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Is there any difference in high school students’ performance when learning vocabulary with visual aids and when being taught with translation technique?
through the sense either in the form of objects or in the form of events”
(Mallikarjun, 2002). In other words, people can see or touch the things. In
contrast, vocabulary items representing “the entity like love, soul, and fear
can be called abstract vocabulary” (Mallikarjun, 2002) 7 This is because
these concepts cannot be physically perceived. People need to use their
imagination to sense them mentally. In other words, people can only feel or
experience them but can not touch such concepts as real objects. In terms
of teaching, due to the diverse features of concrete and abstract words,
teachers have to apply various ways of teaching to present their meaning.
For concrete ones, teachers can show meaning visually such as using
miming, realia, pictures, actions, gestures, facial expressions or objects.
Meanwhile, the meaning of abstract ones can be showed through examples,
situations or translations. Teachers have difficulty in explaining abstract
words to students because they are not physically represented in teaching
environment (Igbaria, n.d). “It is easier to remember concrete words like a
chair and a dog than abstract words” (Přibilová, 2006, p. 18) 10
3. Aspects of vocabulary
As mentioned above, learning vocabulary is a big challenge for students
in high school. Students need a lot of guidance right from the very beginning.
Therefore, the teacher’s role in teaching vocabulary is very important. In
addition to selecting the essential vocabulary to teach, the teacher must know
what aspects of lexis need to be taught in the classroom. Vocabulary knowledge
should include such aspects as the form of the word, its grammar, collocation,
different aspects of meaning and the word formation (Ur 1996, as cited in
Sussane Flohr, 2008). 2 Basic dimensions of a lexical item are presented as
The first important aspect that defines vocabulary is the form of words,
consisting of pronunciation and spelling. Pronunciation refers to the way a word
is spoken. It includes word stress, sentence stress, intonation, and word linking.
“Pronunciation has been seen as the Cinderella of language teaching due to its
complexity” (Kelly, 1969, as cited in Qian-Mei Zhang, 2009) 1 “It is believed
that only few learners can ever attain native-like pronunciation in the foreign
language, especially those who learn to speak a second language after puberty”
(Lenneberg, 1967, as cited in Qian-Mei Zhang, 2009) 1 Generally, not every
learner is capable of sounding like a native speaker, yet it is possible to develop
correct pronunciation. Bad pronunciation often confuses the listener and
sometimes causes unexpected misunderstanding. That is why it is crucial to
teach students the right pronunciation so that they will not come up against any
difficulties in expressing themselves.
Spelling is another factor contributing to a learner’s language competence.
As defined by Kress (2000), “spelling is knowing how to write words correctly”
(p. 1). In fact, an English word is not always written exactly the way that people
would expect from its pronunciation. Students’ pronunciation is often confused
by the spelling of a word. Hence, the solution is to introduce spoken form before
written form so that students can learn to pronounce the word correctly first.
The next aspect that requires teacher attention is the grammar of
vocabulary. As defined in the Oxford Advanced learner’s dictionary, grammar
is “the rules in language for changing the form of words and joining them into
sentences.” (Hornby, 2005) 8 Grammar knowledge of a word includes part of
speech, tense and word forms. Mastering the basic rules of grammar enables
learners to know where the word stands in a phrase, a clause or a sentence,
and what form of the word to be used in different contexts. For example,
when teaching a noun, the teacher has to show its plural forms if any, i.e.
goose-geese, child-children, ox-oxen, etc. Or when teaching verbs, the
teacher should present their past forms. Learners should be taught how to
build the past forms of a regular verb by adding “ed” at the end of the word or
of an irregular verb by memorizing the forms of each single verb as there is
no common rules for verbs of this type.
Why do people say “a handsome man” and “a beautiful woman” but not
“a beautiful man” and “a handsome woman”? This is a matter of word
collocation. “A collocation is a combination of two or more words which
frequently occur together” (O'Dell & McCarthy, 2008, p. 6) 9 For instance, it’s
considered appropriate to talk of high mountains and tall trees, not tall
mountains and high trees. One can make a big or great mistake but cannot make
a large or wide mistake. Indeed, collocation is an endless list that one cannot
master overnight. As a matter of fact, most English learners have very limited
‘collocational competence’, especially high-school students who are at an
intermediate level or below. They may know the meaning of individual words
but do not know which words can go together as word partners. Thus, a teacher
should never forget to teach common and important collocations to the students.
This is part of vocabulary knowledge and cannot be ignored.
