This article is a personal view of the application of research on vocabulary to teaching and how there are three different types or categories of relationship between that research and the teaching to which it is applied: first, where the research is not applied or not applied well, second, where it is reasonably well applied, and third, where it is over-applied. For each of these three categories, I look at what I consider to be the most important areas of research and suggest why they fit into that category. The topics covered include planning vocabulary courses, distinguishing high frequency and low frequency words, extensive reading, the deliberate learning of vocabulary, academic vocabulary and vocabulary teaching.
Here are my bullet points from reading this article which summarises recent research into L2 vocabulary acquisition for language teachers.
- there two types of vocabulary: high frequency and low frequency (Zipf's law - there is no middle ground). ESL learners need to meet high frequency words often, and learn strategies to tackle low frequency words
- extensive (rather than intensive) reading with graded readers works for high frequency words; learners can be encouraged in this if initial class time is devoted to a "proper extensive reading program" (p. 532)
- bilingual word cards - "deliberate decontextualised rote learning of vocabulary" - is effective for long-term learning and acquisition of implicit knowledge (p. 533) though should be viewed as a "support" rather than an "alternative to communicative learning"
- although deliberate learning is effective, deliberate teaching does not mean deliberate learning - studies often show less than half of taught words were learned via vocabulary exercises
Nation recommends paying attention to vocabulary learning via extensive graded reading and independent learning with bilingual word cards, rather than devoting class time to intensive reading and vocabulary exercises.
He recommends this research paper:
Elgort, I. (2011). Deliberate learning and vocabulary acquisition in a second language. Language Learning, 61.2, 367–413.
and this website: The Compleat Lexical Tutor http://www.lextutor.ca/