Monday, September 25, 2006

My Lecture about Vocabulary Learning in Xinjiang

I spent the past week in Xinjiang, China visiting two universities with which my university hopes to have exchange.

In one university I was fortunate enough to be able to observe a freshman extensive reading English class. The day I observed the class, I also gave a lecture to 200 English majors about learning vocabulary, it was a very exciting experience.

One of the things I talked about in my lecture was the different information we need to know about a word to be able to use it and understand it completely. In a nutshell, the different kinds of knowledge are
Form: Know the pronunciation and spelling of a word as well as be able to pronounce and spell it.
Meaning: Know the meaning of a word instananeously after reading or hearing it. Have a concept of a word: For example if the word is bicycle you might have such concepts as "healthy" "good for the earth", "better than cars in rush hour". Understand how a word is composed: For example bicycle = bi + cycle, tricycle = tri + cycle. Understand other words associated with the word. For example bicycle: handle bars, seat, wheels, etc. Know other ways of expressing the word: For example, bicycle = bike.
Usage: Know which words are commonly used together with the word you know: For example, "ride a bicycle", "a bicycle ride", "get off a bicycle" etc.. Know how the word is used grammatically: Bicycle as a noun it can be used as the subject of a sentence: My bicycle is pink. As a direct object: I crashed my bicycle. After a preposition: I go to work by bicycle. Lastly, one should know any social restrictions of use on the word: For example, usually people do not use such language as "wanna" and "gonna" in a job application.

There is so much information about a word we eventually will have to know to master it that a lot of teachers (including myself) sometimes lecture too much about the words they want their students to learn. So introducing ten words to students can take up to 20 minutes. Although teachers are just trying to be helpful, I think that this is too much information for students and frankly quite boring for them. We need to help students learn this information by themselves rather than try to spoonfeed them it. I wish I had mentioned this point to the English majors, many of whom are aspiring English teachers.

1 comment:

Michael Lawrence Chappell said...

Hey Jimbo,

Thanks for the hot spring "support". We go this afternoon, and I am much more confident about it now that I've heard of other people's experiences.

I am also a bit of an Aerosmith fan... My favorite songs are:
Amazing, Cryin, Crazy, Janie's Got A Gun, Pink, and of course... Walk This Way.

I am considering traveling to China next month to visit my brother (lawyer) and sisterinlaw (professor) who are teaching outside of Hong Kong.