Course: Lexis, Morphology and Semantics
Guideline for completing the final essay
Mini-research project report (70%)
Due date: 5 PM, Dec 12; Word limit: 2500 words (±10%)
Please choose ONE of the following topics to conduct and write up your project. You may approach your lecturer for approval if you wish to write on an alternative topic. The final submission should include a cover page, and a list of references (at least 5). You need to consult the Institute’s regulation on citation and reference styles when citing sources and arranging references. The Institute’s relevant regulation can be found at the following weblink: http://www.ied.edu.hk/reg/student_handbook/e_appendix_citsys.html
Please use Times New Roman 12 as the default font type and size for the main text. The writing should also be double spaced. Leave ample margins for comments. You also need to observe academic writing conventions when writing this academic essay. See the following websites for more information:
Texts that fall beyond the length requirement range (2500, ±10%) will be penalized accordingly.
- Variety of English lexis (change and variation)
All languages change and vary over time and space. The study of language change and variation is the ‘core of the sociolinguistic enterprise’, and it has ‘a relatively short history’ (Chambers, Trudgill et al. 2002, p. 1). Diachronic change occurs in which the phonological, lexical, syntactic, semantic, discourse, pragmatic, and other features of a language are modified over time. In addition, at any given moment, a language also has a variety within itself among different communities of its speakers, and this variety is known as synchronic variation. Lexical change and variation are among the most evident aspects of language change and variation. In this essay assignment, you are expected to do the followings:
- Make a distinction between lexical change and lexical variation and explore possible causes
- Analyze major types of English lexical variation (e.g. regional variation, social-class, gender, and age-related lexical variations, etc.)
- Focus on one (or more) type of lexical variation and make use of empirical data, either collected by yourself or in existing corpus data
- If possible, reflect on how such knowledge could be related to the learning and/or teaching of vocabulary
Chambers, J. K., P. Trudgill, & Schilling-Estes, N. (2002). The handbook of language variation and change. Malden, Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd.
- Learning of English Vocabulary
In this task, you will be asked to explore and reflect on language learners’ acquisition of English vocabulary (may include multi-word items). To this end, you need to collect information about how other language learners (i.e. your friends or your students) learnt English vocabulary. Alternatively you may recall how you as a language learner learnt English vocabulary. Information about vocabulary learning can be collected through questionnaires and/or interviews apart from recalling from your own memories. At least 2 informants should be included in your study. In the essay, you need to draw on what you have learnt in the module and critically examine the collected information about vocabulary learning. You need to identify strengths and/or weaknesses in the participants’ ways of learning English vocabulary. You can then suggest ways to improve their vocabulary learning. As a result, the essay should invariably contain the followings:
- Theories of vocabulary learning (may include vocabulary learning strategies and vocabulary learning assisted by technologies)
- Language learners’ accounts of vocabulary learning (you may include yourself as one of the participants)
- Critical assessment or reflections on learners’ accounts, and
- Suggested ways for improvement
- Teaching of English Vocabulary
In this task, you will be asked to explore and reflect on language teachers’ teaching of English vocabulary. If you are or were practising teachers, you may reflect on your ways to teach vocabulary. You may observe at least one teacher’s lesson episode (or yours) concerning vocabulary teaching from your previous and current experiences. You need to draw on the relevant module content and critically reflect on the way(s) that English vocabulary was taught. You need to identify strengths and/or weaknesses in the vocabulary teaching approach and activities in this particular lesson episode. You can then suggest ways for improvement, using what the module has covered on the teaching of vocabulary. For this reason, this essay may invariably contain the followings:
- Theories of vocabulary teaching or vocabulary teaching approaches (may include approaches aided by technologies)
- A particular lesson episode which you taught or observed (on vocabulary teaching)
- Critical assessment of the pedagogical approach and activities in the lesson episode, and
- Suggested ways for improvement
- Assessment of English Vocabulary
In this task, you will be asked to use TWO vocabulary measurement instruments and critically reflect on their usefulness to you as a language learner and/or teacher. You need to choose two vocabulary measurement instruments and use them among your friends or students (and yourself as well). Apart from yourself, you need to invite at least 4 other informants to do the vocabulary tests. If you are a practising teacher, you may use the instruments among your students. Following the vocabulary tests, you need to ask your informants about their feelings about the tests and test results. Drawing on the relevant module content, you also need to critically examine and reflect on these test results and their usefulness in the learning and/or teaching process (including their weaknesses and strengths). Then you can identify and suggest ways concerning how to use these tests meaningfully to inform your vocabulary learning and/or teaching. To this end, this essay may invariably have the followings:
- Description of the chosen instruments (including their underlying theories of vocabulary learning and teaching),
- The informants’ test results and their comments on the instruments,
- Critical examination and reflections on the usefulness of the instruments to the learning and/or teaching of vocabulary, and
- Suggested ways on how to use the instruments meaningfully in the learning and teaching process.
