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Vocabulary learning, how do other subject areas cope?

Discussion in 'Modern foreign languages' started by GroovyGuzi, Nov 24, 2011.

  1. Regarding the recent threads in this forum on vocabulary learning, how do other subject areas cope? Every subject we study has specialised vocabulary. As a novice golfer I remember having to learn lots of new terms: the Vardon grip, in-to-out swing, fade, pin, birdie, eagle, albatross, par, air shot, bogey, casual water – and many more. I went through the same process of learning new vocabulary when I took up skiing.
    I have often thought about this before. As a student, I remember my friends at medical school talking about the problems they had learning the thousands of new medical terms that they needed to know. Most of them just learned short lists of related new terms and got their fellow students to test them at regular intervals.
    ICT terminology is another huge area - and changing daily. This is my Glossary of ICT terminology - which is designed with language teachers in mind and includes a number of terms specific to Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL):
    I recently received an email from the manager of this website: http://www.williamswords.co.uk/. He has produced a dictionary of 13,000 science and asked me whether science could be compared to a foreign language insofar as students need to know around 2,000 new terms by the end of KS3.
    What do you think?
    Graham Davies
  2. mlapworth

    mlapworth Occasional commenter

    One major difference is that in IT, golf, law, business, science etc., you're able to use the words as soon as you learn them - you haven't got the extra problem of working out how to fit them into a sentence. You're also learning them for a purpose - you need to know that word in order to express a certain idea or describe a certain thing. Learning a list of fruits / animals / sports / furniture in MFL doesn't really compare, unless you're in a situation where you really NEED to know those words (eg. you're actually working in a greengrocers, petshop, leisure centre etc.).
  3. chriszwinter1

    chriszwinter1 New commenter

    <font size="3">I remember reading in an issue of German Teaching from 1993 a contribution which included the
    following: eventually students &ldquo;learn that I can&rsquo;t do the learning for them,
    that it would be a lot easier now if they&rsquo;d internalised the correct forms in
    the first place &hellip;. even if means doing some hard, regular swotting&rdquo;. I still have a scanned copy of the relevant
    page and put it on the whiteboard for my students now. </font>

    <font face="Arial">The problem is, as we have all stated on other forums, that
    too many students are encouraged to believe there are short-cuts or
    alternatives to that swotting. As far as
    I&rsquo;m concerned, there aren&rsquo;t.</font>
  4. jubilee

    jubilee Star commenter

    Learning vocabulary requires time and concentration. How many of our pupils are suitable candidates for that sort of activity?
  5. Yes, Martin, and using the words in a real-life situation for a purpose a.s.a.p. is the best solution. I struggled to embed unmemorable words in Hungarian in my head when I was learning the language in the 1990s, but some are fixed for ever. On my walk from my lodgings to the college where I taught in Szombathely I passed several shops and businesses. I always read the signs above the shops and businesses as I passed by. Now I cannot forget the words for greengrocer, doctor, dentist and haberdasher's (yes!) and, of course, pub and wine bar. And I can still remember clearly most of the names of the food and drinks that I needed in order to live.
    Can this be simulated in class? Some of the early computer programs that were produced in the 1980s, e.g. Granville and Siville, tried to do this - as did the Oscar Lake series and A la rencontre de Philippe in the 1990s. We don't see many simulations these days. I always found them very effective.
  6. Herringthecat

    Herringthecat New commenter

    What's the feeling, then, about using franglais or equivalent in class, so the kids are getting lots of repetition and hearing some stuff very frequently, and needing to use it? Eg mettez vos stylos sur la table / on va faire l'appel / ca sonne, les filles peuvent partir / trouvez vos cahiers - or that sort of thing?

    Of course this doesn't address vocab acquisition when it's more abstract (in a classroom sense), but it should mean that everyone picks up the basic classroom vocab - or should it? Am I being naive? Not teaching yet!
  7. I have looked at the MYLO "simulations". They are very poor compared to the simulations of yesteryear, which were much more imaginative, even though they were created for hardware that was much less sophisticated that what we have today - and some time before the Web became widely available. Actually, I wouldn't even call them "simulations". I think MYLO refers to them as "challenges". I tried a couple of challenges in Spanish and was able to complete them successfully even though I have never studied Spanish - I have just picked up a bit while on holiday.
    Graham Davies
  8. chriszwinter1

