocabulary learning is directly related to academic achievement. That is why a number of words that students need to learn are exceedingly large. Therefore, teachers will have to consciously help the students in achieving the stock of words that they need to excel in academic life. Students themselves can take some initiatives to learn vocabulary. A student can write the new word in a piece of paper and can stick the piece of paper to the board or to the front wall of his/her reading table. Students can also make a Word Map. A Word Map is a kind of drawing indicating the origin of the word and what other words can be formed with it (Example: Run> ran> running> runner> run rate> by run, etc.).
Learning vocabulary demands patience. Spending time on practicing by reading, listening, and writing, watching, and conversing can be useful. However, if the English teachers become a little bit more serious and use the strategies mentioned, the students’ vocabulary and overall English language skills will improve. Students can be motivated to try themselves to improve their stock of words. Motivated teachers can start applying the strategies and it is believed that change will be visible in near future.
The writer is an Assistant Professor of English at Dhaka Mohanagar Mohila College, Laxmi Bazar