Vocabulary in English

     Learning English vocabulary is an extremely important piece in the English language puzzle.  It is the basic building block for communicating information and describing things. 

    There are only about two thousand English words that account for ninety percent of all the entire spoken English language.  This means that all you need to do is learn them and you will understand the majority of what's being said to you.

     It may sound like a tall order to learn a couple of thousand new English words but if you are a Native English speaker your job won't be as difficult as you might think.  As English is derived from a dialect of spoken Latin and over sixty percent of regular English words and ninety percent of technology or science words have Latin roots the two languages have thousands of cognates.  Cognates are words that sound the same and mean the same thing.  This means that if you are a native English speaker and you want to learn English, you already know more English vocabulary than a five-year-old in the United States!

     In this article, we are going to discuss some successful vocabulary teaching methods, types of nouns and how they are used, and activities that you can use with your students to get them to practice and remember vocabulary.

English Vocabulary Teaching Methods

     This section will focus on three main methods of teaching English vocabulary.  None of these methods are meant to be the holy grail of teaching.  The methods are meant to be used at different times as parts of a teaching strategy.  Teachers need to blend visual, interactive, and creative activities together in order to help their students learn and retain new vocabulary.  

     The old saying, "A picture is worth a thousand words," hardly needs mentioning when it comes to teaching vocabulary.  People learn faster and retain information longer when they use their senses to acquire new information.  Using visual aids helps your students to make connections in their brains that foster long-term memory storage.

     The best way to incorporate visuals is to say a word first such as "cat".  Then show a picture of a cat, preferably on a large flashcard.  Repeat the word while pointing to the picture.  Continue to do so until your students repeat it back correctly.  Once they have the spoken word connected to the picture write the word "cat" on the board so they can make the written connection to the word as well.  

     Now it's time to give your students some real-life connections to the word "cat".  Point at the picture and ask what sound the cat makes.  After the "meows" have subsided take things a bit farther in order to make "cat" memorable.  Ask what cats have that could be hurtful while miming an air claw.  Make a scratching sound as you scrape your forearm and say "Ouch!".  Ask what cats like to chase.  Then screech out, "Ikes!  mice!"  Then ask your students, "Who likes mice?"  Most of your students will not like rodents so it is safe to say that you can agree with them and move on to the next word.

Animals Spanish Legal Size Photo Card Ga

Animals Legal Size Photo English Flash Cards or Game

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     The final vocabulary method that we will explore here is called immersion.  The immersion method of instruction forces students to use the language.  This means that no native language is allowed in the classroom.  From the moment students pass through the doorway they must begin to speak in the new target language.

     While this may not be so difficult for shy students to pull off it can be especially hard for gregarious pupils and eager teachers.  How many times can a teacher interfere with students' conversations, "English, please,” “English!" before it takes over the whole class?  

     My point is that immersion should be done as much as possible.  As a teacher, try to set an example.  As tempting as it is for bilingual teachers to take a short cut by translating new vocabulary, it is always best to find another way to convey its meaning in the target language.

Crime and Law Enforcement Conversation W

Crime, Law Enforcement, and Courts English Conversation Worksheet

Camping Things and Activities Legal Size

Camping Things and Activities English Legal Size Board Game

  Another way to help students remember new vocabulary is to allow them to interact with the words through socializing.  Set up situations that foster social exchanges with games, songs, and role-plays.  Save some time for guided conversation after your class has read a story with new vocabulary words. 

     Get your students to practice the target language as soon as possible after they have been introduced to it.  Be creative with your activities in order to keep students' interest.  Be sure to guide your students with their pronunciation and monitor their usage.  This will help to foster meaningful connections in their brains that will strengthen their ability to recall the vocabulary in the future.

     Also, be sure to provide opportunities for your students to be creative with the new words they are learning.  Have students write stories, poems, or even puppet scripts.  Students can make their own games or turn their vocabulary into a scrapbook with photos.  When students use their own ideas to make a place for the new words to be stored i their memories they are far more likely to remember them.

Types of English Nouns

     So, what is a noun?  A noun is a word that represents something such as a person, place, thing, animal, idea, or quality.  Nouns are usually used as a subject or an object of a verb or preposition in a sentence.

