Revisiting Vocabulary Teaching/Learning: My Reflections
“Without grammar very little can be conveyed, without vocabulary nothing can be conveyed” (Wilkins as cited in Thornbury, 2006, p. 13). Undoubtedly, vocabulary has immense value in teaching and learning as it is one aspect or element that links all the four skills: speaking, listening, reading, and writing. In this article, I reflect up on the strategies I used while learning vocabulary in schools and colleges and my current research interest. I hope my story relates with many of you and will help us in uncovering the hidden realities and revisiting our pedagogical practices.
I was born in a remote area and got my schooling from a rural public school. I still remember the bitter pain I used to have in English classes. The class was totally controlled by the teacher. Most of the teaching approaches that teacher used were traditional and boring and there was a little chance of flourishing creativity from my side. “Look and remember” with the help of bilingual dictionary, as I see now, seemed to be not very effective for the learners of English language like me. I was unable to show my creativity in spite of being eager in learning procedure. My ELT class was totally authoritative and was only focused on examination, not on practical and real life situations. Every set of words was taught according to bilingual translation and every student was compelled to follow the same method and I was also the part of same tradition. It was, of course, my compulsion that I had to follow the same tradition and had to apply what my teachers said. The teacher made us buy a dictionary and assigned all students to recite and memorize the words from the respective chapters. The classroom strategies were threatening, full of stress and pressure. My teacher used to come to the class with stick and beat students when they were unable to produce or say the meaning of the vocabulary items. I have had many ideas to express but due lack of exposure of English language I couldn’t express. It was due to lack of vocabularies when I needed. I used to go to school with a fear and challenge. So, when teacher came near to me I used to be scared. One of the recent articles “Beat the Teacher” by Khila Sharma in IATEFL journal nicely sums up my feelings: “vocabulary building is one of the biggest challenges English teacher in rural communities face. Even students who have studied English for ten years cannot give a simple narrative or express their thoughts and feelings. They have hard time when writing essays and resort to rote-memorization from their teacher’s note or commercial guide-books” (p.5). This is the reality of our schooling, even now.
After completing my School Leaving Certificate (SLC) seven years back, I came to Kathmandu with a hope to pursue higher education. In my intermediate and Bachelor’s degree, despite my weak English background, I worked very hard on English and got the reward. I was also fortunate enough to have very encouraging teachers. Now, as a third semester student at Kathmandu University, I am on the verge of completing my master’s degree and busy in conducting academic research. So, my proposed academic research is finding out perceptions and practices regarding vocabulary teaching/learning in the EFL context of Nepal. Carrying out research on such area, as in other areas, is challenging as many terms and conditions specified by the concerned faculty and the supervisor need to be fulfilled. Although I understand how to carry out research, I was never taught how to write a good research paper in my school life. I don’t have the expertise of producing a research article even after my undergraduate and graduate level of studies. Many of my fellow learners, I am sure, may have the same catastrophic realization as they embark into the sophisticated arena of education research.
The educational standards of Kathmandu University (KU) have broadened my horizons of thinking. I have become aware of more useful strategies of learning vocabulary such as self defining context, pictures, synonyms, gestures, realia, audio visual aids, games etc. Reflecting on my own experience, most of the students are themselves in search of a new way of learning vocabulary. Now as a teacher (and a student), I have a real platform to develop new horizons for developing academic proficiency in my students using the strategies I just mentioned.
In the context of EFL setting, vocabulary should be taught interestingly, and to do so we can apply different ways proposed by new teaching methods such as by Communicative Language Teaching. Despite the similar bitter experiences and the awareness of new methods and approaches, most of the techniques used by many of us in teaching vocabulary are still traditional. During my ongoing education in Kathmandu University, I have come to realize that teachers have a huge role in increasing students’ vocabulary as there is not much exposure from elsewhere. For better learning and better communication in English, one should assist the students in selecting the words appropriately as related to their goals, situation, and context. Since vocabulary teaching/learning is a milestone to be reached in language teaching and learning, I think that it is our duty and responsibility to minimize such unpleasant experiences for the new generation of learners.
Harmer, J. (1991). The practice of English language teaching. London: Longman.
Thornbury, S. (2006). How to teach vocabulary. Pearson Education Limited.
Sharma, S.P. (2012). Beat the teacher. IATEFL Journal September-October Issue -228.