Colour of Words

Colour of Words: Part 1: why common words

Vocabulary development seems to exist in the hinterland of EFL teaching and training. Most elements of teacher training focus on the ‘how to learn’ aspect. The ‘which words to learn’ aspect is usually left out of the equation, despite significant research and developments over that last 80 years. With the arrival of the Internet, corpora analysis and lexical frequency profiling is at the fingertips of every teacher (and student) but most remain unaware of the tools and the principles of approaches such as data-driven learning.

Colour of Words: Part 2: lists vs dictionaries

We’ve looked at how we can find and identify the commonly used words in English, and why these words are essential to know. But, why use word lists? Why can’t we just use a dictionary? Well, there is an important difference between a word list and a dictionary.

Colour of Words: Part 3: the context paradox

Most teachers have been indoctrinated to believe that the only way to teach vocabulary is in context. The trouble with that argument is that you need to know the context before you can learn from it…i.e. you need to know quite a few words before you can learn more words. Researchers in applied linguistics have shown that the reader needs to know at least 9 out of 10 words to have a reasonable chance at guessing the unknown word. More recent research suggests that the readers needs to know at least 19 out or 20 words in a text for that text to be usable for instruction.

Colour of Words: Part 4: vocabulary explosion

How does knowing that words have ‘colour’ according to their frequency help teach a language? Just because there are common words, does it mean that these are essential? In fact, isn’t it a case for just the opposite? Shouldn’t we rather teach students the really difficult and unusual words instead? After all, the students will just automatically learn the common words, won’t they? There is no need to focus on these words…everyone knows them, don’t they? Well…let’s just take a look at how important these ‘common’ words are to children when they learn their native language.

Colour of Words: Part 5: fast mapping

The fact that words have colour can help us understand some of the mechanisms behind vocabulary acquisition. Fast mapping is one mechanism that contributes to the vocabulary explosion—based purely on the mathematical model.

Colour of Words: Part 6: Beyond Black & White

Looking at texts to see the colour of words needs some training. How can we look at lexis in a different light? How can we go beyond the printed page – the two-dimensional black and white world of words.

Colour of Words: Part 7: Vocabulary Profiling

So, let’s take a look at some simple tools teachers can use to see the colour of words, and how they can use this information to help inject a lexical element into their lessons. The first of these we’ll look at is vocabulary profiling.

Colour of Words: Part 8: Keywords and Concordances

Let’s take a look at some other simple tools teachers can use to shed new light on the lexical elements of texts. We’ll explore two other text analysis tools—’keyness’ (keyword extractor) and concordances.

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