     There are many types of English nouns such as proper vs common, concrete vs abstract, and individual vs collective.  We are going to take a look at each of these by comparing them to their opposites.

    The first types of nouns we will go over are common and proper nouns.  A common noun is a general thing and a proper noun is the name of something specific.  So why does the difference matter?

     It matters a lot in English.  In English, you have to capitalize most proper nouns whereas there are only a couple of types of proper nouns that need capitalization in English.  Thus, it may take a while for native English speakers to catch on. 

     Most things such as days, months, nationalities, languages, and religions don't get capitalized in English.  There are a couple of cases where English does use the capitalization of nouns.  When we write out the title of a book or movie, for example, only the first word is capitalized.  Also, proper nouns such as Mount Rushmore only receive capitalization of the actual name, ie, montaña Rushmore.

     The simplest way to tell if a noun is abstract or concrete is to use the five senses.  If you can touch, taste, see, hear, or smell something it is a concrete noun.  If you cannot use one of your senses to describe it, then it is an abstract noun.

     Concrete nouns are things like car, dog, or popsicle whereas abstract nouns are things like love, friendship, or happiness.  Even though you may think that you can feel love, you can't actually hear it, taste it, see it, smell it or touch it.  People who are "in love" may swear they can reach out and touch it like it is a tangible thing, but they can't.  If you are in love, I hate to burst your bubble, but it's just not physically possible.

Greetings, Good Byes and Responses Tic-T

Greetings and Good-byes English Tic-Tac-Toe or Bingo Card Game

Airports and Hotels Animated Board Game-

Airports and Hotels Animated English Board Game

     Now, we can look at a couple of more noun types, animate and inanimate.  These two types of nouns are fairly easy and straight forward for adults but the lines can be very blurry for imaginative children.

Simply put, animate nouns are things that are alive such as people, plants, and animals.  

     With the advent of television and animated films the line between animate and inanimate is often blurred.  Toys, cars, and even pencils come to life.  Adults know that these supernatural events are nothing but fantasy but they can be as real to children as Santa Clause and the Tooth Fairy.  

     So, if you are teaching the difference between animate and inanimate nouns to small children, try not to rock their worlds too badly.  Give them the information that they need but when they ask, "What about Sponge Bob?  Is he alive?"  It is ok to humor them and say yes.

     Finally, it's time to go over the difference between individual and collective nouns.  Individual nouns are not necessarily singular nouns or countable nouns but they refer to a single entity such as a person, thing, or animal.  Likewise, collective nouns are not necessarily plural nouns or uncountable nouns but they refer to a group composed of multiple entities such as people, things, or animals.  There are both singular and plural collective nouns and collective nouns that are uncountable.

​     Last, let's talk about cognates and false cognates.  A cognate is a word that has a similar sound, meaning, and spelling in more than one language.  Native Spanish speakers who are learning English are fortunate because there are thousands of cognates between the two languages.  This means that around forty percent of the English vocabulary your students will need to learn shares a cognate in Spanish.  This is extremely helpful for students when it comes to learning the target language.  Students are always pleasantly surprised when they realize they already know a lot of English vocabulary.

     Just caution students about the many false cognates between the languages.  There are some words that appear to be cognates that actually have very different meanings.  Take the English word "exit" which would appear to have the English cognate " éxito ".  In actuality, their meanings are very different.  Exit means a way to leave while éxito means success.

Daily Activities Legal Size Photo Tic-Ta

Daily Activities English Tic-Tac-Toe or Bingo Card Game

English Vocabulary Activities

     The last item that we will address is what kind of classroom activities are useful for teaching vocabulary to second language learners.  Although there are many, many ways to get your students to remember new vocabulary my favorites are using flashcards, music, and role-play activities.

     Flashcards have been used to teach vocabulary for decades because they work!  Flashcards can display pictures, photos, and written words.  As we discussed earlier in this article, pictures can be one of the most effective ways to get your students to connect with new words.

     I love to use good ole' fashioned physical flashcards but you don't have to.  There are plenty of free tablet or smartphone apps that can create flashcards for you.  There are, however, methods that you can use to present the flashcards to your class.  My favorite method is called the Space Repetition System (SRS).

