Vocabulary Instructions

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The Importance of Teaching Vocabulary as Part Of an Effective TESOL Program

The Importance of Teaching Vocabulary as Part Of an Effective TESOL Program


Vocabulary knowledge is a critical part of the comprehension process. There are three goals for vocabulary learning: (1) developing and connecting supplementary vocabulary to students' background knowledge, (2) developing students' strategies for constructing meaning for unknown words, and (3) building positive attitudes toward, and increasing independence in, vocabulary learning. Specific objectives for any instructional program grow directly from these goals. Principles of vocabulary instruction stress the importance of active learning and rich instruction as students are encouraged to construct meaning by “reasoning with words.” Students' personal motivation is critical to vocabulary development if teachers are to instill in students the desire to develop concepts over their lifetime and become increasingly independent word learners. Careful consideration must be given to the selection of modern vocabulary for direct teaching as well as for systematic instruction in how to construct meaning for unknown words. This paper discusses the importance of teaching vocabulary as part of a strong TESOL program.


It is commonly known that the critical role of vocabulary for academic literacy, and research has shown that unknown words place a particular burden on English learners' (ELs') English reading comprehension when compared to their monolingual English counterparts. Second language (L2) learners are also viewed as starting not with a blank slate but are already in possession of a unique human ability: the ability to use language. Learners bring a diversity of literacy and other language contact experiences to learning, and these can influence their approaches to L2 learning (Wallace). The learner is on the way to becoming bilingual or multilingual, and previous learning will inform improved learning in many different ways (Lam). These include transfer not only at the linguistic level but also at the level of pragmatic, cultural and sociolinguistic competence. Learning a additional language may also involve acquiring a new identity - a new set of beliefs and values - without necessarily requiring the abandonment of first culture/language values and norms. (Taylor, 2003)


TESOL stands for “Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages”. It denotes teaching English to students whose first language is not English. It has been estimated that native English speakers growing up acquire about 1,000 words per year. A kindergartener starts school with about 5,000 words; enters fifth grade with about 10,000; and graduates high school with about 18,000. There are, of course, differences among English native speakers. For example, research suggests that higher socioeconomic status (SES) first graders know about twice as many words as lower SES children. Allen (2004) stated that clearly students new to English have their work cut out for them if they are to approximate the vocabulary level of their native English-speaking peers. (Allen 2004, pp. 85)

Language Acquisition

Teachers and parents have many misconceptions about language learning. Contrary to popular belief, second-language learning is difficult and complex for all ages, including young children. Acquiring a first or second language takes a long time, and the process of second-language acquisition varies greatly with each individual learner. The notion that first language “interferes” with a second language has been resoundingly rejected by extensive research ...
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