7. Aspects of meaning
Understanding of vocabulary also involves knowledge of different aspects
of meaning. Those aspects are denotation, connotation appropriateness and
meaning relationships such as synonyms, antonyms, hyponyms, co-hyponyms,
superordinates and translation (Ur, 2006, p.23) 2
According to the Oxford Advanced Learners’ Dictionary, denotation is
“the actual object or idea to which the word refers” (Hornby, 2005) 8 Simply
put, it is the literal meaning of the word that we can look up in the dictionary. On
the other hand, connotation is the association (emotional or otherwise) that the
word evokes. For example, the words house and home all have the same
denotation, that is, the place where one lives, but the connotation of each word is
very different. The denotation of house is just an actual building used for a
particular purpose while home is associated with something cozy, loving and
comfortable. Sometimes students know what the word denotes but are not fully
aware of its connotation, which causes failure in language use. Therefore, the
teacher should teach students both of these concepts so that they can make good
use of the words they’ve learned.
Appropriateness is another aspect of vocabulary that should be covered. It
concerns the matter of politeness and formality. A learner has to know whether it
is suitable to use a certain word in a certain context. For example, when talking
to a foreign stranger at the airport, it is more polite for a person to say “Would
you mind telling me the time, please?” than to say “What’s the time?” This
aspect is extremely complex, partly due to differences in culture. What a teacher
can do is to expose learners to a wide variety of language and contexts within
which that language can be used. In this way, learners do not acquire only the
language itself but the actual use of the language as well.
In addition to the aspects that have just been discussed above, there are
areas of meaning relationships that a teacher should bear in mind when teaching
vocabulary. First, the teacher should be aware of the synonym and antonym of a
word. Synonyms are “items that mean the same, or nearly the same” (Ur, 2006,
p.23) 2 For example, the synonyms of the word “sad” includes “unhappy”,
“gloomy”, “depressed” or “sorrowful”. On the other hand, antonyms are “items
that mean the opposite” (Ur, 2006, p.23) 2 For example, honest-dishonest,
wealthy-poor, hopeful-hopeless are pairs of antonym. Word meaning also
includes such aspects as hyponyms, co-hyponyms and superordinates.
Hyponyms are “items that serve as specific examples of a general concept” (Ur,
2006, p.23). For example, scarlet, vermilion, carmine and crimson are all
hyponyms of red. In this case, scarlet, vermillion, carmine and crimson are
called co-hyponyms as these words share the same hyponym, namely “red”.
Another term related to this area is superordinates which is “red” in this
case. Specifically, superordinates are defined as “general concepts that cover
specific items” (Ur, 2006, p.24) 2 Metaphorically, a superordinate term acts as
an “umbrella” term that includes within it the meaning of other words. The last
area to be mentioned is translations which are defined as “words or expressions
in the learners” mother tongue that are (more or less) equivalent in meaning to
the item being taught” (Ur, 2006, p. 24) 2 Some examples of translation can be:
Moon Lady - chị Hằng, moon cake – bánh trung thu, etc.
8. Word formation
The very last feature of vocabulary that need taking into consideration
is word formation. This refers to how words are put together into the right
order in a sentence. “Teachers might also need to teach the component parts
of words and multi-words, particularly prefixes and suffixes, so that learners
can readily interpret words in context such as ‘disrespectful’, ‘ungrateful’,
‘mismatch’. (McDonough & Shaw, 2003, p. 113). Knowing the meanings of
suffixes and prefixes can help students widen their vocabulary. This
knowledge helps them to guess the meaning of some unfamiliar words and
remember those words quite at ease.
9. Procedure of teaching vocabulary
In order to have an effective vocabulary lesson, teachers should follow a
step-by-step procedure. There are 8 basic steps that are often mentioned in
literature to be involved in this process (Doff, 1988, p.11, Flohr, 2010, p.5) 1
First of all, the teachers need to identify a list of words that needs presenting
from the reading text that they intend to teach. Both active and passive items
should be selected. As highlighted earlier in this chapter, the teachers have to be
very careful when selecting words to teach. In the book entitled “Literacy:
Helping students construct meaning”, David, Nancy and Kathryn (2008) suggest
some techniques that a teacher can use to decide on a to-teach-list. First, the
teacher has to review the text to identify the story line(s) or main idea. Next, the
teacher goes on starting to compile a list of words related to the story line(s) or
main idea. As for words that are adequately defined in the text and words that
students can determine through the use of prefixes, suffixes, roots words or base
words, teacher does need to conduct direct teaching. Only words that are likely
to cause difficulty may require direct teaching ( Cooper & Kiger, 2008, p. 255)
Actually, this is a key step because it influences other steps and determines
the effectiveness of the lesson.
