According to a linguistic maxim: “ Vocabulary enables us to interpret and to express. If you have a limited vocabulary, you will also have a limited vision and a limited future.” We exist and live in this world because of our interaction with others and all living things. And such survival interactions that makes us live is supported by our ability to acquire language and use words to identify things by our senses, get our desire across to others, and continue to nurture relationships. All of these are brought by our mental vocabulary that we use every single second of our waking.
One of the Everyone Academy’s webinars that I opted to watch is the one presented by Rita Wirtz titled Powerful Strategies to Boost Vocabulary. Such a webinar highlighted the significance of boosting and reinforcing the acquisition of vocabulary that is interactive, contextualized and non-threatening. I admire the presentation of Rita Wirtz because she pointed out that vocabulary should not be taught in a way that words are not introduced for memorization but introduced for contextualization. Contextualization is made by using the words according to their meaning in the context of situations and in any fields of knowledge. This is how the definition of the word is understood and felt with all the senses because it is used in situations that allow learners to see how such word plays in the world. Such a way of learning the vocabulary strengthens learners’ language acquisition that makes them use the word when they communicate in the given situations.
Learning vocabulary is the core foundation of learning the rest of the skills in communication. Having a good foundation of vocabulary helps learners succeed in acquiring other skills such as reading comprehension, listening comprehension, speaking, writing, spelling and pronunciation. Besides, learning sufficient vocabulary in English, in particular, helps learners widen their understanding in different fields of study such as medicine, law, sciences, business and more. The webinar hightlight gives much instructional modes that would help teachers gauge learners’ interest, prior knowledge, and ability to learn vocabulary and use it appropriately at the proper time, proper place, proper situation and proper people. This gives importance on pragmatism which is very crucial in communicating effectively in this multicultural and pluralistic society.
The speaker presented a point on learning a word using Compound Word List. This graphemic activity expands learners prior knowledge on how words are grouped according to their classification. It also gives expanding idea on how words change meaning based on the attached word or morphemes whether they are root word or affixes. The other point that the speaker presented is Vocabulary Booster Chart. This learning scaffold is an organizer that allows learners use words in different facets of knowledge. Such facets holistically bring students out of merely meaning identification practice. But they allow the latter to build and construct word knowledge on saying vocabulary, writing them down, defining them, using them in a sentence, writing a synonym and antonym, identifying parts of speech, drawing conclusion, and using them artistically. This activity is very holistic to the extent that different communicative skills are targeted and talents an potentials are honed because of the provided learning creative instructions.
The last point presented by the speaker is Easy Start Vocabulary Builder. This linguistic pedagogy points out the critical phase of using the word as it functions in different texts and situations. This juxtaposes the word/phrase usage, definition, syntactic uses, synonyms and antonyms, parts of speech, and “draw it” phase. This organizes learners’ ability in learning the words in a way that is systematically acquired from simple word meaning to using it in a context. Learning so builds a strong foundation of learning the word without forgetting its meaning even if it is used in different contexts.
The webinar takeaway gives out the following 5 keypoints: 1. A strong and robust vocabulary helps learners succeed and all areas of communication and other subject areas such as Mathematics, History, Sciences and more. 2. The acquisition of vocabulary depends somehow on learners’ readiness in acquiring the second language, family guidance, exposure to different linguistic speech community, nutrition, mental ability and maturity. 3. Teachers should unlock students’ prior knowledge before learning the vocabulary in the texts and different multimodal channels. 4. Learning vocabulary should not be done in a way that learners are burdened by tasks; but something that makes them learn and enjoy acquiring the words in a non-threatening language classes. 5. Critical stage is not a basis of rapid learning growth in vocabulary acquisition. Because learning the second language depends not on the age but on the strong exposure and immersion in a place as well as the instructional support in school.
The insights I gained from such webinar is very rich. I have been teaching English for more than a decade and I have made a lot of mistakes and committed a lot of failures in language teaching. But attending a lot of training including this one gives me much information and knowledge that are beneficial in language teaching. Having grasped vocabulary on the part of the learners plays a crucial role in their lives. In fact, their survival somehow lies the strong vocabulary they have which affects in strengthening their language skills. Having such a strengthened language skills lead them to communicate effectively. And in effective communication lies creating strong relationships and achieving their desires and goals to survive in life. On the other hand, learning to understand the word in the dictionary is not enough. Dictionary or lexical meaning is meaningless unless it is used in the sentences and utterances wherein the context and situation are implied. Even the synonyms of words do not guarantee they have the same meaning because each word, though they are synonymous, have shades of meanings and change their meaning when used in different contexts. For example, the word beautiful and pretty could be synonymous but one should not use them interchangeably. One can say “beautiful house” but not a pretty house.” Even the word “sex” it can imply either biological or political. This idea supports the linguistic thought that the word is meaningless and arbitrary. Words have no meaning unless it is interpreted by the frame of reference from the minds of the people. Therefore some words may sound bad and vulgar but they may sound good and flattering depending on how it is conveyed and interpreted by both interlocutors based on the implied illocutionary.
To conclude, having sufficient vocabulary is not enough to communicate effectively but having used them appropriately in the right situation is. No matter how plenty vocabulary the learners may acquire, if they do not know when, how, where and to whom to use them, they still fail to communicate purposefully and effectively. The language teachers should therefore focus on the “use” of words instead merely of the “form.” This is how learners create meaning of their utterances and build right signified interpretation of what they read, view and listen to from different channels of communication. If the language classroom is built on communicative atmosphere and grounded on contextualized and multicultural instruction, then language teaching and learning are both optimal and life-long.
Written by Osmar Pogoy Labajo English teacher,
Everyone Academy ambassador, Spain.