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Numer: 42677
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Dział: Języki obce

Teaching vocabulary - what aspects are important?

As Vygotsky said, a word is a microcosm of human consciousness (Thornbury, 2002: 1). It is undeniably a unique element of every language without which we could not express our feelings, problems etc. Apart from this obvious reason, teachers would not be able to pass knowledge on to students. That is why preparing students to communicate and to use various and diverse vocabulary is an extremely important part of teaching process.
1.1 Form and meaning

Form and meaning are two of many crucial aspects of every vocabulary item. Both must be taken into consideration when teaching and learning words. When presenting every new vocabulary item we should start from those important elements. Students need to know what every word means and they should have a sense of certainty if they have understood it correctly as well.
Many words possess more than one meaning that is why the teacher must be assured that students know in which context some words are supposed to be used. The same procedures should be applied to form. I agree with the statement that students should be informed about part of the speech, spelling, family of the word etc. (Gower, 1995: 144).
Taking form into consideration, students must be aware, that words belong to different parts of the speech. Yule (1998: 88) presents definitions of those terms:
-Nouns are words used to refer to people, objects, creatures, places, qualities, phenomena and abstract ideas as if there were all ‘things’.
-Adjectives are words used , typically with nouns, to provide more information about the ‘things’ referred to ( ‘happy’ people, ‘large’ object, ‘cute’ creatures, ‘stupid’ ideas).
-Verbs are words used to refer to various kinds of actions (‘run’, ‘jump’) and states (‘ be’, ‘seen’) involving the ‘things’ in the event
-Adverbs are words used to provide more information about the actions and events (‘slowly’, ‘suddenly’). Some adverbs (‘really’, ‘very’) are also used with adjectives to modify the information about ‘things’ (‘really’ large objects. ‘very’ stupid ideas)
-Prepositions are words ( ‘at’, ‘in’, ‘on’, ‘near’, ‘with’, ‘without’) used with nouns in phrases providing information about time (‘at’ five, ‘in’ the morning), place (‘on’ the table, ‘near’ the window) and other connections
(‘with’ a knife, ‘without’ a thought) involving actions and things.
-Pronouns are words (‘me’, ’they’, ‘he’, ‘himself’, ‘this’, ’it’) used in place of noun phrases, typically referring to things already known (‘he’ likes ‘himself’).
-Conjunctions are words (‘and’, ‘but’, ‘although’, ‘if’) used to connect, and indicate relationships between, events and things (we swam ‘although’ it was very cold).
1.2 Spelling and pronunciation

Spelling is one of the most difficult aspects of the word. It may cause many problems to students who learn English as a foreign language. Ur (cited in Ur, 1999: 60) stated that “the learner has to know what a word sounds like (its pronunciation) and what it looks like (its spelling). These are fairly obvious characteristics, and one or the other will be perceived by the learner when encountering the item for the first time. In teaching, we need to make sure that both these aspects are accurately presented and learned”.
Gower agrees that spelling rules and patterns are not obvious and may cause serious difficulties to learners who come across words which pronunciation is different than spelling. The author presents some confusing examples such as: through, though, thorough, thought (Gower, 1995: 143). Those examples clearly show that encountering them may result in misunderstanding when making a mistake when pronounce.
Written form and spoken form should be introduced simultaneously. Thornbury noticed that when encountering only one of the forms, you “have receptive, but not productive, knowledge of the word” (Thornbury, 2002: 15). That is why teachers cannot omit any of the most important aspects of the word.
1.3 Denotation

The next aspect of each word is its denotation. Ur describes it as “the meaning of a word is primarily what it refers to in the real world” (Ur, 1999: 61). According to Chandler (2001: 34) “denotation is the surface or literal meaning encoded to a signifier, and the definition most likely to appear in a dictionary”. We can describe every word and give its definition from the dictionary.
For example, cat denotes a small animal with soft fur that people often keep as a pet which catches and kills birds and mice. This simple definition gives students the opportunity to understand the single word without difficulties. When teaching and learning new vocabulary it is extremely useful to present this aspect of a word, which is not confusing , because definitions from dictionary exactly describes every word, despite that there exist many definitions of each word.