After the word selection step, it is time to choose an appropriate technique
to show the meaning of the word. There is no best technique, but the techniques
chosen should “help students relate new knowledge to old knowledge, actively
involve students in the process of learning, help students thoroughly learn words
and support students in the process of learning to use their own strategies for
independently inferring word meanings.” (Cooper & Kiger , 2008, p. 259) 11
In other words, selecting a suitable technique to present a new word should
serve as a good means to facilitate students in their vocabulary learning and
enhance their language competence. Some common techniques will be discussed
later on in this section.
The next step is saying the word aloud and writing it on the board. “It is
always important that the teacher pronounces the new word before he spells it or
writes it on the board” (Flohr, 2010, p. 5). This is because “the students should
know how to pronounce and use the word in spoken language before they use it
in written language and write the whole texts using new words” (Flohr, 2010, p.
5). Saying the word aloud is a useful technique as “information that is verbally
rehearsed is much more likely to be remembered.” (Manning, 1991, p. 181).
“Statistics indicate that students remember 20 percent of what they hear from the
external source, 70 percent of what they themselves repeat aloud, and 90 percent
if they speak aloud to themselves about a task as they are performing the task.”
(Manning, 1991, p. 181) 5 In addition, the board is also considered an essential
tool in this step. “Whenever a new word is introduced, it should be written down
on the board. This will help the pupils to retain the visual image of the word”
(Baruah, 1991, p. 296) 5
Afterwards, the teacher should moves to the step of showing the form.
What matters here is that the teachers have to distinguish between active and
passive items so as to present the form of a particular item in the right way. As
for active vocabulary, the teachers should give not only key transcription but
also stress and word class. However, if the presented word is passive, the
teachers do not need to spend too much time showing its form. Only key
transcription and stress should be shown in this case.
After both the meaning and form have been shown, it is time for the
teacher to give examples in which the word is used. When the word is placed
somewhere amid a sentence, its affective meaning is clear and the word is more
readily absorbed by the students. The number of examples should be considered
as well. As for a passive item, only one simple example should be given;
however, if the item is active, it is advisable to introduce two or more model
sentences so as to “provide the student with multiple exposures to the word in
different contexts or settings” (Thompson & Vaughn, 2007, p. 92) 4
Next, to ensure that the students have known the word clearly, the teacher
should ask questions to check the students’ comprehension. Or the teacher can
give hints for the students to make their own sentences using the newly-learnt
word. Questions of this kind aims at 3 purposes: (1) to ensure students’
understanding of the word, (2) to show how the word is used in specific
contexts, and (3) to let students practice other language (Doff, 1988, p. 17) 1
Moreover, the teacher must bear in mind that “questions using a new word
should be simple and requires only short answers” (Doff, 1988, p. 17) 1
After presenting all the new words selected, the teacher conducts
repetition of the word list and model sentences. During this stage, the students
are asked to repeat the words and examples first chorally and then individually.
In the book entitled “Cognitive self-instruction for classroom processes”,
Manning (1991) 3 describes the mechanisms by which a new word comes to
and fixes in a student’s mind when that student speaks the word aloud by
As the sound waves leave the mouth and return back into the ears, the
cycle stimulates the memory capacity. The word is spoken and received. The
brain is activated as the word is spoken and heard. The spoken word
semantically sets up associations of meanings as the word is stored for
This mechanism indicates that repetition is essential in a vocabulary
lesson as repeating new words and examples many times can help stick the
words to the students’ mind.
“Memory clearly plays a key role in vocabulary learning and the benefits
of revision and repetition have been clearly demonstrated in studies of
vocabulary learning” (Schmitt & McCarthy, p.276) 6 And revision could be
encouraged by means of consolidation activities. Practically speaking, there are
many ways of reviewing vocabulary. Exercises of this kind may range from
multiple choice, matching, gap-filling, network, translation to sentence
completion or hidden words and more. What matters here is whether the teacher
is clever enough to design meaningful activities to help the students effectively
revise new items of vocabulary.
In practice, there is no fixed procedure in teaching vocabulary. The eightstep procedure suggested above should not be regarded as the “right” or “ideal”
method that can be applied for all teachers and students. The teachers, actually,
can be flexible in their teaching process by adding or ignoring some steps.
II. Principles for teaching vocabulary
1. Showing the meaning visually
A. Drawing- On the backboard the teacher can draw a picture of some
words that will quickly convey the meaning, for example, happy, sad, a map, a
flower, an animal, preposition of location, ect
B. Realia or real objects
Teacher can show the meaning of the words by using thing available in
the classroom or anything that can be brought into the classroom, eg. a hat, ties,
food, toy or small objects from home. These are not only for seeing, but also for
holding and passing around
Using photographs, prints or painting, the teacher can communicate about
many types of words, eg. photographs from magazines, personal photographs of
family members, ect.