- You need to write the essay in the form similar to a research paper.
- The 4 components for each topic are mandatory and missing any will affect your grade.
- The inclusion of the 4 components does not necessarily mean that you must divide your essay into four sections; you may adopt a different structure that you deem more appropriate.
- The completed essay should be submitted to Moodle A turn-it-in submission link will also be created for you to help you check whether you essay have violated the rule that no more than 20% (preferably less than 15%) of similarity is allowed. In addition, you may also be requested to submit a hard a copy by the course lecturer
As a result of the high-stake nature of entrance into high schools and universities in different countries, vocabulary is the most pressing need for learners studying English as well as English-taught subjects in the countries’ high schools and universities. Upon admission into the high schools and universities, this challenge becomes extra severe owing to the fact that students are expected to read and comprehend texts in technology, science, and medicine in English, to mention but a few subjects (Jackson et al., 2014). To meet the high school and university entrance examination and university course requirements, students need a high command of a second language vocabulary. To overcome this challenge, students take significant amount of time to learn, acquire, and develop their vocabulary. Nonetheless, their determinations and efforts appear to be unsuccessful and futile because they do not understand and know how they can master vocabulary. It is against this background that this paper explores and reflects on language students’ acquisition of English vocabulary.
Theories and Strategies of Vocabulary Learning
Theories of English Vocabulary Learning
Generally, strategies are the apparatuses that are applied for involvement in in learning a subject or skill. Vocabulary learning approaches/strategies are the tools that are employed in the task of learning new words in the intended language. Simon-Cereijido and Mendez (2018) mention that English was traditionally taught by the grammar translation strategy or technique. About the beginning of 1950s, structurally categorized and rated syllabi were introduced (Orosz, 2014); a major advancement in the teaching of the English language. The theory then was that teaching a language could be systemized through planning of the language inputs just like the teaching of subjects like physics or arithmetic could be taught. The structural methodology was sometimes employed as a direct technique, with an insistence upon monolingual English classrooms.
Masrai (2016) argues that the structural method as practiced in classrooms led to a trivialization and fragmentation of thought by disintegrating language into two groups: into skills and into structures. British language experts contend that something above grammatical competence was involved in the use of language and the term communicative competence was inaugurated to imply this additional dimension. The communicative competence concept assumes that the availability of grammatical competence to establish, and indeed the communicative technique succeeds best at the initial stage, introducing variability and learner participation into classrooms wherein both learners and students have confidence and trust in their understanding and knowledge of a language that is acquired via exposure (Fekri, 2016). Nonetheless, for most learners, the concern is never so much about communicative competence since acquisition of a fundamental/basis competence in the language (Jackson et al., 2014). Later, the Comprehensible Input and Balanced, input-rich theoretical strategies like the Task-Based, and the Whole Language strategies aim at disclosure to a language in meaning-concentrated circumstances with the intention of triggering the formation of a language system through the mind.
Strategies of English Vocabulary Learning
From the above literature, it is evident that there are a number of techniques or strategies that can be employed in acquiring English vocabulary. To explicitly explain the strategies, two classifications will be employed: explicit and implicit vocabulary teaching techniques. On the one hand, one of the explicit vocabulary techniques employed in teaching English vocabulary is the pre-teaching vocabulary words technique. Swanson and Howerton (2007) state that among the most effective techniques of assisting children learn new words is to teach words that are unfamiliar in a text ahead of the reading of a reading experience. Learners ought to either preview reading materials with the goal of determining which words are unacquainted to them. After establishing these unfamiliar words, the student should proceed to define and discuss the same. It is important that instructors not only tell what the words means, but to discuss the meanings of the words as well. This allows learners to develop an understanding of the denotations and connotations of the words (Simon-Cereijido & Mendez, 2018). Orosz (2014) adds that discussion provides the instructors with feedback regarding how well the learners understand the taught new words. Upon the completion of pre-texting new words, the learners ought to read the text.
The second explicit vocabulary teaching techniques is the repeated exposure to new words. Repeated exposure to vocabularies, as van Wyk and Mostert (2016) state, is often forgotten. According to Masrai (2016), provision of multiple openings to employ new words in their spoken and written forms help children to solidify their comprehension and understanding of the words. This strategy is the keyword method. Alike to pre-teaching, the keyword technique happens before a learner reads some particular text. In this strategy, unacquainted words are introduced ahead of reading. Nonetheless, as opposed to encouraging learners to recall a new word’s definition, the instructor teachers the learners a “word clue” that helps them understand the words (Wei et al., 2018). The keyword or “word clue” may form part of a the definition, an illustrative example, or an image that the learner joins to the root word to make it simpler and easer to remember the meaning of the new word when reading the same in context. The underlying idea of the keyword technique is to create a simple and easy connection to the meaning of words that the learner can efficiently access in the course of a reading experience.
