Matt Horn: Journalism lecturer, University of Central Lancashire
When Michael Lewis wrote the Lexical Approach in the mid-1990s he included the suggestion that learners needed to encounter a new word in seven different ways in order to learn it.
While I would not want to say that seven times is definitely the case, it is clear that learners need to encounter and re-encounter words in order for them to be learnt. Studies in Second Language Acquisition suggest that there are things we can do to help speed up the learning of language.
Make target words stand out
When you present written texts to students, bold or underline the words you want them to notice. Studies suggest that this does help draw students’ attention to them and notice them, which is the first stage of learning. You can use pronunciation tasks and comprehension questions to get students to look at these words in more detail. If your students use a text book, get them to underline the words you want them to focus on; this will help the students separate out the really important words in a text.
Do something with target words
This is the ‘use it or lose it’ principle. Make students keep a vocabulary journal to write new words in, but get them to do different things with the words they write in the book.
They might have lists but they could also record collocations and phrases that words are part of [e.g. if they learn the word ‘idea’, get them to record it with common collocations and phrases (that’s a good idea, I haven’t the faintest idea, to have a rough idea)], because these make it easier to understand.
They can draw pictures to help them remember the words, but the important point is that they keep using the journals and keep looking at the words so that they remember them.