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Learn English Free - English Courses Dublin Strategy On Learning New Vocabulary


Foreign Language Vocabulary Acquisition

There are 540,000 words in the English language. Five times as many as in Shakespeare's time! Luckily however the average native speaker of any language uses around a tenth of his vocabulary in everyday speech. In other words, around 1200 to 2000 words. By the end of this page you will have read over 500. And by the end of the article you will have read far more than 3000 different words. So you see that vocabulary isn't really the enormous task it first appears to be.

Now, please don't laugh, but the first thing I recommend to my students in our English school Dublin is

Buy a separate notebook or use a divider to separate vocabulary from other language learning categories.

Paper is relatively cheap and good organization will lead to cleaner thinking. Enter all the information you learn each day into the notebook or folder on a new page and date the page. You will later have to re-organize it and I want to show you how.

Memorizing things isn't something most people are fond of. I for one have a terrible memory. We dislike memory tasks because we aren't so good at remembering abstract concepts and it also reminds most of us of boring schoolwork and perhaps even failure. (Not a great combination to give you confidence.) So, abstract concepts are hard to commit to memory. They are floating ideas and if they have no anchor in our reality they will simply float away. But humans are adapted to learning and memorizing meaningful patterns without any real effort at all. So my next piece of advice would be

Write down and learn only the words you encounter personally or are significant to you during your week of classes. (You will have plenty there without searching out random words, which you will find more difficult to remember.)

Birds of a feather flock together

The title is an English expression meaning that similar types of people usually come together socially. In my experience I always found it much easier to learn vocabulary (and access it for use later) by category. EFL Developments in 'lexical semantics' (words grouped by meaning) have prompted the development of the 'semantic field theory', 'semantic networks', or 'semantic grid' strategies, which organize words in terms of interrelated lexical meanings.

Vocabulary is central to language and of critical importance to the typical language learner (Zimmerman, 1997). The prominent role of vocabulary knowledge in foreign language learning has been increasingly recognized. The last decade witnessed a growing interest in the 'lexical approach' to EFL teaching. Besides, developments in 'lexical semantics' and the 'mental lexicon' have prompted the development of the 'semantic field theory', 'semantic networks' or 'semantic grid' strategies, which present and organize words in terms of interrelated lexical meanings (Gu & Johnson, 1996, p. 645).

The 'semantic field' theory suggests that the lexical content of a language is best treated not as a mere aggregation of independent words or an unstructured list of words but as a collection of interrelating networks of relations between words (Stubbs, 2001). The meaning of most words is governed, in part, by the presence in the language of other words whose semantic functions are related in one or more ways to the same area of situational environment or culture (Robins, 1980). A very simple example of a semantic field is the set of kinship terms: father, mother, brother, sister, son, daughter, uncle, aunt, etc. Clearly, all these words share some aspect of meaning that is not present in the word chair, for instance.

It is noteworthy that words may be grouped together (related to each other) according to different criteria. Animals, for example, may be grouped in terms of physical or perceptual features; they may be grouped in terms of nonphysical features, such as pet, wild, food, etc.

Try to think of meaningful categories for your vocabulary notebooks. Don't think in terms of putting "all the verbs together" or learning "prepositions." To your brain these are not meaningful categories and will be difficult and very abstract things to try to absorb. If you want to learn verbs put them together by meaning. Using a computer is very useful for organizing words. If you rely only on handwritten notes then it is more difficult to manipulate them later when you may wish to change their location to group them with other similar words.

So, after you have your notebook and you are writing down the important and meaningful words from your own experience, how should you go about the task of learning vocabulary? How do we approach something so large?

Well, firstly if we write down "Learn English vocabulary" as a daily objective this will only reinforce our fear of a huge memory task. It is also ineffective because

· It is non-specific

· It is not an achievable goal because the parameters aren't clear.

· It is not measurable how would you test your success?

Let's think of an example. If you want a relationship to go better, setting a target such as "be a better boyfriend" or "be a better wife" would not be very effective. That's because it is vague, non-specific, and not measurable. A better method would be to write down

"Spend one hour every day talking to my partner."

That's an achievable goal. And you can do the very same thing with this task.

I recommend my students to begin by breaking it up like this

· Using the lists from "Core Communication Techniques" (visit www.u-learn.ie for downloads and more) devise your word schemas which you (and only you) can draw up. We are not going to use words as abstract concepts. That's a difficult route to go down. We want to firstly focus on the vocabulary you have encountered or you find important and meaningful to you. Then follow the five steps below

1. Work through 10 words a day for the first week. (70 words)

2. Work through 8 words a day the second week. (56 words)

3. Work through 6 words a day in the third week (42 words)

4. Do the same amount in the fourth week (42 words)

5. Repeat the process each month