Why does Vocabulary Knowledge Play a Central Role in learning English as ESL?
Importance of learning vocabulary in modern English as ESL course
Why does vocabulary knowledge play a central role in learning English as ESL? Here is a summary on the subject.
1. Vocabulary, an essential means of communication:
Acquiring broad vocabulary knowledge is a crucial part of learning English as a second language, more so than grammar skills are.
Indeed, we can start from the principle that if without grammar, very little can be transmitted, without vocabulary, nothing can be transmitted.
2. Vocabulary is the starting point of communication:
It has been established that:
Vocabulary knowledge is a good predictor of reading and listening comprehension.
Using a rich vocabulary is one of the most important predictors of good writing ability.
Correct use of common word-to-word associations within a sentence (called collocations) is one of the most important predictors of good writing skills.
Vocabulary knowledge is closely linked to language skills.
Vocabulary is not an end in itself, but an essential means to achieve and be able to develop communication skills.
3. Magnitude and frequencies of different vocabulary categories:
A large vocabulary is necessary to function well in a foreign language.
However, the objective cannot be for students in a language course to acquire the same vocabulary as native speakers. This would not only be unrealistic, but immediately demotivating.
The order of magnitude of the vocabulary required is measured in thousands of words (the reference for these estimates is the English language).
To understand a written text, it is preferable to know 95 to 98% of the words:
The 4000 to 5000 most frequent words offer a coverage rate of 95%
The 8000 to 9000 most frequent words offer a coverage rate of 98%
When understanding television programs or a film in English:
The 3000 to 7000 most frequent words correspond to 95% to 98% of the words used in general.
In listening, unlike reading, you may need to know slightly fewer words in order to achieve good comprehension in everyday contexts. This corresponds to coverage of 90 to 95% (and therefore not 98%) of the words. We are now between 1000 and 3000 words:
In order to achieve a hearing coverage rate of 90%, in informal contexts, it is preferable to have a vocabulary grouping together the 1000 to 2000 most frequent words in a language.
To be able to follow conversations, it is necessary to know 2,000 to 3,000 of the most frequent words if we want to know 95% of the words spoken.
For higher levels of linguistic competence (C2 in the European framework of reference) or academic use of the language, it is necessary to have at least knowledge of the 5,000 most frequent words.
If we take these figures into account, the challenge seems particularly significant from an academic point of view. However, mastering the vocabulary of the 5,000 most frequent words is a long-term goal.
4. A school compromise on vocabulary learning:
Research shows that a more achievable intermediate goal can be considered.
It seems that it is especially the 2000 most frequent words in a language that are crucial.
Knowing the 2000 most frequent words in a language will make a clear difference in reading, hearing and writing. If an individual is not familiar with these words, then they will have significantly lower performance in reading, hearing and writing.
The 2000 most frequent words in a language are called high frequency words.
Some researchers prefer to put the limit at 3000 words, so the words can be divided into three groups:
High frequency words: the 3000 most frequent words in a language
Medium frequency words: the 3000 to 9000 frequent words in a language
Low frequency words: they are less frequent than the 9000 frequent words in a language.
5. Priorities in vocabulary learning:
It seems obvious that high frequency words deserve more time and attention when learning a modern foreign language:
The number one priority in teaching vocabulary is acquiring the connection between form and meaning.
Priority number 2 is the consolidation of this link. For this, repetition is crucial.
Vocabulary acquisition is a slow, complex, and cumulative learning process in which each encounter with a word will add new knowledge about that word to the mental lexicon.
Particular attention should be paid to collocations (habitual associations of one word to another within a sentence) and fixed word combinations. These are combinations of words that often occur together and that native speakers would favorably use to achieve communication goals.
6. Vocabulary learning process:
How do students tend to learn vocabulary in a foreign language?
We can assume that they will intuitively favor a double-entry table presenting the word in the foreign language in one column and the translation in their mother tongue in the other.
To learn, they will read the words several times. Then they cover the foreign word and try to get them back. They say the words out loud or write them at the start of the translation.
Their process will take them more or less time depending on their concentration, the difficulty of the words or their ability to memorize associations in both directions.