There are too many words in a language, and students’ needs are too diverse for the teacher to assume the main responsibility for the input of vocabulary. This study investigates vocabulary storage techniques for second language learners at the secondary school level over the period of two weeks observation to clarify the most applicable methods to accelerate the vocabulary input. As a primary objective, it aimed at educating learners in the process, how to identify preferred mode of vocabulary instruction and take advantage of this in further mainstream.
We know that students need a method of learning and remembering new words that works for them. We found that the type of method does not seem to be important but what is important is that some method or other is in place.
ESOL students need to know the lexis of language. They need to learn what words mean and how they are used. This involves giving them the names for things (for example, table, chair), and showing them how words are stretched and twisted such as to ‘table’ a motion, or to ‘chair’ a meeting.
Language studies for ESOL secondary school students are generally orientated towards particular fields of discourse according to the mainstream studies they are pursuing. In a language school or in a secondary ESOL class, the teacher can look closely at the kind of vocabulary which is typical or related to that particular discourse or subject area, introduce examples of it into class, and have the students record it and ‘learn’ it following current teaching/learning methodology or practice. Many researchers have established that identifying, organising and recording the most useful types of lexical items are vital to progress in language learning.
What happens however, in mainstream classes where secondary subjects are being taught? How do the ESOL students cope with the vocabulary workload? How do they manage with these new ideas of discourse? In most cases where the English language level of the students may be at an intermediate level or lower, they simply do not manage. As a result, the students’ already limited vocabulary stays limited, and is never sufficiently developed to deal with the often highly technical, infrequently used terms, met in the subject matter of their mainstream classes. Academic failure is common at this level, and even more so when and if the learner is confronted with the rigorous of tertiary study. Recognition vocabularies of fluent readers (mostly native speakers) range from 10,000 words to 100,000 words (Nagey & Herman 2007). Recognition vocabularies of adult second language learners are far lower, rangin from 5,000 to 7,000 words (Singer 1981). ESOL secondary students may even be lower than this.
In such a situation, it is a huge undertaking for the ESOL teacher to cater for the needs of each individual. S/he cannot accompany the students to all mainstream classes and provide explicit guidance as what and how to learn. Teachers can however, help students gain greater control over their vocabulary building processes by teaching them specific learning strategies.
For the purpose of this study I decided to focus on vocabulary storage strategies thus making the first step in setting up a well-organised and pedagogically sound programme. Taking one step back, however, I also wanted to know if learning vocabulary was considered a priority for students. If it was a priority then firstly — what did they usually do to develop their vocabulary knowledge and how did they gather information about what they were able to do. Secondly — what they did do with the storage techniques I introduced them to, and what they actually did when left to their own devices.
The questions therefore, that this study asks are:
What do ESOL secondary school students know about vocabulary storage strategies?
Can they be taught? Are they successful? Will students use them independently?
These questions will be clarified with the help of observations carried out among secondary school pupils through provided strategies and ways of effective vocabulary teaching in this paper. The research sets out the final reflections after taking into consideration all the possible merits and shortcomings of the presented techniques for better vocabulary acquisition to the secondary school pupils.