    chriszwinter1 New commenter

    Very few, because they've been encouraged to believe the big lie that interesting lessons with captivating activities that will enthuse the learners are their entitlement and that if they don't learn from those lessons they can blame the teacher. Since the arrival of league tables, schools have not been about giving children the opportunity and the tools they need, but have been about how well schools can increase results. Achievement and attainment have nothing to do with results.
    We have people on A level courses who cannot write a correct sentence for themselves despite having a grade A or A* at GCSE. Playing games on interactive whiteboards is not teaching; it is occupying them and even entertaining them. It leads to a dependancy and an assumption that anything else is boring.
    The very few who are suitable candidates for the time and concentration reap the benefits. The ones who don't cannot understand how someone can grasp something they can't. They are then allowed to rely on scripts - written by the teacher - and memorising. I was asked the other day why there are at least three words in German for actor/actress (Schauspieler/in, Darsteller/in, Akteur/Aktrice), and "Do I have to know all three?" This is a direct result of dumbing down to the lowest common demoninator. When I expressed my disbelief at being asked this, I was told, "It's all right for you. You know those words.", to which I replied, "Yes, that's because someone else learned them for me." Give me strength!!
    Rant over.
  9. Good rant, Siegen81to82! I have to agree with most of what you say.
    I remember a short translation test being used by Derek McCulloch, University of Surrey, to grade his annual intake of students, all of whom had A and B A-levels in German. Most of his students failed to produce most of the translations correctly in German. He found that:
    &bull; Only 8 out of 40 students tested could say correctly in German: &ldquo;Please close the window&rdquo;.
    &bull; Even fewer could say correctly in German: &ldquo;I like drinking strong coffee&rdquo;.
    &bull; Only 2 out of 40 could write correctly in German: &ldquo;The train she came on was late&rdquo;.
    &bull; Many students did not know these nouns: cigar, song, wine, beer, bottle, girlfriend, interest, blind man, brother. And many could not form the plural of book, coin, guest and city.
    &bull; Many students could not produce the correct cases with nouns or pronouns used in combination with the verbs to help, to give and to succeed.
    &bull; Few could produce sentences beginning with when and if correctly in German, and many did not know how to translate when and if correctly anyway (both of which vary according to context).
    &bull; Hardly anyone could produce the correct form of &ldquo;a German&rdquo; (i.e. a German person).

    I have a copy of the test. I'll copy it into an separate posting.
    Graham Davies
  10. Here is Derek McCulloch&rsquo;s test (I have the recommended answers too):
    1. Please close the window.
    2. I like drinking strong coffee.
    3. The train she came on was late.
    4. My father was an excellent teacher. He could speak German and Russian.
    5. I don't like Austrian coffee; I prefer English tea.
    6. Do you know my elder brother? He had to go to the dentist yesterday.
    7 [Pupil to teacher] Ask her if her father helped her.
    8. The dictionary I was given did not help me much.
    9. Three Germans used to live in this village when I was young.
    10. [Teacher to young pupils] Children, stop talking, we are going into the church now!
    11. My friend was bitten by her father's dog.
    12. Did you give the Frenchman our address? He wants it before he goes home.
    13. Is his wife a German? I don't believe him!
    14. Because of the bad weather I stayed at home.
    15. [Teenager to a group of friends] Do you know if they are married?
    Graham Davies
  11. Thanks. Well -my passion was always French and my degree French . I didn't really take to German but I did A level German in 1977 because I had to (got an A!) - and ended up teaching it in my secondary school because there was nobody else to do it. I got all 15 correct -despite not being a German specialist or being au courant with German any more ( I am currently trying to tout myself as a French-speaking Moodle trainer[​IMG] ) I think that says a lot, not just about the standard of A level forty or more years ago but also of the standards today... hmm..
  12. chriszwinter1

    chriszwinter1 New commenter

    That test is wonderful in that it highlights all the grammatical challenges or traps (depending on your point of view) that German poses. I remember seeing this kind of exercise in the short-lived 16+ exams of the mid 1980s before GCSE swept them away in 1988. On one such paper, I think specimen French, the first sentence to be translated into French was The English have been crossing the Channel for hundreds of years. It's not quite up there with Whitmarsh's We don't sell shrimps on Mondays, but you get the idea.
    I've just bought copies of the book, In your own words: German, by Stan Gregory, from Amazon's marketplace, simply to teach what used to be in the AEB's O level Use of German paper, but to AS students.
    I asked a student of subjects other than languages the other day how he learned the key terms for his other subjects. He told me that he has to write them down over and over again and cover them up and test himself. So, there's no alternative to good, hard, regular old-fashioned swotting.
  13. chriszwinter1

    chriszwinter1 New commenter

    I also remember the words of my deputy head, a classics teacher, when I was a probationary teacher. He was of the opinion that, no matter how good people are at languages, they cannot be considered to be linguists unless they have respect for language. I have yet to find a better definition.
  14. An advantage of using a test like this (it is clearly full of challenges and traps) is that Google Translate makes quite a mess of it - and it would therefore be easy to spot that the work had not been done by a student trying to make the task easier. I have recently written a blog posting about Google Translate - a digest of the discussions that have recently taken place in this forum and others:
    Google Translate: friend or foe?
    Graham Davies
  15. I think I meant to say, "and it would therefore be easy to spot that the work had been done by a student trying to make the task easier".
    Graham Davies
  16. chriszwinter1

    chriszwinter1 New commenter

    I'm reminded of the story I was told 30 years ago of machine translation, where the computer was asked to translate "out of sight, out of mind" from English into Russian and then back into English. The result was "invisible idiot".
    This brings up the pitfalls of dictionaries. In the days when students could use them in exams, many of those students thought it they no longer had to learn vocabulary (which may be at the root of today's problems). My own favourite from about 10 years a go was a student who wrote, "Wir sind Kn&uuml;ppel gegangen." I think she meant, "in die Disko".
  17. I mention this story in my Translation bloopers document under the heading "Some apocryphal stuff" at
    Actually, the mistakes made by human beings are much funnier than those made by computers - as you will see if you read the document!
    Graham Davies

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