D.Flashcards or charts
On cards, we can have a picture on one side of the word on the others. On
a chart we can organize groups of words or draw diagrams. We can, for
example, make cards with animals on them, chart with body parts marked, or a
chart with an apartment map.
Eg: A flashcard with number from 0 to 10, one card with the picture of a
horse on one side and the word horse on the other.
0 1 2
4 5 6
8 9 10
E.Mime or facial expressions
This is very useful, especially for actions: we can act out a word to
demonstrate its meaning. For example, we can act out some home activities such
as eating, drinking or school activities such as listening, reading, writing, ect.
2. Showing the meaning verbally
A. paraphrasing/ defining
We can explain a new word by using a different simple already-known
word, words or a definition, eg. a cat is an animal which eats a mouse, a car is a
vehicle that carries people
The teacher can use the already-known word with the opposite meaning to show
the meaning of the new one. For example, the students have already known the
word quick, the teacher can use this word to introduce the word fast or slow.
To show words in relation to other words, we can present words in
semantic fields, for example: school – classroom, blackboard, teacher, students,
books, study, etc, animal- dog, cat, cow, etc.
D.Guessing from context
The meaning of many words can be guessed from a context, that is,
sentences, paragraphs or stories in which the words occur.
To show the meaning of the word building ,the teacher can provide a
context “ houses are buildings. This school is also a building. In big cities there
are many large buildings – there are hotels, offices and cinema. They are all
buildings of different kinds”
To show meaning of the words lazy, the teacher can provide a context:
Some people work hard. Other people don’t work hard- they are lazy. For
example, I have a brother. He is very lazy. He gets up late and then he does
nothing all day”
It is not necessary to give a complicated explanation, the meaning can be
shown by simple sentences. The context is very useful for showing the meaning
of abstract words, e.g. love, imagine, happiness, etc
E.Guessing from stems and affixes
Many words are formed by adding affixes, thus their meaning can be
understood through the affixes, e.g.:
To save time, the teacher can give the equivalent of the words in the
students’mother toungue, e.g. in an English class for Vietnamese students:
Teacher: giáo viên
Student: sinh viên
Translating a new word is in itself a useful technique - it is often the
simplest ans clearest way of showing what a word means. However, if the
teacher only gives a direct translation, this will hinder the students’ ability to use
the target language and even they can’t see the word is used in an English
G. Using dictionary
If we need to save time or communicate about a different word, the
dictionary might be the best option, e.g. showing the meaning of the word
3. Combining different techniques
A combination of techniques can be very useful to show the meaning of a
new word as students can perceive it from different source of information. For
example, to present the meaning of the word smile, the teacher first draws a
picture on the board and asks the students look at the picture and listen:
T: Look. He is smiling. (showing the meaning by a picture)
Now look at me. I’m smiling (showing the meaning by facial expressions).
Smile. We smile when we are happy. Smile.
T:Good. What does it mean? (students can give translation)
Different techniques in the example are very useful. The picture on the
board is interesting, helping students remember the word. The facial expression
can help give the meaning clearly. The example shows how Smile is used as a
verb. Finally, translation can help to make sure everyone understands the
meaning. Each techniques is very quick ( a few seconds), and they can reinforce
III. Steps for teaching vocabulary
1. Provide the context for the word
2. Say the word clearly and write it on the board
3. Show the meaning of the word
4. Get the class to repeat the word in chorus and individually.
5. Give examples to show how the word is used
6. Ask questions using the word
7. Ask students to make sentences with the word
- Material : textbook 11 – Unit 2 Personal experiences and Unit 7 world
population period A : Reading
Unit 2 Personal experiences
Period A : Reading
Teaching some new vocabulary
1. Idol (n): (example): thần tượng
Ex: Who’s your favorite singer?
Hong Nhung is your idol.
2. glance (v) (miming): liếc mắt
3. sneaky (a) (situation): lén lút
What would you do if you couldn’t do your test?
What’s your attitude?
Be afraid of the T. and look sneaky.
4. embarrassing (adj) (synonym ) = confusing (adj): bối rối
5. make a fuss (exp) (over/about) (explanation): làm ầm ĩ.
He complains noisily about something he doesn’t like.
Unit 7 World population
Period A : Reading
Teaching some new vocabulary
1.family planning ( n ) (Give picture and students to guess the meaning of
the word ): kế hoạch hóa gia đình
2. fingure (n)- use synonym number to explain : con số
3. Increase (v)- (Ask students to look at the graph to guess the meaning):
4. decrease >< increase ( v ) ( antonym ): giảm
3. Raise animals ( look at the picture and guess the meaning ): nuôi động vật
4. Double (v) (look at the chart to guess the meaning) gấp đôi
5. Resource (n) (look at the picture to guess the meaning): nguồn tài