Vocabulary in Second-Language Classrooms (page 3)
Understanding the words of a second language is only part of understanding the second language, but it is a crucial part. Here are some ways to build on the suggestions when teaching word meanings to learners of a second language.
Realia and visual aids are used in many second language classrooms to teach vocabulary meaningfully. One way to add to these concrete teaching tools is by enlisting students’ help through scavenger hunts. Present a list of terms for each instructional unit, and have students individually or in groups bring in concrete objects, models, pictures, and illustrations that represent the terms. Afterwards, you have an almost instant bulletin board or display table for introducing and practicing vocabulary.
Looking beyond obvious sources and representations is a good way to extend what you gather during scavenger hunts. For instance, children’s action figures, dolls, and other toy people often come with physical settings such as dollhouses, forts, and farms. Leading your class to describe the locations and actions of scenes (“The man is hiding behind the large house hoping to surprise the enemy.”) can result in active participation and meaningful applications of terms. You also might provide well-illustrated magazines for students to scavenge during class time. Calendars, catalogues, and newspapers are other frequently untapped teaching aids that provide useful tools for promoting second-language vocabularies.
The capsule vocabulary teaching strategy provides students good practice using the vocabulary of a second language. In this strategy, you first present the pronunciations and meanings of topically related words (e.g., fruits), then students use these words (e.g., apples, oranges, bananas) while conversing with each other. This strategy is most productive when the terms refer to common concepts that require little explanation, because the emphasis here is on students practicing and applying new terms in a supportive setting. Capsule Vocabulary stresses attaching labels to concepts already understood more than developing conceptual knowledge.
Several options are available for practicing the Capsule Vocabularies that are introduced. Using the words in oral conversations certainly is appropriate. In written conversations, or buddy journals, students take turns composing notes to each other in a manner similar to the surreptitious note passing that sometimes occurs during class. Written conversations are like pen pal situations; however, the pals are in the same classroom and they are using certain terms associated with units of study.
Another Capsule Vocabulary practice option is for students to write one term each on a card and categorize the cards in whatever groupings come to mind. Additionally, students might write sentences with each one containing two or three target terms. The class could play Twenty Questions in the second language, a game in which one word is selected and players try to determine what it is by asking yes–no questions (“Is it an animal?” “Is it four-legged?” “Is it domestic?”). Charades and Password are two other games appropriate for practicing Capsule Vocabulary Terms.
Successful readers of second languages often apply their knowledge of word cognates when they encounter unfamiliar vocabulary. Cognates are words derived from a common earlier form. Spanish and English have especially large numbers of cognates due to their historical bases in Latin. Here are some Spanish–English cognates:
naturalmente naturally novelas novels
clima climate decidir decide
curioso curious farmacia pharmacy
Using cognates to help understand and remember unfamiliar words involves several mental operations. Learners identify unfamiliar words that justify the time and energy to be figured out, they examine target words’ spellings and pronunciations to determine if they might be cognates of known words, and they test possible meanings for the unfamiliar words in the contexts of the passages to decide upon specific meanings.
Teaching students to transfer their knowledge of word meanings in one language to help in another can be done according to the recommendations in this chapter for teaching morphological sophistication. Indeed, a shared morpheme is what makes up a cognate pair. In essence, students act as detectives when figuring out word meanings, and cognate relationships are powerful clues to solving the mystery of what many words mean. When attention is directed to long unfamiliar words, remind students to ask themselves,
“Do I know any other words that look like this word?”
“Are any of these look-alike words related to each other?”
And when meanings are suggested through possible cognates, have students ask themselves,
“Does my understanding of this word make sense in this passage?”
Consider the following description by a Mexican American woman of one of the healing plants in her garden:
Estas hojas tienas se hiervan para hacer un te. Este te es para los diabeticos. Ellos lo toman para su enfermedad. (These tender leaves are boiled to make a tea. This tea is for diabetics. They drink it for their illness.) (Brozo, Valerio, & Salazar, 1996, p. 164)
Te–tea and diabeticos–diabetics are two word pairs with obvious cognate relationships. Students could be expected to capitalize on these relationships when assigning meaning to what they read. Somewhat more obscure relationships are apparent in un–a and enfermedad–illness. Explaining that the un in unit, unite, and union refers to one or single and that infirmity is a synonym for illness would offer students powerful clues for understanding and remembering the meanings of un and enfermedad.
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