learners of different proficiency levels, ages, etc., to guide us toward the more effective teaching of vocabulary.
Poor vocabulary is one of FL/SL learners sources of suffering; one that creates constant complaints. The problem might be attributed to the fact that poor vocabulary impedes reading process, is a drawback in listening process and serves as a stumbling-block in effective communication. (Davoudi, 1375).
Often students claim that their primary problem in acquiring English is lack of vocabulary. Such students often have an adequate active vocabulary, but they lack an extensive passive vocabulary. The foreign students’ problem, then, is to extend their passive vocabulary to improve their reading and listening comprehension skills (Celce-Murcia, 1979, P.253). Brown (1985: 326) maintains that “lexical access is important in reading because it is the central reading process”.
How many words are there in the language?
The most ambitious goal is to know all of the language. However, even native speakers do not know all the vocabulary of the language. There are numerous specialist vocabularies, such as those of nuclear physics or computational linguistics, which are known only by the small groups who specialize in those areas. Still, it is interesting to have some idea of how many words there are in the language. This is not an easy question to resolve because there are numerous other questions which affect the way we answer it, including the following. What do we count as a word? Do we count book and books as the same word? Do we count green (the colour) and green (a large grassed area) as the same word? Do we count people’s names? Do we count the names of products like Fab, Pepsi, Vegemite, and Chevrolet? The few brave or foolish attempts to answer these questions and the major question ‘How many words are there in English?’ have counted the number of words in very large dictionaries. Webster’s Third New International Dictionary is the largest non-historical dictionary of English. It con- tains around 114,000 word families excluding proper names (Goulden, Nation and Read, 1990). This is a very large number and is well beyond the goals of most ﬁrst and second language learners. There are several ways of deciding what words will be counted. (Nation, 2001).
How much vocabulary do you need to use another language?
Studies of native speakers’ vocabulary seem to suggest that second language learners need to know very large numbers of words. While this may be useful in the long term, it is not an essential short-term goal .This is because studies of native speakers’ vocabulary growth see all words as being of equal value to the learner. Frequency based studies show very strikingly that this is not so, and that some words are much more useful than others. (Nation, 2001).
EFL learners’ learning styles should be taken into consideration as an important criterion in learning in order to enhance learning outcomes. Peacock (2001) believes that any language teacher should be aware of his/her students’ learning style preferences and match teaching style with them to flourish their maximum potential.
Vocabulary is one of the most important components in learning each language because of its great influence on successful communication. Fu (2009), for example, stated that since words play an important role in expressing feelings, emotions and ideas, vocabulary difficulties could lead to comprehension problems; therefore, many students feel frustrated with English vocabulary learning. Also, Nation (1996), believed that tests of vocabulary knowledge show any learning, and fluency development depends on vocabulary knowledge extension.
Most students complain about unfamiliar words when reading a text for the first time. Since language learning style for vocabulary learning is one of the important factors determining how the students recall a second or foreign language vocabulary better, it can help language teachers choose more effective methods and types of instruction with a close relation to these learning style preferences.
Vocabulary is the main building block of language learning. The words arrange togetheron a grammar base and form the whole building of message. One cannot learn language withoutvocabulary (Kang, 1995). Second or foreign language learners experience their greatestinadequacy in vocabulary and in spite of the many methods used to help learners acquire it, nostrategy has emerged as the best. Therefore, the research continues toward the most effectivepath to vocabulary building.
One thing that students, teachers, materials writers, and researchers all agree on is thatvocabulary acquisition is an essential part of mastering a second language. However, the bestmeans of achieving vocabulary learning is still unclear, partly because it depends on a widevariety of factors (Schmitt, 2008).
Nation and Kyongho (1995) categorized vocabulary into two main groups: generalservicevocabulary (frequently used words) and special-purpose vocabulary (words for academicpurposes). They believe that this classification is important because different types of wordsrequire different instructional processes. Kang (1995) found that one of the best ways to enhancesecond language vocabulary learning is to use a context-embedded approach in which new wordsare presented in context. In his study, target English words, with their meanings and one or moreexample sentences, were presented to learners via computer audio. Learners could hear the target words as many times as desired. Zhang and Anual (2008) conducted a study to show the role ofthe size of vocabulary knowledge in reading comprehension. They found that for students to beable to read texts containing low-frequency vocabulary, knowledge of 2000 to 3000 highfrequencywords is necessary. Schmitt (2008) states that, in the current research on secondlanguage vocabulary learning, a large vocabulary is needed in order to function in English:nearly 8000-9000 word families for reading, and perhaps as many as 5000-7000 word familiesfor speaking.
