Vocabulary: Lesson 2
Problems with Contextualization
Virtually all approaches to communicative language teaching emphasize the importance of learning language in context. But what does that mean for beginning language learners?
Let’s take a look at a sample vocabulary presentation from a commercially published textbook. The authors of Parallèles describe the Contextes sections as “vocabulary presentations … structured around engaging, culturally authentic visual and linguistic contexts, [that] provide an enriched environment for learning and practicing new vocabulary and for recycling previously-taught language.”
Imagine you are a beginning French student, and you encounter this text as the opening exercise in your chapter. What would your reaction be? How would you make sense of it?
The problem of over-contextualization.
If materials emphasize richly contextualized language too soon in the sequence, learners can be overwhelmed. Blyth and Davis (2007) reported that beginning French students at the University of Texas at Austin were frustrated with vocabulary presentations in the commercially published textbook used in their program. Students repeatedly requested “a clearer and more deliberate progression in each chapter from decontextualized vocabulary words to contextualized discourse.”
In response, developers created Français interactif, a beginning French program that begins with word-level presentation and slowly moves to contextualized language samples. Throughout the rest of this module, we will be using this program as a case study of vocabulary instruction.
In creating the pedagogical materials for Français interactif, the developers decided to move away from the traditional grammatical syllabus and adopt features of the Lexical Approach instead.
Development goals of Français interactif.
Lewis (1993) suggests the following:
• Lexis is the basis of language.
• Grammatical mastery is not a requirement for effective communication.
• Any meaning-centered syllabus should be organized around lexis rather than grammar.
Types of Lexical Units
Lewis also suggests that Native speakers have a large inventory of lexical chunks that are vital for fluent production. Chunks include collocations and fixed and semi-fixed expressions and idioms. Fluency does not depend on a set of generative grammar rules and a separate store of isolated words, but on the ability to rapidly access this inventory of chunks. These chunks occupy a crucial role in facilitating language production and are the key to fluency. Two points to remember about lexical chunks: learners are able to–
• comprehend lexical phrases as unanalyzed wholes or chunks.
• use whole phrases without understanding their constituent parts.
Taxonomy of Lexical Items (Lewis, 1997)
Lexical Item Examples
words book, pen
polywords by the way, upside down
collocations prices fell, rancid butter
institutionalized utterances I’ll get it; That’ll do
sentence frames and heads That is not as [adjective] as you think;
The danger was…
text frames In this paper we will explore…; Firstly…
Lexis in Language Teaching and Learning
The language activities consistent with the lexical approach must be directed toward naturally occurring language and toward raising learners’ awareness of the lexical nature of language. Activites of this nature include the following:
• intensive and extensive listening and reading in the target language
• first and second language comparisons and translation
• repetition and recycling of activities to keep words and expressions that have been learned active
• guessing the meaning of vocabulary items from context
• noticing and recording language patterns and collocations
• working with dictionaries and other reference tools
• working with language corpuses to research word partnerships, preposition usage, style, and so on
A typical pedagogical sequence for vocabulary learning often contains multiple progressions. For example, there is often a progression from receptive skills to productive skills combined with a progression from decontextualized to contextualized vocabulary.
From Input to Output
Following Lee and VanPatten (2003), we advocate the principles of Processing Instruction, an input-oriented approach to grammar instruction, to the teaching of vocabulary. Within processing instruction, learners must understand the meaning of the words in order to perform a given task. Early input-based activities that emphasize receptive skills slowly give way to output-based activities that require production.
From input to output.
From Vocabulary Lists to Words in Context
The second kind of vocabulary progression focuses on the level of contextualization of a vocabulary word. Learners first encounter vocabulary words in minimal contexts such as vocabulary lists. As the sequence progresses, learners encounter the same vocabulary items in more richly contextualized speech and written texts.
From decontextualized vocabulary lists to contextualized speech samples.
[Module Instructor Nancy Guilloteau . ] 2010. [Vocabulary]. In Foreign Language Teaching Methods. Carl Blyth, Editor. Texas Language Technology Center, University of Texas at Austin. http://coerll.utexas.edu
The material is provided free of charge for those that wish to study it.
How ever a no obligation exam is available at the end of this module.