ESL Teaching and Learning Tips
In looking back at my rather hastily written post I see that I made a few errors. I meant to say that "red" has higher frequency than "orange," so therefore in a Chinese context...........
I also stated that vocabulary needs to be processed in a variety of ways between 16-20 times when I really meant to say 6-20. Oh well, I'll just blame the heat - jeez it's hot!
In regards to rote learning, rest assured that you're not the only one on the planet to concur with the necessity of it. I should have been more implicit in pointing out that rote learning has its place - especially with young learners who are like little vacuum cleaners anyway and can seemingly suck up new vocabulary like a hoover can suck up dust. So, I should have been more definitive in my post on that matter as well. All in all thanks for keeping me in line.
Interestingly though, I recently read an article, more related to ESL than EFL, that addresses how ESL teachers in America, especially those teaching Asian immigrant populations, need to rethink their infatuation with Communicative Language Teaching at the expense of grammar methods and rote learning that are still an integral part of the learning process in Asian countries.
Well then, the truth is I've been researching the whole concept of vocabulary acquisition for some time now. Unfortunately, I may be more confused than when I first started this research; however, there are a few things that I'm pretty much in agreement with even though I need to be more cognizant of how age groups and heritage must be taken into consideration.
But one thing I'm pretty clear about is that, "superficial (i.e. "crash" memorization) ensures a high rate of forgetting. The deeper the level of vocabulary processing the better is the chance for retention." Sorry I can't cite the article - it's just something I have in my notes.
Here's something that you may find interesting though:
Keith S. Folse (2004) reviewed the research on teaching vocabulary in semantic sets (e.g. colors, foods, furniture, days of the week) and found that grouping words in this way can actually impede the learning of vocabulary. This is because if similar new words are presented together, such as a set of colors or the days of the week, the learner is likely to confuse the words. The same is true if antonym pairs such as hot/cold, fat/thin, right/left are presented together. Folse suggests grouping new vocabulary around looser themes such as going out to eat, planning a trip, or celebrating an anniversary.
(Folse, K.S. (2004). Vocabulary myths: Applying second language research to classroom teaching. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan)
I can relate to the whole antonym thing. I still can't get it straight in China: you/zui - is that left/right or right/left - usually stumble with this because I learned them at the same time. (My Chinese girlfriend gets "kitchen" and "chicken" confused. It's kinda funny, but I think there's a message there somewhere in terms of vocabulary acquisition and how it is that she learned those two words - I mean did she learn them both during the same lesson? Like, "Let's go to the kitchen and fix the chicken?" She can't remember.)
Again though, there must of course be a realization of who our target group is and what their age level is. Teaching adults is definitely a whole other ball game - as is teaching university students compared to middle school children.
A researcher who consolidated some of the most recent material on vocabulary acquisition (again I apologize for not being able to properly cite the article) set it down like this:
"Because of the need for English language learners to acquire more English vocabulary for all aspects of their lives, Birch (2002), Eskey (2005), Folse (2004), and Nation (2000, 2005) suggest the following:
Pre-teach the vocabulary in a reading passage.
To limit the number of vocabulary items that must be pre-taught, select reading passages that are only slightly above what learners can read independently.
Teach high-frequency words first.
Provide learners with multiple exposures to specific words in multiple contexts."
But here again, the above is not talking about young children and there is I think a presupposition that the learner has made it past the beginning stages. Nevertheless, I think we can glean some gems out of such research that can be applied to young leaners and I think we need to be careful about what assumptions we make about the long term usefullness of our methods.
I've taught both middle school children and university students in China. I guess it would be a real eye opener for me if I were able to track my middle schoolers as they make it into university to see if any of my teaching had a positive effect on their ability to acquire English at a university level. I have noticed though that my current university students, especially first year students, must really struggle to stay up with most of the texts provided - not to mention the uncaring and/or unprofessional attitude of certain "foreign experts" they have to deal with. But generally, there is an assumption made that because they "learned" something in middle school or senior school, they will have retained it and can apply it to their university training. Not the case. Too much cramming and rote learning - not enough true acquisition. Their knowledge of grammar concepts is great for the most part, but unfortunately they haven't been taught the grammar with English terminology and it's therefore necessary to cover it again so that they can communicate and discuss target language with the foreign teachers. But lest I digress futher I'll wrap this up...................thanks Fish for the feedback.