Educators that provide instruction in English as a Second Language (ESL) must provide students with the primary concepts of English in the early stages of language development. As students progress and become more familiar with the language and its idiosyncrasies, advanced training is likely to acclimate students to much of the daily slang as well as complex vocabulary that they hear from native English speakers in routine conversation. It is the responsibility of the ESL instructor to provide this teaching at the appropriate juncture, and the most advantageous route is specialized vocabulary. The following paper will provide a discussion of the concept of word elements in the English language. The paper will continue with an analysis of the methods by which ESL instructors teach technical or specialized vocabulary in their coursework, including various learning strategies for students. Finally, a brief discussion of the importance of specialized vocabulary in ESL acquisition will precede a conclusion.
The concept of learning words by breaking them into smaller parts is the foundation of English language instruction. Most educators begin instruction with smaller words that are commonly used in daily conversation. It is only after these words are mastered is it feasible for ESL students to begin learning longer, more complex words that can be broken down into various parts, including roots, prefixes, and suffixes. It is extremely critical that in the early stages of complex English language acquisition, students are not only familiarized with the concept that various word parts exist, but also that they each possess different meanings. Therefore, word parts combined to make larger words have various meanings based on the patterns of combinations within the words. As ESL students develop a familiarity for these parts, they will often be able to define word meanings fairly quickly and effortlessly. However, many words are tricky and the meanings of word parts do not necessarily result in a clear definition for the entire word (Huckin & Olsen 593). Therefore, it is often difficult to understand word meanings, particularly for students new to the English language.
According to Rosenthal and Rowland in Chapter one of their book entitled " Academic Reading and Study Skills for International Students," word elements are defined as parts of words that carry specific meanings (1). The fundamental concept is that the same word elements are used in many different words (1). These elements can further be broken down into prefixes, which fall at the beginning of words, and suffixes, which fall at the end of words. The understanding of specialized terminology (61) involves the utilization of context clues, which often defined through clues within the nearby text (63). Examples of context clues include synonyms, words that are similar to the word in question (63). It is only when these skills are combined that word meanings are defined in terms of a specific context and understood for their true purpose in the text.
Gairns and Redman (47-48) describe three forms of word building: affixation, which is the process of adding prefixes and suffixes to the base part; compounding, which is the formation of two or more words that can also stand independently as a single word, and includes three types: adjective compounds, verb compounds, and noun compounds; and conversion, which is the process by which a word may be used in more than one way, such as a noun and a verb. Furthermore, Gairns and Redman (50) discuss the difficulties involved in word pronunciation, which often demonstrates the large disparity between the ability to write words in English and the ability to pronounce them correctly. Therefore, the importance of pronunciation must be expressed in student learning in order to achieve total mastery of the English language.
Teaching Technical Vocabulary in ESL Instruction
Before a thorough analysis of technical vocabulary can be established, it is critical that students in ESL classrooms are prepared in the basics of sight vocabulary. Sight vocabulary is defined as words for which meanings can be defined almost instantaneously (Hill 247). The development of a specified curriculum and method for providing sight vocabulary instruction is critical to word recognition and development. The following techniques are particularly helpful (Hill 248-249):
Identify target words that are most important to the lesson and designate those for verbal instruction - Directed by the importance of the word to the text, its frequency within the context of the material, its level of difficulty, and the ability of students to develop recognition after detailed instruction has been given Evaluate student success in the development of meanings and quick recognition of target words - Can be monitored through worksheets, oral reading, and other techniques
Place instructional emphasis on words which with students experience particular difficulties - Maintain a reasonable number of words taught per lesson to ensure student understanding
Develop student readiness for learning the target words - Provide students with word meanings for future understanding as well as other word skills
Form a connection with the graphic form of the word, its meaning, and its pronunciation - Utilize close teacher personal direction whenever possible in addition to the utilization of audiovisual equipment
Allow for practice to reinforce the word meanings and associations - Utilize various instructional activities, including worksheets, matching exercises, and using the word in written sentences
These techniques will foster a basic understanding and eventual mastery of the technical words located within the text.
The primary step in developing a curriculum for teaching technical vocabulary is the concept of the stages of word knowledge. According to Lapp, Flood, & Farnan (216-217), there are three distinct levels of word knowledge, including unknown, acquainted, and established. Unknown is a self-explanatory concept, acquainted is a word whose meaning is recognized but only with much attention, and established is a word whose meaning is easily recognized and understood with little or no effort. Technical vocabulary is often met with frustration and confusion until a well-understood meaning is established. In order to comprehend the text in which technical vocabulary is found, researchers often believe that providing an explanation of the technical terminology found within textbooks before the reading assignment is performed will enable improved understanding of the text (Memory 39). However, other research demonstrates that many instructors prefer to have their students read the textbook assignments before they are discussed in detail in the classroom (Memory 40). Both methods have their merits, but perhaps the most important factor in the choice should be the makeup of the student population and an accurate assessment of their levels of understanding of difficult material. The choices made by the teacher in providing instruction of technical terms may make all the difference for students struggling to understand complex words and accompanying material (Memory 52).
Another strategy for the instruction of technical vocabulary discusses the general steps required to master vocabulary terms found in specific content areas. These steps are outlined in Chapter nine entitled "Vocabulary Instruction in the Content Areas" (181) and include the following: Visualizing the word, discussing the word, using the word, defining the word, and writing and reading the word. These five simple steps will allow teachers to introduce, define, review and reinforce technical vocabulary words so that students will better understand their meanings (181).
Johnson and Hwang (768) argue that teachers who use technical terms in context before attaching formal definitions to them are more easily understood if they are conveyed in visual, pictorial, or sensual connotations. Schumm (90) contends that a combination of the following three methods of instruction will provide ease in the understanding of complex technical terms: teacher-directed vocabulary instruction before reading, student use of a glossary before reading, and teacher-directed vocabulary instruction after reading. It should be restated that the makeup and competency level of the class population should dictate the most appropriate teaching methods that ensure success.
Coxhead (215) demonstrates that frequency and coverage are important concepts in the selection of vocabulary. Furthermore, direct teaching through teacher explanation, vocabulary exercises, and the use of word cards for deliberate learning must be balanced with frequent opportunities to view the vocabulary in focused reading and listening in order to make the vocabulary a part of their working knowledge (Coxhead 228-229).
Students discover the meanings of words in a variety of ways. According to Chapter five of the book "Principles in Learning and Teaching Vocabulary (73-76)," a number of techniques can be used to provide instruction in technical words:
Visual techniques: Visuals and mime and gesture
Verbal techniques: Use of illustrative situations (oral or written), Use of synonymy and definition, contrasts and opposites, scales, and examples of the type.
Furthermore, student-centered learning is also encouraged when learning outside of the classroom. These techniques include asking others, using a dictionary, and contextual guesswork (77-83).
Cohen and Steinberg demonstrate a more complex theory regarding technical vocabulary instruction. The researchers indicate that technical words in science textbooks are often repeated frequently to the point that ease in reading may be better than once thought (87). Furthermore, the frequent repetition of technical terms in…