Spanning the course of the last fifteen years, here is a list of five vocabulary teaching books I don’t think you should be without. Starting with my all-time favourite…
Consider the following statements about second language vocabulary acquisition; which do you agree with?
- In learning another language, vocabulary is not as important as grammar or other areas.
- Using word lists to learn L2 vocabulary is unproductive.
- Presenting new vocabulary in semantic sets facilitates learning.
- The use of translations to learn new vocabulary should be discouraged.
- Guessing words from context is an excellent strategy for learning L2 vocabulary.
- The best vocabulary learners make use of one or two really specific vocabulary learning strategies.
- The best dictionary for L2 learners is a monolingual dictionary.
- Teachers, textbooks, and curricula cover L2 vocabulary adequately.
Regardless of what feelings you may have about each of these, you will no doubt have given each at least some thought during your time as a teacher. Personally, I regard my career as being split into two halves; before I read Vocabulary Myths by Keith S. Folse, and after. In this wonderful book Folse breaks down the teaching of second language vocabulary into the eight commonly held myths detailed above.
Chapter by chapter, he debunks each myth, through a straightforward and easy to follow presentation of what empirical research has shown on the topic, followed by a list of what teachers can do in their classrooms to facilitate true vocabulary acquisition. Each chapter is beautifully couched in descriptions of Folse’s own classroom experiences, making what he says immediately relatable to his audience.
Whatever point you’re at in your language teaching, I can’t recommend this title strongly enough.
2. Teaching Vocabulary: Strategies and Techniques by Paul Nation
Teaching Vocabulary: Strategies and Techniques is another title which delivers clear, research-based principles for vocabulary training in an engaging reader-friendly way. A quick look at the ten sections of this title should give you a reasonably clear idea of what to expect:
1. The Big Picture
2. Vocabulary and Listening
3. Vocabulary and Speaking
4. Vocabulary Learning and Intensive Reading
5. Vocabulary Learning Through Extensive Reading
6. Vocabulary and Writing
7. The Deliberate Teaching and Learning of Vocabulary
8. Specialized Vocabulary
9. Testing Vocabulary Knowledge
10. Planning the Vocabulary of a Language Course
In this book Nation thoroughly examines over 60 teaching techniques and suggests a unified approach, representing vocabulary instruction through listening, speaking, reading, and writing development.
3. Words in the Mind: An Introduction to the Mental Lexicon by Jean Aitchison
In a nutshell, Aitchison’s Words in the Mind deals with words, and how humans learn them, remember them, understand them, and find the ones they want. It discusses the structure and content of the human word-store or ‘mental lexicon’, with particular reference to the spoken language of native English speakers.
This title features a highly informative and accessible account of a central area of research, while incorporating newer research on the mental lexicon, which is not surprising given that Aitchison is a prominent researcher of the mental lexicon, language change, and the language of the media.
4. How to Teach Vocabulary by Jeremy Harmer & Scott Thornbury
OK, if that last title sounded a bit intense, relax a little and enjoy this beauty. I feel that this book is a truly excellent resource for all teachers, as it reflects my own beliefs as to the importance of teaching vocabulary by quoting the linguist, David Wilkins:
‘Without grammar very little can be conveyed, without vocabulary nothing can be conveyed.’
I’m wondering if this book is out of print currently (let me know if I’m wrong); I only noticed used copies for sale out there on the big bad internet. That would be a bit of a shame as this remains a stone cold classic, one of the best resources I’ve come across for learning about teaching vocabulary. While the title contains quite a bit of technical information that might overwhelm newer teachers, the main strength of this book is that it is delivers strongly on the kind of basic information helpful to anyone teaching vocabulary.
5. Vocab Rehab: How do I teach vocabulary effectively with limited time? by Marilee Sprenger
With the first four titles on my list being among ‘the greats’ spanning the last fifteen or so years, I thought I’d take a bit of a risk and add a new book to my list of ‘classics’. In addition to being new (only released earlier this year), I also think Sprenger’s Vocab Rehab model is great, as it offers teachers easy-to-implement 10-minute instructional strategies that can help time-strapped teachers ensure that their students have a sound grasp of both general and content-specific words.
The book is short – disappointingly so, perhaps – but it is definitely to the point. It is full of great ideas for teaching vocabulary which you can use to successfully teach vocabulary even in just a few minutes.
What’s your number 6?
When I wrote this post I asked you to tell me which vocab teaching book you’d like to add to the list. I’m happy to say the response was fantastic. Here are the other great books, according to you!