The Importance of Vocabulary
Help your students build their vocabulary to improve their communication skills and be better speakers and learners for life.
What are words? A word, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is “something that is said.” Infants enter a world full of sounds that flow and ebb into a stream of unintelligible chatter. As they grow, they begin to understand that these sounds mean something. Words take shape as they realize that “pretty baby” refers to them and that “no” means Mommy is about to get angry. Toddlers add to their arsenal of words slowly, usually starting from “mama” and “papa,” then moving on to “no” and “want.” Language explosion comes soon enough, usually by the age of three. Children at this stage will have about 1,000 words in their word bank.
How do children learn words?
Children are bombarded with words every moment of their waking hours. The giant billboards on EDSA advertising everything from instant noodles to popular clothing stores. The radio blaring the news for the day. Store signs from the neighborhood sari-sari stores right beside rows of houses with their numbers and street names emblazoned on their gates. Exposure is the key for learning new words. It is important for parents to read the billboards with their children, listen to the radio and talk about the news for the day, look through the children’s section of the Sunday newspaper and look for words that are unfamiliar, and read the street names and find out who or what they were named after. Every sign, every corner, every experience is a learning opportunity for new words to emerge.
What is vocabulary?
Children use words to convey their thoughts, feelings, and ideas. As language develops, they string words together to make meaningful statements. Words then grow into a vocabulary, which according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is “a sum or stock of words employed by a language, group, or individual.”
Why is vocabulary important?
The number one reason why vocabulary is important is for success in later life. In a country such as the Philippines, where call centers are rampant and English is spoken widely, having a large vocabulary is an important requisite for job hunting. Even the mere act of scanning through the advertisements in the classified ads section of a newspaper requires a good vocabulary.
Words Have Multiple Meanings. There are quite a few words in the English language that can mean several things. Sound. Noise or good? Bear. The animal or to endure? Boot. A kind of shoe or to fire up your computer? Mouse. The animal or a computer tool? If you are not aware of the different definitions, then the statement, “It was a sound investment” is going to confuse you. Vocabulary is an important component for comprehension.
Vocabulary is a Key Factor in Academic Success. Students who achieve in school basically do so because they understand the material they are given. They read the books, listen to the lectures, and write their essays, quizzes, reports, and examinations to the best of their ability. This would be impossible to accomplish if these students did not have the vocabulary needed to comprehend their lessons.
Self-confidence and Social Skills are by-products of a good vocabulary.
How can we best teach vocabulary words?
Reading is a good way to introduce new words to children. As you come across new words in the text, ask your students whether or not they are familiar with the meaning. Write the word on top of a piece of paper and list the definitions of the children under it.
Another great way to teach vocabulary words is to have a list of words per week. Games are the perfect way to internalize these words. Here are a few games your students will enjoy.
- Gather together a few reading materials that contain the target words for the week. Scour newspapers, books, magazines, advertisements, journals, and even the Sunday comics. Lay these out in front of your class and have your students hunt for the words. Ask them to read the sentence that contains the word out loud to the class and brainstorm about the possible definitions.
- Ask your students to use the words in context. Instead of having a written assignment about it, why not make it a fun game to challenge your students? Each sentence that contains a target word earns one point. At the end of the week, tally the points and find out who the “Word Leaders” are.
- Start each day with a guessing game. Think of synonyms for each word and use these to make your students guess the target words. You can also think of antonyms and ask your students to guess what the target word is based on your vocabulary list for the week
- Divide your class into groups of four and give each group a piece of paper and a pen. The group that has the most definitions under one minute wins the game.
- Artistic children in your class willmost likely benefit from a creative activity, such as drawing or finding visual aids that can help them remember the target words better. A great way to motivate these students is to give them the opportunity to create visual aids, such as coloring a sheet of paper gray for the word “dull” or drawing Ben 10 for “fearless.”
- A great collaborative activity is to create a story with your class using the target words. Divide your class into groups and have them sit in a circle (if possible and the size of your class is not too big) and ask each one to use one word in a sentence. To minimize using the same words over and over again, ask each child to choose a word or assign the word. Choose a child to start the story, such as “My ancestorscame from the province.” The next child must continue the story using his target word, for example, “They were very wearywhen they arrived.” Continue on with the story and watch the children laugh their hearts out, as the story gets more and more hilarious with each passing sentence.
English as a Second Language
Teachers have the responsibility to teach their students the foundations of the English language as well as to expand their vocabulary skills in order to enable them to be competent in other areas, such as mathematics, science, and health. What are some of the challenges of this task and how can teachers overcome these challenges?
1. Different Levels Students, no matter how closely grouped they are by age, will always have varying academic skill levels. The fourth-grade students in your class may have as little as two or as many as 10 skill levels. This discrepancy in levels can be addressed in multiple ways.
a. Group the children according to levels.
b. Ask the children who are academically advanced to tutor those who need help.
2. Lack of Practice The children do not speak the language outside the classroom. They tend to fall back on their home language, thereby losing out on the invaluable experience of practice. The only way to address this problem is to ask your students to speak English outside the classroom. After all, the old adage, “practice makes perfect” was coined for a reason. Angela Mapa, an instructor at the Berlitz Language Center, also recognized the fact that although some students know the meaning of words, they do not practice with the help of the teacher. They consequently do not learn how to use these words in context.
3. Significance of the Second Language Another barrier to learning English is the importance children attach to this task. After all, how many times in their lives will they encounter the words “esoteric,” “obtuse,” and “antiquated”? The best way to combat this misconception is to read books, watch the news, and listen to songs. There are so many words out there that never make it to mainstream conversations but are frequently used in print, radio, and movies.