Teaching Vocabulary to Young Learners

Word acquisition is very important in English language teaching. Learning new words means to recognize them in their spoken and written forms, remember them, relate them to an object or concept, use them in the appropriate grammatical form, pronounce them in a recognizable way, spell them correctly, associate them with other appropriate words and use them at different levels of formality. Learners should also be aware of each word’s connotations and associations.

The number of English words is not something simple to count and I do not think it is even possible. Each day at least a new word is added to the English language due to the trend of globalization and international societies. There is no need to know all the words in a text to understand its message. One should teach those words that are important for the general meaning of the text and that are related to the topic of the activity. The first stage in teaching vocabulary is the introduction of the new words (spelling, meanings, pronunciation, and usage).

When teaching vocabulary, teachers must pay special attention to spelling and pronunciation. Teachers can use flashcards, realia, clumsy pictures, drawing, synonyms, antonyms, definitions or miming to introduce the new words. Clumsy pictures are quickly made drawings representing words that activate pupils’ creativity and create a positive classroom atmosphere. They enable meaningful learning because they provide visual representations of words that can be associated with sounds and the learners are directly involved in the learning activity.

When teachers draw clumsy pictures on the board, they create fun games for learners such as guessing the word or solving puzzles. The next stage in the language acquisition process is practice. Teachers must supply further explanations for the new lexical items by providing other meanings, semantic relations, register and style. The focus is on accuracy, increased fluency and complexity of communication levels. This stage provides intensive practice in listening, speaking, reading and writing the words in particular or in context. Teachers help students with difficult words or sounds and drill to improve these aspects. It is a moment for teachers to help students imitate intonation and accent that may be different from the native language. At this stage, it’s teachers’ job to provide a safe environment for learners to practice the language.

Learners become aware of the pronunciation and the correct form of words and phrases. There is also an opportunity for immediate feedback through peer correction or teacher correction. To facilitate the passage of new vocabulary into their active vocabulary teachers must provide learners possibility of practice through different types of activities: vocabulary games (memory games, bingo, board games etc), crosswords, songs etc. Songs are an amazing way of practicing English. They change the atmosphere in the classroom because they engage students actively and motivate them. Teaching English using songs is effective because it catches students’ attention, especially with young learners.

They are not shy and sing along. The glance in their eyes changes immediately when they hear something they like. Songs are not only for motivating leraners and to arouse their interest level but they are an effective technique for practicing listening and improving students’ pronunciation by providing authentic listening texts. Songs can be used in many different ways in the learning process.

Teachers can use gap filling tasks, dictation, jigsaw listening, use words from the song to write lyrics etc. Presentation and practice must be followed by use. To make new language functional, learners must be able to employ the new linguistic items in familiar/personal contexts and make it part of their communicative competence. For this, teachers must guide them from controlled tasks to free production language by setting skill-based tasks similar to real world. In this phase we give learners the opportunity to use the words which have been studied: role play, gapped texts, picture description, etc.

Role play represents a good opportunity for learners to work in pairs and even groups. They can be guided, according to their proficiency level, by giving them cues on slips of paper for their part in the dialogue. This can be done in the form of words or isolated chunks of language.

Teaching good use of vocabulary means connecting new language items to prior knowledge, repeated exposure to taught concepts, giving students the opportunity to use new words multiple times through reading, listening and writing practice that lead to developing speaking skills.

1) Hadfield Jill, Beginners’ Communication Games, Pearson Education Limited, 1999.
2) Richards Jack C., Communicative Language Teaching Today, Cambridge University Press, 2006.
3) Vizental Adriana, Metodica predării limbii engleze. Strategies of Teaching and Testing English as a Foreign Language, Ed. Polirom, Buc, 2008.


prof. Nicoleta Porojan

Profil iTeach: iteach.ro/profesor/nicoleta.porojan

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