     There are fantastic apps that use the SRS system.  The system randomly shows flashcards on a screen.  Each time students get the correct meaning of a card, the card will be displayed again at varying intervals such as in ten minutes, a day, four days, a week, a month, a few months, and then a year.  If students get the meaning wrong then the card will be displayed as often as necessary until they get the correct meaning.

     The cards are shown at varying intervals because strong memories are formed by forcing students to recall words just before they were about to forget them.  Using this system can help students to learn new vocabulary while managing their memories of vocabulary used in the past.  

     Using an app is not always practical or possible so it is a good idea to have a nice stack of physical flashcards to use when you need to introduce new vocabulary to your class.  You can, of course, practice the new vocabulary by using the SRS method with physical cards you'll just have to be careful to place the card strategically back into the pile when your students don't get the vocabulary right the first time.

Animals Spanish Legal Size Photo Card Ga

Animals English Flash or Game Cards

Musical Instruments Legal Size Photo Boa

Musical Instruments English Legal Size Photo Board Game

     Listening to music is a fun, relaxing, and interesting way to learn new vocabulary.  Now that free lyrics are readily available on the internet, learning the words to a song is a cinch.  Simply google the song's name with the words "free lyrics" at the end and you are literally ready to rock and roll with your students!

     Listening to English music is a fun way to immerse your students in the new vocabulary.  It is also a great way to get English into their daily routine because it's easily accessible, offers plenty of vocabulary about normal life situations, and they can listen to it both actively and passively.  

     Sign up for a good streaming music service like Spotify and put your songs into an English playlist.  Now, instruct your students to listen to the songs while they read the lyrics.  Have them circle any words they don't know.  When the song is over, you can help your students to understand the new vocabulary.  Now, have them listen again while keeping the newly acquired definitions in mind.

     The final thing that you can do with your students is head to YouTube and find the Karaoke version of the songs if they are available.  Now it's their turn.  Crank up the tunes and get your students to sing along!  Practicing out loud can increase their confidence, improve their pronunciation, and fluency not to mention their mood.

     The last activity we will go over in this article is a role play.  Role-plays are the next best thing to being in an English-speaking country.  Acting out situations in a controlled manner can help students prepare for real-world situations.

     There are many free role-play activities online but you can also make up your own.  All you need to do is come up with a scenario like going to the bank.  Then prepare an outline about what a typical conversation would entail.  Include things like possible greetings, offers to help with modal verbs, and question words.  List some useful vocabulary and be sure to include formal and informal examples or phrases. 

     If you are working with pairs, give your students plenty of time to practice the conversation with their partners.  When they are finished you can have students perform their role-plays in front of the class.  Feel free to bail out students who get stuck on a new vocabulary word that they can't recall.  Even better, have the rest of the class help the performing pair when they run into difficulties.

     You can even set up the classroom to be a temporary location like a bank.  Assign roles to students like tellers, customers, a manager, and a guard.  Give transaction cards to different customer students and different outcomes to tellers.  Give scenarios to the manager like announcing that the system went down.  Watch as your students groan and act like they were actually at a bank.  Don't forget to give scenarios to the guard too.  Guards can add a lot of comic relief.  Get them to tell a customer that the bathrooms are closed or escort an irate customer from the bank after the system goes down.  The possibilities are endless!

     The main point to role plays is to put your students in situations that mimic real life.  Everyday conversations don't usually take place in a bubble where only the participants can hear what's being said.  So why not make your role-plays seem as close to "real-life" situations as possible? 

Quantifiers Conversation Comic Presentat

Quantifiers English Conversation Comic Presentation


     Now that we've taken a good look at vocabulary teaching methods, types of nouns and how they are used, and activities that you can use with your students to get them to practice and remember vocabulary, what's next?  Getting your teaching toolbox together and experimenting with your groups.  As I have said before, no two students are exactly the same much less two groups of them, so keep a lot of activities at your disposal and learn to quickly adapt your plans to your students' interests.

Reference Links

Beach Things and Activities Spanish Lega


Computer Technology Spanish Conversation


Clothing Items Spanish Crossword Puzzle.


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