1.4. Connotation
According to Ur (1999: 61) connotation is not as evident aspect of word as denotation. The author describes it as “the associations, or positive or negative feelings it evokes, which may or may not be indicated in a dictionary definition”. Ur again gives word dog as an example: “the word dog for example, as understood by most British people, has positive connotations of friendship and loyalty; whereas equivalent in Arabic, as understood by most people in Arab countries has negative associations of dirt and inferiority”.
The best example which appears in many books is word ‘spinster’, which can cause negative feeling. Majority of people describes the person as a single woman, and none of another definitions and descriptions ever comes to their mind. Thornbury (2002: 12) stated that when taking two synonyms into consideration, each of them may evoke completely distinct emotions. For instance, ‘famous’ and ‘notorious’ are synonyms of word ‘well-known’, but only ‘notorious’ possess negative connotation. Another perfect illustration is word ‘white’ which connotates with purity and innocence.
I agree with Ur who confirms that connotation is not as obvious element of particular word as denotation. From my experience, young learners are able to indicate the connotation only of limited numbers of words. Majority of vocabulary items cannot be defined by students and they are not able to describe their positive or negative feeling towards them. What is more, if not asked to do it, young learners do not even think about determining this element of word.

1.5 Collocations

As far as collocations are concerned, they are also extremely important aspects of the word; however they may cause many difficulties with proper way of using. It depends on context and on having the knowledge which words match to which words. Gower mentions (1995: 144) that “ people are ’injured’ or ‘wounded’ but things are ‘damaged’, and we can say a ‘strong’ wind and ‘strong’ coffee- but it’s a ‘light’ wind not a ‘weak’ wind and ‘weak’ coffee not ‘light’ coffee”. He clearly indicates the differences and shows that majority of vocabulary items have got their permanent place near some other words.
Ur (1999: 61) also stated that “the collocations typical of particular items are another factor that makes a particular combination sound ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ in a give context”. She emphasizes the importance of teaching this aspect of meaning. The author stresses that “when introducing words like ‘decision’ and ’conclusion’, for example, we may note that you ‘take’ or ‘make’ the one, but usually ‘come’ to the other; similarly, you ‘throw’ a ball but ‘toss’ a coin; you may talk about someone being ’dead tired’ but it sounds odd to say ‘dead fatigued’”.
According to Thornbury (2002: 7) “two words are collocates if they occur together with more than chance frequency, such that, when we see one, we can make a fairly safe bet that the other is in the neighbourhood ”. Collocations are words combinations which occur together, and when encounter together they constitute the whole. However, collocations are not inseparable units. Sometimes many combinations may be created with the same word. “Collocations are not as frozen a relationship as that of compounds or multiword units” (Thornbury, 2002: 7).
Harmer (2005: 20) marked that collocations have grew into extremely interesting topic for linguists. He agreed that those words combinations when met together have become exceptionally ordinary and natural as a set of words. He also stated that “it is immediately apparent that some words can live together, others cannot. We say ‘fast asleep’, and this is an acceptable collocation, but ‘fast awake’ is not. We can say ‘clenched fist’ and even ‘clenched teeth’, yet we cannot talk about ‘clenched ears’”.

1.6 Word formation

Word formation processes are the next aspect of vocabulary which should be taught when dealing with word. They are essential and indispensable part of every language. Thanks to them new words come into being. “There is no single theory of word-formation, or even agreement on the kind of data that is relevant for the construction or such a theory” (Bauer, 1). Linguists mention numerous word building processes that are similar in the majority of languages: coinage, borrowing, compounding, derivation, and many more.
Students ought to possess the knowledge how to create new words. Thanks to prefixes, suffixes and infixes students’ ability to create new words and to understand words they encounter every day at school increase. Their vocabulary abundance may be improved in a way. Ur (1999: 62) agrees that “vocabulary items, whether one-word or multi-word, can often be broken down into their component ‘bits’. Exactly how these bits are put together is another piece of useful information- perhaps mainly for more advanced learners. You may wish to teach the common prefixes and suffixes: for example, if learners know the meaning of ‘sub-‘, ‘un-‘, and ‘able-‘, this will help them to guess the meaning of words like ‘substandard’, ‘ungrateful’, and ‘untranslatable’”.
To sum up, taking all aspects of the meaning of the word into consideration, it must be stated and stressed that vocabulary is an extremely complex term. Each word possesses many immensely crucial characteristics. Learning foreign language students should be aware that they exist. Teachers ought to keep in mind that process of teaching vocabulary cannot be based only on forcing pupils to learn vocabulary by heart without context, connotations, and other aspects. It is not enough to know just the meaning of the word. The ability of understanding and using the language in the proper situation and context requires possessing the vast knowledge about the components of every vocabulary item, which help to communicate in an extremely efficient way.

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