Teach English in Xinhai Zhen - Shanghai Shi

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Teaching VocabularyVocabulary teaching would seem at first to be fairly a straightforward procedure. When an ESL student is asked whether or not they know what a word means, it is easy to imagine this as an yes or no question. Generally speaking, this is how vocabulary has been taught and tested. Consider though that nearly all commonly used words have at least several meanings, depending upon how they are used in a sentence. For example, the noun "shorts" can refer to a singular pair of trousers, or to an entire style of film-making. The adjective "short" can describe a person's rude behavior or their physical height. To be "short on" something is quite different from causing a thing to "short out." Should we consider each of these to be aspects of a single archetypal word, or is each a distinct word entirely? The confusion faced by the ESL student may be likened to that inspired by the word "vocabulary" itself--a student may well ask, "How many vocabularies are we going to learn today?" Whichever way we choose to define what exactly constitutes a word, it is clear that the student of english must learn vastly more of them than a student of any other language. In fact, while native students are increasing their vocabularies, the ESL student must both catch up and somehow keep pace with his or her peers. If our students are, within a few years of study, to eventually compete with native speakers, they need to be acquiring tens of thousands of new words, or roughly ten new words per school day (Coelho, 94). Academic achievement has been shown to be largely dependent upon reading comprehension, which in turn, relies nearly entirely upon an extensive vocabulary. Huckin and Block (1993) state that, "a lack of vocabulary knowledge is the largest obstacle for second-language readers to overcome" (p. 154). Defining and putting into practice effective strategies for acquiring such extensive vocabularies then is paramount. Teaching these skills during instruction time allows students to apply them throughout their day, and in days to come. The single most significant contributor to vocabulary acquisition, as well as internalizing proper spelling, is the practice of reading extensively for pleasure (Krashen, 84). There is much as teachers we can do to encourage this practice, and more importantly, much to avoid, so that the practice can blossom into a life-long habit. This is a crucial distinction between a reading-based curriculum, and say, the teaching and testing of grammar. When we treat literature as though it were information, to be consumed and then spewed back in test-taking format, over time we are certain to kill every bit of joy in the process of reading. Our long-term goal, tens of thousands of new words acquired per year, can be accomplished (perhaps only) through the inculcation of habitual reading for pleasure. Developing readership in the classroom comes down to some really basic issues: can a student find an interesting book or magazine and can they find a comfortable place and time in which to enjoy it. The ways in which each classroom will address those issues will vary. As Stephen Krashen notes, "Reading is the only way, the only way we become good readers, develop good writing style, an adequate vocabulary, advanced grammar, and the only way we become good spellers" (23). While student self-guided reading may appear to be the panacea for all ESL instructional woes, Keith S. Folse (2004) presents a different picture. He found that, "to use context clues effectively, a learner has to have a large vocabulary already" (82). Summarizing Sanaoui (1995) Folse states, "it does not seem to matter what students do with new vocabulary provided that they do something and that they do it consistently" (91). Elizabeth Coelho (2004) recommends student's keeping a vocabulary notebook, in which they may record translations, diagrams and contextual sentences. She further recommends that dictionary use occur only after using context clues, breaking the word into components, and asking someone (230). Coelho (2004) further recommends teaching students how words are put together so they may also take them apart, and from these components make inferences (98-99). These inferences might allow a student to continue reading until the end of a passage and so to gather together a complete chunk of information. Jesness (2004) points out that coming to know a word happens over time and through numerous encounters (36). Should a word reoccur in a reading, then the next instance will allow for a deeper inference. If the word does not reoccur then it may not be essential to understanding the text, and a superficial inference may suffice. Either way, the student will be in a position to enjoy the new understanding, and to apply that toward unlocking sub-meanings within the given passage. When students begin to look at unfamiliar words as a structured grouping of morphemes, they may find familiar meanings that convey sufficient understanding to proceed. Over time this practice affords a student the skill of engaging words rather than passively giving up on them. As erroneous as their inferences might at first be, and Folse (2004) contends that they will be hugely so, they may grow to be closer to the mark (73). Also, when they do check their inferred meaning against the dictionary definition, the guessing game becomes in itself a reward. Simultaneously, the pleasure derived from reading remains uncontaminated by frustration. The best course of action would seem to be a guided reading approach during instruction time in which to model these skills. What students already know about a subject can create a context into which new information and vocabulary assimilates. Coelho (2004) describes a three stage process in which the teacher may introduce new terms, but should not shortcut the use of context to assimilate new words (222). Generally, the reading happens silently, although breaks can be taken for questions, clarifications, summaries, re-readings aloud, etc. The final stage allows for deeper connections to be made, for inferences to be compared, for students to reread aloud, for opinions to be formed, and for dictionaries to be used--once some of the other strategies have been employed. The guided reading approach allows for a gradual assimilation of new words into student's existing schema. Before they may productively apply various grammatical transformations they may immediately begin using them in some guided fashion, cloze exercises for example (223). From a brief survey of the research and materials devoted to vocabulary acquisition for the ESL student, several distressing points become clear: the challenges presented are quite daunting, and there is not much consensus on the best approach. How best to introduce foreign speakers to new words both quickly and gradually remains a fertile field for future study. Works Cited Coelho, Elizabeth. (2004). Adding english: A Guide to Teaching in Multilingual Classrooms. Toronto, Ontario: Pippin Press. Folse S. Keith. (2004). Vocabulary Myths: Applying Second Language Research to Classroom Teaching ( 4th ed.). Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press. Huckin, T., and Block, J. (1993). Strategies for inferring word meaning in context: A cognitive model. In T. Huckin, M. Hayes, and J. Coady (Eds.), Second language reading and vocabulary acquisition (pp. 153-178). Norwood, NJ: Ablex. Jesness, Jerry. (2004). Teaching english Language Learners K- 12: A Quick-Start Guide for the New Teacher. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press. Krashen, S. (1993). The Power of Reading: Insights from the Research. Englewood, Colo.: Libraries Unlimited. Sanaoui, R. (1995). Adult learners' approaches to learning vocabulary in second languages. The Modern Language journal, 79 (1), 15-28.