Thirdly, there is the use of the word map strategy. The word map, according to Fekri (2016), is an excellent technique for scaffolding a learner’s vocabulary learning. This strategy involves an instructor previewing reading materials in their attempts to determine the words that are unfamiliar. For each and every single determined new words, the learner creates a graphic organizer. Employing prior knowledge the leaner fills in each and every of these three classifications. Helman and Burns (2008) state that word maps assist learners to develop complete understandings of new words. Nonetheless, the technique is best applicable in kindergarten classes.
On the other hand, one of the implicit vocabulary teaching techniques is incidental learning. Incidental vocabulary learning, according to Gutiérrez-Clellen et al. (2012), refers to determination of the meaning of new words based upon the way the new words are employed in a given text. Second technique is context skills strategy. Hunt and Feng (2016) explain that context skills refer to strategies that leaners employ for incidental learning of vocabularies. Texts have full “hint” regarding meanings of new words. Other words within a paragraph or sentence, titles, illustrations, and captions provider learners with information regarding the text that they can make use of to determine the meanings, denotations, and connotations of unfamiliar words. These features, as van Wyk and Mostert (2016) note, are in most cases referred to as “context clue” since they are contained in the context of a piece of writing as opposed to outside it. Leaners are taught to find as well as use context for learning vocabularies. Instructor modeling as well as practice are crucial for assisting learners develop this significant reading skill.
Language Learners’ Accounts of Vocabulary Learning and the Strategies That Were Used
It is widely asserted that knowledge of vocabulary is highly related with learners’ success. Helman and Burns (2008) state that learners who have larger vocabularies often demonstrate higher levels of reading, understanding, and comprehension and perform better on a number of valued achievements is schools. In this section, I will critically reflect about the account of a group of us who had to learn a new language in our pursuit of a course in a foreign land.
Last year, a friend identified as Ralph (which is not his actual name), won a scholarship that allowed him to go and study a course in the U.K. When he was back to Hong Kong, I interviewed him to know how he learnt about English, the challenges he realized, and the strategies that they employed to him understand and use English. Ralph told me that upon arrival in the U.K., he was introduced to the country’s mainstream language. “The study experience was dreadful”, he said. “I could hardly pick what was taught to us.” While he was able to learn some vocabularies, he said that he “got to know that knowing a word implies that one has the ability to do all that is related to the learnt word, not merely to recall the definitions learned through rote.” He said that he got to admit that far from being merely about synonyms or definitions, word learning is concerned with developing a variety of conceptual linkages to the word a number of times.
To survive in this challenging situation, learning of the English language was not a choice but a priority to all of us. I then asked him the strategies they used in learning English. “First, he said, “we previewed vocabularies as we prepared for lessons.” He added that “we corporately and individually scanned the chapters that we would be studying during the lesson to identify unfamiliar words that would slow down our comprehension of the chapter.” To effectively realize their goal, they set a limit of a minimum of ten words per chapter. Sato (2016) states that studies have shown that students acquire new words faster if their instructors focus in a minimum of five to ten words weekly as opposed to overwhelming learners with drawn-out lists. Before they could include any word in their list, they determined the significance of each word word in their comprehension of the chapter awaiting and whether it would be difficult for them to establish the meaning of the new word employing context hints.
He proceeded to add that, “our instructors also helped us learn new vocabularies by providing us with learner-friendly strategy of fill-in-the-blank definitions.” As opposed to asking them to look up new words in dictionary, their instructors provided them with fill-in-blank definitions with the intention of ensuring that they all developed an accurate as well as comprehensible information for new terminologies and terms. Ralph stated that “this strategy significantly helped us since it enabled us to know how to use words that had different meanings.” The fill-in-blank definitions significantly assisted them in comprehending new words. He said that the fill-in-blank definitions also allowed them to listen as well as think concerning new vocabularies as they discussed in class with our instructors, without being preoccupied by attempting to copy quickly down every single new word (Swanson & Howerton, 2007). Additionally, it allowed them to call our attentions to keywords in the definitions that would help them remember the meanings.
Ralph also said that they used the root analysis strategy. Whereas root analysis is explicitly taught to learners, the final objective is for learners to independently employ this strategy. Most English words are derived from Greek or Latin roots. They either have a “core” root or employ suffixes or prefixes that contain meaning (Swanson & Howerton, 2007). He said that their instructors employed this strategy to focus on them the most frequently occurring prefixes, suffixes, and roots. As each word was taught, examples of the same were given in common word, which were examined and shared. This way, Ralph and his classmates saw how root words assisted them to understand the definition of the word. They were given practice assessing words with the goal of determining their definitions as well as roots, and when the learner is capable of breaking down unfamiliar words into suffixes, prefixes, and roots and were also allowed to start determining their meanings.
