Teaching Vocabulary to ELL Students

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  • 0:04 Vocabulary for ELL
  • 0:32 Learning a Language
  • 2:40 Strategies
  • 4:25 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Stefani Boutelier

Stefani has a PhD in Education and is a life long learner.

Using a translator or carrying a translating device is not realistic when learning English as a second language. In this lesson, you'll learn how to strategically teach vocabulary to English language learners.

Vocabulary for ELL

Can you imagine English Language Learners (ELLs) walking around using smart phones to help them learn English or constantly translate? What about someone walking around with an English dictionary? This would be frustrating, awkward, and a waste of time. Learning a second language becomes more challenging as you get older. Research says after you turn nine your brain has to work harder to learn another language and you most likely won't sound anything like a native speaker.

Learning a Language

Vocabulary is the basis to understanding how to read, write, speak, and listen in any language. Natural acquisition is how we all learn our first language. However, depending on age and circumstance, purposeful teaching of vocabulary is necessary for one to master a second language. Just because someone can read a passage out loud in a second language, doesn't mean he or she can actually understand the passage. This happens frequently in similar language families, such as the Indo-European language family, which includes English, Spanish, German, and Hindi. After learning some letter sounds, reading another language may be simple, but teaching vocabulary is what is needed to become fluent.

High frequency and repetitiveness of English vocabulary through direct instruction is not successful on its own. Saying the word apple multiple times doesn't guarantee retention for the learner if there is nothing supporting it. Simple vocabulary words, particularly many nouns, can be supported with images, actions, or items. Having an image of an apple or even better, using realia, which is a real-world object used as a teaching aid, such as an actual apple in this case, is even more effective.

Some vocabulary, such as ''academic'' (like apply, consider, organize) and ''content area'' (like math terminology, science phrases vocabulary), must be strategically taught and learned. These words will not naturally or frequently occur outside of the classroom. Students need to be taught the definition and spelling. They need to hear it spoken alone and in context, then repeat it. This strategy will need to be used frequently for academic and content area vocabulary to be understood.

If a student's primary language and English have cognates, or words that are similar in spelling and definition (such as vocabulary/vocabulario), then a student may have a slight advantage when learning a second language. However, this doesn't always work. There are plenty of false cognates in all languages. For example, if you bet el billón in Spanish, you are actual wagering a trillion dollars!

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