Recording vocabulary

by / Monday, 25 November 2013

Improve Your English Vocabulary

There is no area in language more important than vocabulary. It has been said that “If language structures make up the skeleton of language, then it is vocabulary that provides the vital organs and the flesh.” (Harmer 1993)

Unfortunately, for many learners it is incredibly difficult to remember large amounts of new vocabulary and even more difficult to use it correctly in their spoken or written English.

It has been shown that students tend to learn vocabulary more effectively when the vocabulary is recorded in an organised manner rather than as random lists of words. Most students keep notebooks for storing new vocabulary but what form should the notebook take and how should each item of vocabulary be logged?


There follows some ideas relating to these two questions:

How to organise my vocabulary notebook?

A well organised vocabulary notebook is essential if you are to retrieve lexis on demand, rather than leafing through pages of randomly-noted words. Also, the very act of organising your vocabulary helps learning as it involves deeper processing and may mirror the way it is stored in the brain. You could organise your notebook in the following ways:

1. By topic or theme. For example, you could use a page in your notebook for health related vocabulary. Within these, you could label pictures or use mind maps to group lexical items together. You could also use grids of, for example, sports, equipment needed, where it is played).









2. Alphabetically. This will allow you to find a specific word much more quickly.

3. According to functions/situations. You could have a page for language of request and another for language used to apologise. Similarly, you might have a page for language needed for shopping or telephone language.

4. By parts of speech. You could divide your notebook into verbs, nouns, adjectives etc. Each part of speech could also be colour coded.

5. Chronologically. Words are noted in the order that they are learned.

What information can you include for each lexical item?

1. Translation.

The majority of students write direct translations into their own language. While there is nothing wrong with this, it may not be enough as direct translations often fail to give the full context of the word in the target language.

2. Part of speech.

It is important to note if the word is a noun, a verb, or an adjective.

3. Definition

Writing a definition instead of a translation gives you the advantage of being able to think about the word in English instead of simply relating it to the equivalent in your own language.

4. Collocation

By noting collocations, you will be better able to use the new vocabulary naturally. Think not only about meaning, but how the word is used in English.

5. Example sentences

If you write an example sentence for each item, you will not only have a note of how the word can be used but will also have engaged in a deeper processing task of inventing the sentence.

6. Word family

For single words it is very useful to note other members of its family. If you record a verb for example, it is useful to have other parts of speech from the same root. Also other words that can be made from the word using affixes can be noted.

7. Pictures

Pictures often convey meaning more effectively than words and may help with memory retention, especially when you have to think about how to draw the meaning.

8. Pronunciation

A phonemic transcription is an ideal way to help note pronunciation of new vocabulary. If you are not confident about using phonemes, then at least mark the syllables and stress on words.

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