Other than Ralph, I have to admit that I was a victim of the process of learning English at one moment in my life. Two years ago, I secured a study scholarship to Canada. Having been raised in a mandarin background, I found it very daunting and disgusting to communicate, relate, and socialize with the students whom I found in the University of Northern British Columbia. Not to mention the challenges and frustrations I underwent in the first few weeks of my course work in the university, I decided to enrol in the university’s linguistic department so that I could get a grasp of the English language. During the training, I was introduced to vocabulary learning.
One of the strategies that my instructors employed was highlighting of vocabulary words in contexts. Whenever I came across new words in an article, novel, textbook, or short story, during my learning, my instructors drew my attention to the same and asked me to remember their meanings. They encouraged me to highlight such words using highlighter. I was then exposed to repeated usage of the words and I got to realize that the more I was exposed to the words, the more I became more familiar with them. Also, being a country that heavily depends on, my instructors also employed a visuals. The use of the phrase, “a picture is worth a thousand words” began meaning a lot to me with reference to the learning of the English. Sato (2016) states that visual aids or cues within classroom settings can be crucial tools for language development since visuals play two essential roles in assisting English learners to comprehend as well as internalize vocabularies. Visuals were used to introduce new terminologies and terms to me. During this time, visuals helped in clarifying the meanings of vocabularies in cases when written definitions were somewhat confusing or contained unfamiliar words (Badea, 2018). By employing this technique, I could sometimes draw visuals or get them from online databases to signify to my instructors with the intention of getting to know how they are called in English.
Considering the above mentioned strategies, it is evident that the strategies significantly impacted our grasp of the English language: our ability to comprehend and use English language was enhanced. In both cases, some pre-reading would be done in our attempts to learn specific words. Additionally, the techniques provided us with instructions regarding extended periods of time as a way of encouraging us to employ vocabularies in various contexts, both written and spoken communication. According to Helman and Burns (2008), learners learn new vocabularies when they are given instructions over a protracted period of time when such instructions help them to actively work with the words learnt. Badea (2018) adds that the more learners employ new words and the more they employ them in various situations, the more they are likely to learn the vocabularies.
However, some of the techniques that were time consuming. Some English language learning classes involved our individual participation regardless of whether one had mastered certain new vocabularies. In some cases, we had to meet for long hours both ourselves and other English speaking Canadians so that we could enhance our learning of the language. Sometimes we had to watch programs for long periods of time. All these and many other consumed a lot of time. As such, both Ralph and I recall not effectively participating and attending the courses we went to study. Additionally, some techniques required that we buy certain apparatuses. This was generally expensive. Some techniques as well required that we behave like children, a thing that I personally never enjoyed or liked (Swanson & Howerton, 2007). Lastly, while some techniques encouraged the learning of new words, most of them failed to emphasize on the significance of the use of the learnt words in different contexts. This narrowed our grasp of some new vocabularies. From these experiences, I learnt that the more one is exposed to a language, the more they get acquainted with the same and the more they become better users of the language. Additionally, while there are several techniques that can be employed to enhance learners’ acquisition of a language, specific strategies should be employed according to contexts.
Conclusion and Recommendations
Taking learners’ achievement and efforts into consideration, one can state that vocabulary learning and development is a function of learning strategies as opposed to haphazard determination or effort; therefore, exploring students’ strategies, particularly which enables learners to master vocabulary, is of great significance. While the strategies that were employed by Ralph and I in different settings proved to be helpful in our language acquisition, there are limitations that have been noted with the strategies. Thus, this paper recommends that teachers should frame well their language teaching tools, including but not limited to open-ended, mentally challenging questions. Also, instructors can extend learner talk as this will help the instructors to understand what needs to be improved and where. Instructors should also deal with students grappling with concepts and ideas by identifying notions, themes, and ideas and moving beyond usual or traditional interpretations of new words. Instructors should also endeavour to push their learners to justify their assertions with proofs as well as connect their notions to either some common texts or the notions expressed by their fellow classmates. Additionally, there should be a high degree of instructor uptake of their learners’ notions, concepts, and themes, including instructors recasting learners’ ideas and notions using discipline-particular new words and instructors should push their learners to explain their facts and idea fully by way of using “what” and “why” does this this insinuate regarding a question. Lastly, instructors should employ meta comments that summarize crucial ideas and uphold focus, and instructors should also repeat key words as well as emphasize their connections to the concepts and ideas.
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