Should students leave their dictionaries at home?
Encouraging students to guess the meaning of unfamiliar vocabulary is a widely used strategy in Communicative Language Teaching. However, a recent study by Nassaji (2012) suggests that inferring meaning from context is at times an impervious task: on average, students were found to successfully guess only 25% of unfamiliar words. This raises important questions about how we should deal with vocabulary in the classroom. Are we expecting too much from our students? Nassaji argues that teachers should spend more time identifying, defining and explaining vocabulary rather than encouraging students to infer the meanings of new words through context.
- Do you use lexical inferencing in your teaching? Do you think it’s effective?
- Do you spend much classroom time teaching vocabulary explicitly? What sort of activities do you do?
- Hirsh and Nation (1992) suggest that in order to successfully infer meaning, students must be familiar with around 98% of the surrounding vocabulary. What implications does this have for the classroom?
- While Nassaji questions the validity of inference for new words, he recognises the importance of context for reinforcing vocabulary by making sure that learners encounter the same words in new contexts. How could you do this with your students?
Hirsh, D. & Nation, P. (1992). What vocabulary size is needed to read unsimplified texts for pleasure? Reading in a Foreign Language, 8, 689-696.