Learning new vocabulary through context clues is a strategy that is often recommended. But this is difficult for English as a second language learners because they often do not know enough vocabulary in English, so they miss the clues. While fluent English speakers understand a written English vocabulary of 10,000–100,000 words, most foreign students know only 2,000–7,000 English words prior to beginning to study at a university. For a reader to guess the meaning of new words using the context, he must know more than 98% of the words in the selected passage.
There are two levels of knowing a word: word recognition from the context is first level. To really know a word means knowing its “pronunciation, spelling, morphological and syntactic properties, and multiple meanings; the contexts in which the word can be used; the frequency with which it is used; and its collocates, or how it combines with other words.” according to Miriam Burt, Joy Kreeft Peyton, and Carol Van Duzer, Center for Adult English Language Acquisition.
They have the following suggestions for teaching English language learners:
- Read passages that are only slightly above what you can read independently.
- Learn high-frequency words first.
- Provide learners with multiple exposures to specific words in multiple contexts. [This is what Denilso does with presenting multiple meanings of words to our blog readers].
- Study lists of words and flashcards frequently.
- Avoid learning synonyms, antonyms, or words in the same semantic set together.
- Use both monolingual and bilingual dictionaries.
- Test yourself by matching words to definitions or multiplechoice exercises periodically to see your progress in receptive vocabulary [word recognition].
- Write sentences with the specific words and grammatical forms you have learned.