Words Worth Blog

Teaching Vocabulary and English as a Second Language

One of the biggest challenges for a teacher of English as a Second Language (ESL) is imparting the spoken English skill in her students. These students who could be first generation learners of English are likely to lack even basic vocabulary needed to express themselves. The challenge for imparting this skill becomes even more daunting for the teacher in a mixed class group, where a set of students may have already acquired a reasonable strength of vocabulary as compared to the others still struggling with words. With vocabulary being the fundamental prerequisite for comprehension and expression, filling in this gap between the two (or more) sets of students becomes the prerogative.

The teacher of English as a Second Language (ESL) resorts to a number of strategies to teach vocabulary to develop their speaking proficiency. Providing a list of relevant words before the beginning of a session, supplying examples of how these words are to be used, asking students to look up the meanings of these words are some oft used ways the teacher uses to teach new vocabulary to the students.

These, though followed by the average teacher across the world, may necessarily not be the best and foolproof ways to ensure that the added vocabulary will be permanent in nature, hence hardly contribute to improving their spoken English skills. In the contrary, the use of activities to include these vocabularies in language in use is one sure shot way to ensure that the students internalize the newly learnt words. Another strategy that the teacher can employ is to ensure repetition and visibility of these words both in audio and visual forms. This is a very simple method to raise the level of such students in a mixed class scenario who are facing challenges in the English language. Other students can also benefit from this strategy when new words catering to their learning level are taught.

Whatever be the strategy used, the teacher under all circumstances should include the English language as a medium of instruction in class, thus using both academic and social English concurrently. Whether the students understand the instructions provided to them in English, be they be in verbal or written form should be ascertained and clarified by the teacher. Little instructions that are assertive in nature should be included especially at the introductory level for the basic English language students. Such instructions are the stepping stone to teaching-learning the vocabulary relevant to academic English. To develop their social English skills, the students should be encouraged to participate more in class even if a lot of prompting and modeling from the teacher is required. Avoiding the use of close ended questions and structuring conversation on questions that elicit a more detailed interaction while putting in use the newly learnt vocabulary is a wonderful strategy that the teacher can use to gradually bridge the language gap in her group of students.

Although seemingly tough, teaching vocabulary to students can be a scalable task- one needs to be patient with the learning pace of some students and has to hold sensitivity towards the students who make mistakes while learning the language.