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INCREASING THE STUDENTS VOCABULARY





Talking Points:

1. How can the student improve his vocabulary when working on
his own? What are the techniques that can be recommended by the
teacher for the purpose?

2. How is the dictionary to be used for the purpose of increasing
one's vocabulary? Should we just look up the necessary meaning or
make a thorough study of the word?

3. What is the role of voluntary reading in improving the student's
knowledge of the language?

I. a) Read the following article:

For most of us, the great source of new words is the printed page. Therefore anyone who wishes to increase his recognition vocabulary must do a good deal of reading. Your college assignments* in all courses will probably require you to read more extensively and more critically than you have done before, but if you wish to make signif­icant increases in your vocabulary you should supplement required reading by a program of voluntary reading. This reading should fol­low your personal interest and needs. It should be regarded as plea­sure, not a chore, because what is required is to develop a liking for reading. A student who likes to read will find the things that are most valuable for him, and as his reading experience widens, his taste in books will grow.

Once a student has the desire to learn through reading, he will discover the techniques of increasing his vocabulary — perhaps even without recognizing that they are techniques -— in his efforts to un­derstand what he is studying.

...Here are the three principal techniques for recognizing the meanings of new words: recognition by context, discovery by dictio­nary reference, and recognition by word analysis. Let us consider these techniques.

Recognition by Context.For a number of reasons, the best way to improve your recognition vocabulary is by watching context. First, it is the method you must use in understanding spoken communica-

A.E. for homework


tions, since you cannot usually stop a speaker to look up his words in a dictionary. Second, it is the method used by lexicographers (makers of dictionaries), and far from being a "lazy" or "guessing" method, it is the only way to become sensitive to educated usage.

As you acquire skill and confidence in interpreting words from context, you will learn to spot the ways in which a speaker or writer helps to make clear the meanings of unusual words. Sometimes he will actually define the new word, as we did.with 'lexicographers' above. Sometimes he will explain the word showing it in operation, as when we are told that a scribe makes and preserves books. Some­times he will repeat the meaning in other words of similar meaning, as in 'profound change and momentous alterations'. By learning to look for such aids you will not only become a better reader and lis­tener, but you will begin to use these explanatory techniques your­self and so become a better speaker and writer.

Discovery by Dictionary Reference. When you look up a word in your dictionary you should try to find out as much as you can about it. The more you find out about new words from your dictionary, the better you will remember them; and the better you remember them, the more likely you are to transfer them to your active vocabulary. The things you most need to know about a new word are its pronunciation, etymology, and meanings. The pronunciation not only helps you to pronounce it conventionally in reading aloud or in speech, but also helps you fix the word in your memory. Since the appearance of a word is often no safe clue to its sound, we have all had the embarrassing experience of making a very obvious mispro­nunciation when called upon to read an unfamiliar word aloud. The habit of checking pronunciation as you look up a new word greatly reduces the chances of mispronunciation.



The etymology of a word gives you its family history and thus makes your knowledge of it more complete. When you learn, for example, that 'critical' comes from a Greek phrase meaning "able to discern" and was originally used for one who was able to discern the implications of a work or a policy and thus to judge it, you will bet­ter understand how word can be used today in such different senses as: "It is an excellent critical discussion of the problem", "He is a critical user of the dictionary", and "His condition is now critical". Apart from its usefulness in making you a more discerning or more critical user of words, the study of etymology can be a pleasant hob­by. It may not make the study of the 'calculus' any easier to know that its name came from the Latin word for a pebble and goes back to the 68


days when the Romans used pebbles to help them with their arith­metic; but it is interesting to be reminded from what primitive ori­gins modern calculating machines have come. It is a testimony to human intolerance that 'sinister' originally meant 'left-handed' and a 'barbarian' was once a 'stranger'. And it is amusing to discover that our slang phrase 'in the coop' perpetuates the original meaning of 'jail', a cage or coop. It is not surprising that some people find it as much fun to collect etymologies as to collect stamps, and much less expensive.

Recognition by Word Analysis.Looking up an etymology inevi­tably leads to word analysis, the breaking down of a word into its parts and the recognition of the original meaning of each part. Thus we are analysing 'preliterate' when we recognize that it is a compound of the prefix рте- (meaning "before", or "not yet") and the root litera, "a letter"; and we are analysing 'docile' when we see that it is made up of the root docere, "to teach", and the suffix -He, "capable of", so that a docile person is literally one who is capable of being taught.

Because so many Latin and Greek words have been borrowed and assimilated by English, a knowledge of the most common Latin and Greek prefixes and roots (the suffixes are less important for our pur­poses) helps us to recognize, at least in a general way, the meanings of many words. For example, the ability to recognize -cede (-ceed) and -cess as forms of the Latin cedere, "to yield" or "go", gives us a partial clue to the meanings of the English words 'cede, cessation, cession, accede, access, accession, accessory, antecedent, ancestor, concede, concession, concessionaire, exceed, excess, incessant, in­tercede, intercessor, precede, precedence, predecessor, procedure, proceed, process, procession, recede, recess, recessive, secede, suc­ceed, succession,' and their inflectional forms. One writer has esti­mated that a knowledge of fourteen Latin and Greek roots will help us to recognize over 14,000 words.

(From: Beringause A., Lowenthal D. The Range of College Reading. N.Y., 1967. Abridged.)

b) Answer the following questions:

1. What is meant by 'recognition' vocabulary? by 'reguired read­ing and Voluntary' reading? (Explain, don't translate). 2. What is the role of the active vocabulary and of the recognition vocabulary in the process of language learning? Which of the language skills and hab­its does each of the types support? 3. What method of increasing


one's recognition vocabulary does the author suggest? What do you think about the method? 4. What are the three principal techniques for recognizing the meanings of new words? Which of the three do you consider especially (least) effective? Give your reasons. 5. How do you understand the words referring to the recognition-by-context method: "...far from being a 'lazy' or 'guessing' method..."? 6. What is the procedure recommended by the author for discovering the meanings of new words by dictionary reference? Do you think it is a sound recommendation? Is your usual procedure to make a thorough study of a new word or just to look up the meaning you need? 7. Why does the author include etymology in the things the student most needs to know about a new word ? What is your opinion on this point ? For what study levels may it be accepted? 8. What other methods of increasing one's recognition vocabulary can you suggest, besides the one of extensive reading recommended in the article? 9. What kind of procedure would you recommend your pupils of different levels for discovering meaning of new words by dictionary reference?









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