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Teaching vocabulary (English) to 2nd language learners...how do YOU do it?

I teach English to Chinese students who want to study abroad. The parents seem to think that if their child knows millions of new words they will be fantastic and able to speak the language. My experience has shown me that's not the case. You can know a lot of words but unless you know how to use them correctly, it's pretty useless.

I use a technique for teaching vocabulary that seems to work well. I only teach my kids the College Board Top 100 and then another 50 words I picked. So in 10 weeks they will learn 150 words...the parents don't think it's enough until I show them the list, then they shut up. The kids must learn 25 words each week...they don't really learn them but they do get introduced to them (and a majority will stick). They must then write a sentence (their pwn sentence, not copied, and yes I do check) and use the word correctly in the sentence.

Example: assiduous - means hard-working [(adjective) describing a person].
My students tend to be assiduous, and it pays off.

What they can't do is write a sentence like this: My teacher taught me the word assiduous.

That is wrong because it doesn't show that they know the word. They must write a sentence where it's clear from the context that they know what the word means.

To further imprint the new word we use it in class, and they have to tell me about the word using words that are similar, (ie: diligent, studious, untiring...) I may even ask them if they know the antonyms for the word (ie: negligent, indolent, inattentive...)

As you can see they actually learn many more words (not just 150) but it's learning the vocabulary in a context and using it correctly so they gain not just a word but a way to use it to increase their ability to communicate well in the 2nd language.

Anyone else doing something different that can share?

August 25, 2019



You might like my video on the beginning stages of the natural approach method to help people learn languages. Around halfway in the video or so, I give practical examples of how this can work in a classroom setting. Here's the video: https://youtu.be/b_Bzw2H1BUE

One of the goals of the natural approach is the help students comprehend part of a language from day one in context.

Have you heard of total physical response (TPR)? That's part of the method of the natural approach to help people learn languages. It's pretty helpful for children because they get to move their body while learning new words, so it helps to keep them attentive.


Dear Bmann2K3:

I sort of use TPR, do know it but instead I wrote a thesis on using ASL and how that can be very useful for teaching phonics and having a kinetic component for teaching that style of learner.

I am in China so I can't access youtube...sorry but I am sure it's a wonderful tool. Thanks so much, these are good tools to share.


In that case, you might want to read 73-80 in the Natural Approach book that you can read for free at http://www.sdkrashen.com/content/books/the_natural_approach.pdf That's basically the just of what I shared in my YouTube video.

Wow. Does China ban YouTube?


Dear Bmann:

YES and a lot more...LOL


Wow. That's sad. :(


I love your passion, bmann!


PerfectEng, I love your approach. The current buzzword is "Comprehensible Input," because you are absolutely right: Learning a word "floating out in space" does not help memorization very much. You have to see it in context.

I really like how you are insistent that your students actually use the word.

I teach my students (French, Spanish, and Japanese) the top 50 verbs. Not necessarily how to conjugate them all immediately in French and Spanish, (which have many irregular verbs), but each of my classes learns the top 50 by frequency.

Then comes the fun part! I always start class by reading something to the students, projecting it on the board as I do so. When we come to a verb conjugated weird, all I have to do is write the verb in infinitive and draw an arrow to the weird conjugation. You would be surprised how easy it is for the students to link things together to figure out the story.

I get really hammy when I read; I use lots of props, doodle on the board, have the kids do TPR, whatever I need to do until I see the lightbulb go off over their heads.

I always read the story at least twice.

Research shows that a person needs to see a new vocabulary word (even one in their native language!) on average seven times before they have it. I think reading is an excellent way to reinforce the memory process.

Keep up the good work!


Dear MadameS...

I used to teach business before teaching English in China...marketing was my focus and the rule was 10 impressions before the customer remembers. I use that same rule in language acquisition. I play a game with my younger students where they need to ID parts of speech...simple stuff (noun, verb, adj., adv.) I will write the category and they must give me words that fit for each part of speech. If I have 10 kids then I will have them give me 10 nouns, 10 verbs, etc. Then I give them a sentence structure like present simple and past simple and then we mix it up and they must make a sentence.

It's okay if "The table walks, the table walked" as long as they follow the structure and use the words. Later on we change it so the sentences are longer and not nonsense. It's so funny because many times they seem to figure out irregular verbs without my telling them. I also tell them if the verb is irregular and they are not sure try putting the "ed" at the end and if you can't say it...it's irregular.

I have never used the story idea, in your way but what a great concept. I do like to read to my younger kids, and they love when we read "Green Eggs and Ham" because I can nearly do it from memory...LOL My older kids enjoy things like the "Jabberwocky" I use that when teaching vocabulary because it's a challenge. I have a really nice version of it on mp3 done by John Hurt.

It's nice to be able to share ideas and teaching tools... :)


Thanks for the "The table walks" game idea, PerfectEng!

Isn't that amazing that we can collaborate around the world?


yes indeed...collaboration makes us better teachers

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