Students often struggle with academic vocabulary, especially if their L1 is a non-European language. Vocabulary development is critical and should be integrated into all parts of the curriculum.

Students focus on the meaning of the material and begin to develop a feel for the word-building process and the overall grammar. Vocabulary should not just be listed and drilled, but included in all phases of language learning (Magrath, D., Aug. 20, 2014).

Vocabulary acquisition is an essential part of L2 acquisition that goes beyond the classroom. Increasing one’s word power strengthens one’s connections to the community. Note the goals set by the ACTFL standards.

Communities communicate and interact with cultural competence in order to participate in multilingual communities at home and around the world…Learners use the language both within and beyond the classroom to interact and collaborate in their community and the globalized world (World-Readiness Standards, 2015).

Ferlazzo (Nov. 29, 2017) makes the following suggestions to help learners with vocabulary:

What can students do when they come across new words and there’s no teacher around to help? My students brainstormed a list, which now both hangs in the front of our class and is in their notebooks.

Ask classmates for help.

Remember what has helped me in the past.

After I’m done, double-check my work.

Use Google Translate or a dictionary.

Highlight or underline important words in a text.

When I don’t understand a word, I can use context clues, do a word analysis (prefix, root, suffix), and think if it’s a cognate (similar to words in other languages).

After I’ve finished an activity, take a minute to think about what things I did that helped me.

Ask my teachers questions to clarify or confirm my thinking and not just to get the answer. (Does it look like I’m on the right track? I think this word means _________________is that right?) (Enriching academic vocabulary: Strategies for teaching tier two words to E.L.L. students).

Words and expressions do not translate exactly. In English the verb listen uses a preposition: (“listen to+ NP”), while French uses the form, “ecouter NP” as in “ecoutez moi!” (Listen to me!) Conversely the English verb “obey” takes a direct object, “obey + NP”, while in French the expression is “obeir a NP.” (Parker & Riley, 2000). So French learners of English may add prepositions where they are not needed.

Error production involves a variety of factors. There is L1/L2 interference, but errors can also be attributed to factors such as over generalization:

Not all errors are equally disruptive.

Errors of vocabulary, for example, are less general and predictable than errors of grammar, but they are usually more disruptive of communication…Above all, error analysis is complicated by the fact that it is often unclear what the learner intended to say, and thus how to identify the error that has been made (373).

Teachers can introduce pertinent vocabulary in each lesson using realist examples where possible or aids like the Oxford Picture Dictionary. It would help to scan ahead in the text to pick out possible words that the students may not know. Instructors can use the words in contexts, introduce synonyms or related words (Robison, 43). Think of “fair” i.e., fair weather, county fair, fair skinned, a fair grade, a fair amount of food.

A relationship exists between repetitions and retention. Memory cards, which are reviewed first daily and then weekly and finally monthly are a helpful device (Brown, A., et al, Fall 2009). In the specific case of roots and transitions the authors state, “This method of learning roots and transitions words ties in closely with research addressing the correlation between ‘chunking’ and automaticity” (431).

Meanings may vary across disciplines. See the following examples of how ELTs (English language teachers) can assist students.

Identify the ways words are used in each discipline. For example, a factor in math is not the same as a factor in social studies. An ELT can help students understand the concept of a factor in social studies by offering this sentence stem: “One factor that led to World War I was....” When co-planning with a math teacher, an ELT can suggest using different color manipulatives to help show the concept of factoring. (Huynh, T., Feb. 1, 2019)

Teaching hint No. 1

Because of time constraints, teachers often struggle to include vocabulary acquisition activities in the ESL/ESOL classes (Otero, A. January 24, 2020).

The problem becomes even more serious when we consider that for vocabulary instruction to be effective it needs to be not just explicit and engaging but frequent—which means running up against those time constraints repeatedly(4 Activities to Boost Target Language Vocabulary Acquisition).

The author suggests using a vocabulary deck made up of index cards. The words selected for the cards are part of authentic material rather than isolated lists.

The items I select are often associated with formal contexts, and they may appear frequently in the authentic materials students deal with in class, regardless of the topic—terms such as to carry out, achievement, scarce, on average, and findings (4 Activities to Boost Target Language Vocabulary Acquisition).

The students imagine that they are specialists in in a certain field, such as engineering or medicine, and they need to learn the vocabulary that will enable then to carry out work in that area.

Learning is an ongoing process that does not end when the student leaves the classroom.

Lifelong learning: Learners set goals and reflect on their progress in using languages for enjoyment, enrichment, and advancement. (World-Readiness Standards, 2015)

Learning new words is one of the most difficult aspects of L2 learning. Here is an example of an interactive technique involving negotiation.

For example, to explain “disaster” the teacher will ask, “What is a disaster?”The student may reply, “Accident? Something bad?”

Teacher, “Yes, a bad accident, but it also means the event causes a lot of suffering; perhaps people die…so when the Titanic sank, was it an accident or a disaster...?”

“If a fire destroyed a neighborhood, would that be an accident or a disaster...?”Students would answer, “Disaster.”

The teacher could go on to metaphorical meanings with advanced learners:” If you invited people over for a party and you didn’t have enough food…”(Lee & Muncie, June 2006)

Teaching hint No. 2

Vocabulary and content go together. Teachers can make sure that the students understand academic language.Content and ESL teachers need to cooperate to reach their common goals of student learning and meeting departmental objectives and outcomes.

Thankfully, more and more districts are encouraging content and English language teachers (ELTs) to join forces to support their multilingual students (Huynh, T., Feb. 1, 2019).

Teaching hint No. 3

Researchers have found that exercise helps with learning. Teachers can find ways to incorporate movement into vocabulary learning to aid in retention.

Exercise strengthens both the prefrontal cortex (which is involved in executive functioning) and the hippocampus (which plays a key role in memory and learning). In this way, exercise supports our ability to think creatively, make decisions, focus and retrieve key information (Kris, D.F. May 21, 2019).

The importance of reading

Reading is essential. It is the best way for students to expand their vocabularies, and it is linked to the other skills students need to succeed in the academic world and the world of work. This section is addressed to teachers of children, but it also applies to adult learners of ESL.

A new report says that nearly half of kids read for less than 15 minutes per day.No skill is more essential to students than reading. Every other domain of learning plays off our literacy abilities (Henderson, D.& Kerns, G., Dec. 6, 2019).

Learners should practice reading more. The authors compare reading practice to football practice or practicing with a musical instrument. Without intense practice, students will not master the skill.

This lack of practice translates to lower vocabulary acquisition, lower reading growth, and, eventually, students who are not ready for college or their careers (All you need is read).

Extensive reading opens up new areas of knowledge to the students. They can branch out into other fields beyond the classroom and make new discoveries for themselves.

The literature is quite clear: reading is a powerful form of student self-teaching. It creates a rhythm that allows students to teach themselves all types of things, but it requires time. (All you need is read).

Making another analogy to sports, the authors liken reading to weightlifting. One must try things that are somewhat hard but not overwhelming.

Similarly, students need challenging texts, but not so challenging that they cannot comprehend what they are reading. There is a balance between the quantity of reading each day and the quality of that reading.

Teaching hint No. 4

The readings should correlate to the students’ interests. If a student is interested in a topic, try to harness that, even and maybe especially for students who are reading below grade level. If they are interested in the Civil War, for example, get them started with simple texts about it.