According to Davoudi (1375), an interesting area of research in the theoretical and practical issues of vocabulary learning is the investigation of the various strategies applied by language learners in the process of vocabulary enhancement and lexical improvement. The techniques and strategies employed by FL/SL learners while learning the lexicon of the new language and the complexities involved have been extensively searched for and elaborated in the field of EFL/ESL. Research in the field of vocabulary learning took a greater momentum in the 1980s and afterwards.
Allen (1983), draws attention to the need to expand advanced students vocabulary by showing them how they will be able to discover word meanings for themselves when there is no longer a teacher to help them. Of course, vocabulary building is a lifelong process, particularly in English, which has approximately a million terms and is still growing. However, there are some shortcuts. Thus, attention is now being given by methodologists and program planners to the most effective ways to promote command of vocabulary among learners.
2.4. Experiments on vocabulary issues
As attested by Celce-Murcia (1997, P.243) there is no doubt that over the past thirty years the teaching of vocabulary has been of secondary importance. In tracing the history of language teaching, one comes across the fact that much emphasis has been put to “structures” and, laterally, “functions”. Course books have provided little guidance other than word lists, so that apart from turning to the specialized supplementary materials, such as dictionary workbooks, teachers have been hard put to satisfy their students demands for “words” (Taylor, 1990 P.78).
Because of the large number of words individuals need to learn, direct instruction cannotbe used to teach the meaning of all words that students will encounter
during their schoolyears. Students must be taught how to acquire word meanings independently, both asthey hear new words and as they encounter them in reading. They need to be encouragedto read as widely as possible to be exposed to greater quantity and variety of words.
The NRC found that vocabulary knowledge is significantly increased by multipleexposures to words in a variety of rich contexts, making connections with other readingmaterial or oral language, pre-instruction of word meanings before reading, and activeengagement of the learner in acquiring and using vocabulary. Computer programsdesigned to teach vocabulary were also seen as promising as adjuncts to directvocabulary instruction. (Chris, 2004).
Graves and Watts-Taffe(2002), recommend four components to any vocabulary instructionprogram: wide reading so that implicit learning can occur; teaching individual words;teaching word learning strategies; and fostering word consciousness. The teaching ofindividual words is “most effective when learners are given both definitional andcontextual information, when learners actively process the new word meanings, andwhen they experience multiple encounters with words.
Recommended ways to teach word learning strategies include using context, using wordparts to unlock the meanings of unknown words, and teaching students how to use thedictionary.
One of the proposed strategies for better vocabulary learning is the etymological approach –a knowledge of word formation and word stems and affixes. Yorky (1970, P.46) states the view that learning the use and meaning of words in English can be made easy and even enjoyable , if one understands something about one way in which many English words are formed. The basic principle is that by learning prefixes, roots, and suffixes, one can expand his vocabulary greatly, because each prefix, root, and suffix is part of many English words. Knowing the meaning of a prefix or root helps us in two different ways as attested by Farid (1985):
“First, when in reading one comes across a new word containing the prefix or root, one will be helped in his efforts to guess what the word means, he knows what a part of it means. He will be able to make a good guess by using his knowledge of the prefix or root meaning. Second, learning words in this way makes it easier to remember the definitions of new words. In other words, knowing prefix and root meaning is a good memory aid (P.7).”
Waldhorn (1981) stresses the importance of learning prefix and root meaning in the following statements:
“The greatest number of roots in English derive from the classical languages, Latin and Greek. By learning several Latin and Greek roots (there are about 160 in all), one will learn to unlock the meanings of thousands of English words. Most of the prefixes and suffixes in Modern English derive from Old English, Latin and Greek. However by learning the strategic affixes, one can take a long stride toward improving one’s vocabulary (P.116)”.
A study was conducted by Nagy et al (1992) to determine how Hispanic bilingual students’ knowledge of Spanish vocabularyand awareness of Spanish-English cognates influence their comprehension of English expository text.Subjects, 74 upper elementary Hispanic students able to read in both Spanish and English, were testedfor Spanish and English vocabulary knowledge, and after reading each of four expository texts containingEnglish words with Spanish cognates (e.g., English transform and Spanish transformar) were given amultiple-choice test on their understanding of key concepts from these texts. After a brief explanationof the concept cognate, they were asked to identify the words in these texts that had Spanish cognates.Performance on the multiple-choice test was found to be influenced by students’ awareness of cognaterelationships. The effects of Spanish vocabulary knowledge on English reading comprehension alsoappeared to be mediated by
learners of different proficiency levels, ages, etc., to guide us toward the more effective teaching of vocabulary.