With hundreds of thousands of words in the English language, teaching vocabulary can seem quite a hard process. The average native speaker uses about five thousand words in everyday speech. As for ESL students, Professor Stuart Webb says the most effective way to be able to speak a language quickly is to pick the 800 to 1,000 lemmas which appear most frequently in a language, and learn those. If you learn only 800 of the most frequently-used lemmas in English, you’ll be able to understand 75% of the language as it is spoken in normal life. There are a number of important steps to consider what students need to know about the items, and how you can teach them.

What may a student need to know about a vocabulary item?

When teaching new vocabulary, make sure to include the following information:

  • The meaning
    It is vital to get across the meaning of the item clearly and to ensure that your students have understood correctly with checking questions.
  • The form
    Students need to know if it is a verb / a noun / an adjective etc to be able to use it effectively.
  • The Pronunciation/Spelling
    This aspect is important especially as in many cases the word’s pronunciation and spelling are quite different. So it is essential to turn to the word’s written transcript, drill and highlight the word stresses.  
  • The grammatical patterns the word follows
    For example, tooth-teeth (singular-plural) and if the word is followed by a particular preposition (e.g. rely on, belong to)
  • The Register of the Word
    Is the word formal/informal or neutral,  when and with whom it is appropriate to use the language.
  • For example, comprehend is formal, understand is neutral and get is informal.
  • How the word is collocated to others
    You describe things ‘in great detail’ not ‘in big detail’ and to ask a question you ‘raise your hand’ you don’t ‘lift your hand’. It is important to highlight this to students to prevent mistakes in usage later.

Where can the teacher find that information?

1) There are a number of resources which the teacher can use to find the information necessary for vocabulary analysis. The most reliable resources are the officially recognized online dictionaries, such as Cambridge Dictionary, Oxford Dictionary, Dictionary.com. In these dictionaries, you can find detailed information about the word’s meaning, American vs British spelling and pronunciation, its register, collocations, synonyms, antonyms, the grammatical patterns in which it is used. 

If we look at the word entry “comprehend” and search it in Oxford Dictionary we get a full information about its American and British pronunciation, its register (formal), a number of collocations it is used in (with adverbs- fully, barely, easily, verb + comprehend be (un)able to..), the synonymic set accompanying the word (understand, get, see, follow, grasp) and what kind of different shades of meanings they have and in which contexts they are mostly used. There is also information about its origin. 

The Dictionary.com provides extra information about the other words from “comprehend”, like (comprehender, precomprehend, self-comprehending, well-comprehended, etc). There is extra information about the words which may be confused with the word comprehend. All the information provided in this dictionary is really valuable in terms of word analysis. 

2) British National Corpus gives you relevant information about the frequency level of the word entry and how it is collocated to other words. This is a very handy resource for all English teachers. See how to use it following this video. Read more about corpora in this article

3) There are a number of vocabulary profilers that analyze the text according to the vocabulary level and its frequency. Here is the link to an article that describes the main vocabulary profilers.

4) Useful information about word collocations teachers can find in Cambridge Dictionary under each meaning, on the right corner of the page for each entry. Oxford Dictionary also provides a huge amount of information on each entry in terms of collocations under the heading Check out also Oxford Collocations Dictionary and (Google Play app) and Longman Collocations Dictionary and Thesaurus

Lextutor is another amazing tool for text analysis, including collocations. 

I also use ozdic.com,  phrasebank  and just-the-word.com to help students find the right collocations. 

Surely, it is quite a difficult work to provide full and comprehensive information for the students. Based on the given resources the teacher will have ample tools for a good vocabulary analysis to prepare for a lesson.

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  • Фото аватара
    Olga Shapovalova

    Thank you very much! I find this article extremely useful! (Even if «extremely useful’ is not a highly frequent collocation)))


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