Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Vocab Notebooks

by AJ

Jean's, Hiroshi's, and other's comments boil down to authenticity. They dont like keeping a vocabulary notebook, for example... because its an artificial and unpleasant exercise.

Plus, as Hiroshi pointed out in class on Monday, "its useless. We will never study and memorize these notebooks". And he's right. I hit the wall with my Spanish notebook last week. Suddenly I just got sick of doing it. It slowed my reading and made it feel like "work".

So Im not going to use a vocab notebook anymore. Instead, when I want to look up a word.. I just write its meaning directly in the book Im reading.. then continue on. Its much more pleasant.

Besides, the research on Free Reading shows that glossaries, lexiles, and dictionaries do not help much anyway. The key is to choose UNDERSTANDABLE books and videos. If you understand 90% of the language... you dont need to look up a bunch of words in a dictionary. Instead, you'll learn new vocab through context. Or, if you do look up words, you only need to look up a few... thus the flow of reading/listening is not interrupted too much.

In a previous comment, Jean said that students would not read a book or watch a movie every two weeks if they only understood it a little bit. Right!,.. but the second half of that sentence is very important. Because if they DO understand most of it... I think they WILL easily do this. In fact, my BAS students are doing much more than this... on their own. The key is... the reading/listening must be understandable. Thats one reason its best to let the students choose most of their books and movies on their own.

For my part, Im reading Spanish quite easily and easily finish 2 or more mini-novels in a week... because I understand them! On the other hand, I struggle to read and understand even the simplest Thai book... and so find it much more unpleasant to do the same with Thai.

This tells me a few things:

1. Read more (Listen more)... and Dictionary Less (or not at all). Perhaps class time can be spent reading vocab-intensive material... but outside of class the dictionary should be used sparingly.

2. Content is King: Ideas, stories, books, films, and communication should be the primary focus. Language mechanics are a very distant second.

3. Provide time in class for free reading: Krashen recommends this and so do I. Set aside time during each class for students to read quietly... anything they choose. They can consult with the teacher one to one during this time if they have questions.

4. Coercion sucks: Forcing students to keep a vocab notebook is probably a bad idea. On the other hand, many students do like keeping one. So why not make this an extra credit assignment. Those who want extra points can do it... those who dont like keeping a notebook dont have to.

5. One size does not fit all. Weve got to find ways to let students tailor the learning experience to their individual goals and learning styles.

6. Massive amount of material is crucial: Students need access to a huge amount and a huge variety of material (ie. libraries). Ive noticed with my own learning.. what I crave is steady access to lots and lots of reading and listening material at my level. I like to reread books.. but only 2-3 times at most. After that Im bored and what another story.

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