How to Learn Vocabulary

Some linguists say that learning more vocabulary and expressions rather than grammar makes it easier to convey your ideas. “If you spend most of your time studying grammar, your English will not improve very much. If you learn more words and expressions, it is easier to see the most improvement,” says Dellar H, a linguist.

Learning vocabulary is said to be important by scientists. But beyond that, they say that acquiring that word is even more important. The first words children learn in their own language are learned by categorising. For example, when a child hears the word “cat,” they form a concept in their mind: “cat.” But not all four-legged animals are cats. Therefore, with concepts like “people’s cat” or “toy cat,” the child learns to categorise words.

As a result, a child begins to realize that “orange” belongs to the “fruit” category and “cat” belongs to the “animal” category. Thus, they begin to understand that other words like “dog,” “giraffe,” “kangaroo,” and “insect” also fall under the “animal” category.

Another method applied by second language learners, compared to native speakers, is encoding. They need to understand not only the words in their native language but also the words in the second language (L2). For example, when a Turkish-speaking student learns the word “chair” in English, they most likely learn the equivalent in their own language (“sandalye”). The native language takes on the task of making this connection.

However, it’s worth listening to Christopher Isherwood’s advice: He says (as a teacher):

“When I began giving English lessons, I would try to convey to my German pupils something of my own mystique about the German language. ‘A table does not mean “ein tisch” – when you are learning a new word, you must never say to yourself it means. That’s altogether the wrong approach. What you must tell yourself is: Over there in England, they have a thing called a table. We may go to England and look at it and say ‘that’s our Tisch.’ But it isn’t. The resemblance is only on the surface. The two things are essentially different because they have been taught about differently by two nations with two different cultures. Germans would have to think about it as “ein Tisch” when we bring it here for quite a long while, first.”

In other words, according to Isherwood, “table” and “tisch” are not synonymous. Similarly, we use “watch” and “clock” in English to mean “saat” in Turkish. When we say “saate bak,” we think of both wall and wristwatches. In German, the word “uhr” means both “watch” and “clock.” Additionally, the word “apartment” in English is equivalent to “bina/apartman” in Turkish, while in Polish, it’s used as “hotel suite.” Therefore, for a good second language learner, many words in the second language (L2) are acquaintances, but they won’t be as familiar as those in their native language. Learning a second language is similar to moving to a new city. It takes time for people to get to know each other and form friendships. (Scott Thornbury / How to teach Vocabulary)


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