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3 Things Teachers Must Consider Before Teaching EFL Vocabulary

There are several techniques for teaching new vocabulary in EFL classes. We are going to tackle the best two of them in the coming post (Join My Email List (It’s FREE) to receive a notification when I publish new posts). But, the teacher should consider the following three things before teaching the new vocabulary using any of the techniques.

1. Types Of Vocabulary

There are two main types of vocabulary:

  1. Content vocabulary including active/productive and passive/receptive vocabulary      
  2. Function/structure vocabulary

1. Content vocabulary

They are closely related to one’s experience. Active and passive vocabulary is usually called content words because they carry lexical meaning in themselves, used in everyday speech and learned for performance in any communication act.

So, teachers should teach them by focusing on their pronunciation and correct form to help students remember them easily.

Passive/receptive vocabulary is not essential for production in speaking or writing. It is used for recognition and understanding. We need this vocabulary for comprehension.

Active vocabulary in a certain situation can be considered passive in another context.

2. Function/structure vocabulary

We consider them as part of the grammatical system of the language because their main functions are grammatical. They are limited in number. There are about 200 words in English as (auxiliaries, conjunctions, and articles). Their meaning is mainly derived from the functions they serve.

Function words are also used to:

  • Join fragments of structures together into larger units as with prepositions.
  • Join pairs of sentences or phrases as in coordinating conjunctions (but, or, and, nor etc.)
  • Connect a subordinate idea to the main sentences as with subordinating conjunctions (while, if, although, because, after etc.).

2. Forms of Vocabulary

The teacher should consider the following changes in forms of words and draw students’ attention to them:

  • Internal change in form as (man-men, foot-feet, sing-sang)
  • External change in form as (kind-kindness-kindly)
  • Both external and internal changes in form as (explain-explanation-explanatory)
  • No change in form but a difference in function as (sheep (singular and plural), record (noun and verb)

The teacher should also consider the knowledge of affixes (prefix – infix and suffix) as they help students a lot to:

  • Derive new words from already known words.
  • Increase their ability to utilize the vocabulary system.
  • Understand the basic meaning of other related words if their root is familiar to them.
  • Improve their spelling skill.
  • Be aware of the correlation between various affixes and their functions and meanings as (“tion” for nouns – “ly” for adverbs – “able” for adjectives – “un” for not)

The teacher must also draw the students’ attention to the verbs and nouns that are usually accompanied by a certain preposition. Students should memorize those prepositions along with the verb or noun they come with because this combination changes the basic meaning of the word such as (look at, look for, look after, look in, look like).

If the students’ level is appropriate, the teacher can show compound, blends, and clipped forms. Compound words are formed by two or more individual words as (football – blackboard – basketball) or hyphenated as (finger-print, brother-in-law) or separate words as (Prime Minister).

3. Meanings Of Vocabulary

There are four main types of meaning:

  1. Lexical meaning
  2. Grammatical meaning
  3. Connotation meaning
  4. Idiomatic meaning

1) Lexical meaning

We call it the dictionary (denotation) meaning, which is common to all speakers of the same language. It does not change from one situation to another nor is it affected by personal experience as (girl – cat – hit).

2) Grammatical meaning

It is essential for understanding the language. It is determined by syntactic relationship within the language or grammatical signals. Grammatical signals as (a – an – the – his etc.) control the meaning and help in discovering the exact meaning of the word

3) Connotation meaning

It is the cultural meaning as some words have different meanings related to the culture which is different from a language to another. For example: the word (dog) may differ from one person or a community to another. Also, a behavior of a person may seem to some people polite or good. Yet, another people can judge the same behavior as impolite or bad.

4) The idiomatic meaning

Idioms, proverbs and clichés constitute an integral part of language and we use them extensively. Students must therefore learn them apart from the vocabulary system and teachers should teach them in an appropriate relevant context. For example: “It was raining cats and dogs” means it rains heavily not cats and dogs which have no connection with raining.

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