Language Learning Tip #26

Problem

“There are so many vocabulary issues to think about. How can I have a balanced approach?”

Idea

Maybe this triangle image can help you to visualize and think about what vocabulary learning means.

Click on the image below to enlarge it.

       Triangle depicting balanced approach to language learning.
There really are a lot of vocabulary issues. For example, there are a ton of words that you need to understand. If you are not understanding 95% of the words you hear, comprehension is difficult. In addition, there is a large number of words that you want to be able to recall and use easily when you need them. Also, you need to be able to use the words in the same way Arabs use them, not in an awkward unnatural way. That is, there are issues of using the right form of the words and learning the expressions; and there is the whole area of collocations – which words usually go together and which do not.
Where are you? If you have exposed yourself to a lot of new vocabulary and gained a surface understanding of a large number of words, your profile is probably skewed towards the top of this triangle. If you have focused on learning and practicing only the most common and practical words that you often need to express yourself, your profile leans toward the bottom right corner. If you have deeply analyzed the words you know and focused on using the right forms of the word in the right places, you may have a profile that is rooted in the bottom left corner of the triangle. However, all these aspects of vocabulary learning are important and you should have strategies for making progress in each of these areas.

Targeted strategies are especially important for working on those areas that do not come easily to you. For example, if you need to add a large number of receptive vocabulary, you will need strategies like the vocabulary cards and 4 boxes as described in earlier tips. Or perhaps you need a lot of reading about a variety of things while writing down the new words you hear or read. If you need better vocabulary accuracy (bottom left) you need to ask for and write down lots of examples of different forms of a word, or maybe you need to experiment with words asking Arabs if that’s how people use the word. And lastly, if you have lots of words that you have learned but they don’t come out easily when you need them, you need strategies to build fluency and speed and easy recall of the most important and common words. These might include memorizing dialogues, or repeated listening of easy stories, and of course, lots of talking out loud to people about common topics. Everyone needs to form effective personal strategies that address their own vocabulary weaknesses.

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