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LEARNING VOCABULARY IN EFL CONTEXTS THROUGH VOCABULARY LEARNING STRATEGIES

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Vocabulary learning is one of the major challenges foreign language learners face during the process of learning a language. One way to alley the burden is to assist students in becoming independent learners during the process of L2 vocabulary learning. This could be achieved through instructing learners to apply vocabulary learning strategies as efficiently as possible. The main pursuit of the present article is to suggest a framework for training EFL learners in vocabulary learning strategies. In so doing, an account of different taxonomies of vocabulary learning strategies and a rationale for strategy training are presented.
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Novitas-ROYAL, Vol.: 1(2), pp.84-91.
ISSN: 1307-4733


LEARNING VOCABULARY IN EFL CONTEXTS THROUGH VOCABULARY
LEARNING STRATEGIES
?
Lotfi Ghazal
Abstract: Vocabulary learning is one of the major challenges foreign language learners face during the process
of learning a language. One way to alley the burden is to assist students in becoming independent learners during
the process of L2 vocabulary learning. This could be achieved through instructing learners to apply vocabulary
learning strategies as efficiently as possible. The main pursuit of the present article is to suggest a framework for
training EFL learners in vocabulary learning strategies. In so doing, an account of different taxonomies of
vocabulary learning strategies and a rationale for strategy training are presented.

Keywords: vocabulary, learning, strategy, style, training, independent learning
Özet: Yabanc? dil ö?renirken, ö?rencilerin kar??la?t??? en büyük zorluklardan bir tanesi de kelime ö?renmektir.
Bu zorlu?u a?abilme yöntemlerinden biri, ö?rencileri dil ö?renme sürecinde ba??ms?z k?labilmektir. Bu da ancak
ö?rencilere kelime ö?renme stratejilerini en etkin biçimde nas?l kullanabileceklerini ö?retme ile mümkündür. Bu
çal??man?n amac?, ?ngilizceyi yabanc? dil olarak ö?renen ö?rencilere yönelik, kelime ö?renme stratejileri
e?itiminin genel bir çerçevesini çizmektir. Ayr?ca, kelime ö?renme stratejilerine ait farkl? s?n?fland?rmalar ve
strateji e?itiminin gereklili?ine dair sebepler sunulacakt?r.

Anahtar Sözcükler: kelime, ö?renme, strateji, stil, e?itim, ba??ms?z ö?renme
1. INTRODUCTION

Vocabulary is central to language and is of great significance to language learners. Words are
the building blocks of a language since they label objects, actions, ideas without which people
cannot convey the intended meaning. The prominent role of vocabulary knowledge in second
or foreign language learning has been recently recognized by theorists and researchers in the
field. Accordingly, numerous types of approaches, techniques, exercises and practice have
been introduced into the field to teach vocabulary (Hatch & Brown, 1995). It has been
suggested that teaching vocabulary should not only consist of teaching specific words but also
aim at equipping learners with strategies necessary to expand their vocabulary knowledge
(Hulstjin, 1993, cited in Morin & Goebel, 2001).

Vocabulary learning strategies are one part of language learning strategies which in turn are
part of general learning strategies (Nation, 2001). Language learning strategies encourage
greater overall self-direction for learners. Self-directed learners are independent learners who
are capable of assuming responsibility for their own learning and gradually gaining
confidence, involvement and proficiency (Oxford, 1990). So is the case with vocabulary
learning strategies. Thus, students need training in vocabulary learning strategies they need
most. Research has shown that many learners do use more strategies to learn vocabulary
especially when compared to such integrated tasks such as listening and speaking. But they
are mostly inclined to use basic vocabulary learning strategies (Schmitt, 1997). This in turn
makes strategy instruction an essential part of any foreign or second language program.


? Islamic Azad University, ghazallot@yahoo.com/ Ghazal.lotfi@gmail.com
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ISSN: 1307-4733

Hence, based on the significance attributed to vocabulary learning strategies in the process of
vocabulary learning and enhancement, the present paper aims at proposing a framework for
vocabulary strategy instruction in English as a foreign language!)EFL) contexts. To this end,
a brief account of various taxonomies of vocabulary learning strategies and a rationale for
training students in vocabulary learning strategies are initially presented. Then, some required
considerations to be taken before initiating the strategy training as well as the techniques for
training EFL students in vocabulary learning strategies are presented. Finally, some
pedagogical implications are proposed for EFL teachers.

2. TAXONOMIES OF VOCABULARY LEARNING STRATEGIES

Word knowledge is an essential component of communicative competence (Seal, 1991), and
it is important for both production and comprehension in a foreign language. Knowing a word
involves knowing:
• a great deal about its general frequency of use, syntactic and situational limitations on
its use,
• its underlying form and the forms that can be derived from it,
• the network of its semantic features and,
• the various meanings associated with the item.
(Richards, 1976)
Knowing a word is also defined as knowing its spelling, pronunciation, collocations (i.e.
words it co-occurs with), and appropriateness (Nation, 1990). Therefore, lexical competence
is far more than the ability to define a given number of words and covers a wide range of
knowledge which in turn requires a variety of strategies to gain the knowledge. Foreign
language learners may then use various strategies to acquire the target language word
knowledge. Taking this into consideration, second and foreign language researchers have
made various attempts to classify vocabulary learning strategies employed by foreign and
second language learners (F&SLL). Instances of such classifications are the taxonomies
proposed by Gu and Johnson (1996), Schmitt (1997) and Nation (2001) which are briefly
discussed below.
Gu and Johnson (1996) list second language (L2) vocabulary learning strategies as
metacognitive, cognitive, memory and activation strategies. Metacognitive strategies consist
of selective attention and self-initiation strategies. F&SLLs who employ selective attention
strategies know which words are important for them to learn and are essential for adequate
comprehension of a passage. Learners employing self-initiation strategies use a variety of
means to make the meaning of vocabulary items clear. Cognitive strategies in Gu and
Johnson’s taxonomy entail guessing strategies, skillful use of dictionaries and note-taking
strategies. Learners using guessing strategies draw upon their background knowledge and use
linguistic clues like grammatical structures of a sentence to guess the meaning of a word.
Memory strategies are classified into rehearsal and encoding categories. Word lists and
repetition are instances of rehearsal strategies. Encoding strategies encompass such strategies
as association, imagery, visual, auditory, semantic, and contextual encoding as well as word-
structure (i.e., analyzing a word in terms of prefixes, stems, and suffixes). Activation
strategies include those strategies through which the learners actually use new words in
different contexts. For instance, learners may set sentences using the words they have just
learned. All these suggested strategies can be summarized in a table as follows:

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ISSN: 1307-4733

Strategies
Metacognative Cognative
Memory
Activation
* Selective Attention: * Guessing:
* Rehearsal:
* Using new words
Identifying essential
Activating
Word lists,
in different contexts
words for
background
repetition, etc.
comprehension knowledge, using
linguistic items


* Self-initiation:
* Use of dictionaries * Encoding:
Using a variety of
Association
means to make the
* Note-taking
(imagery, visual,
meaning of words
auditory, etc.)
clear
A comprehensive inventory of vocabulary learning strategies is developed by Schmitt (1997).
He distinguishes the strategies into two groups: The ones to determine the meaning of new
words when encountered for the first time, and the ones to consolidate meaning when
encountered again. The former contains determination and social strategies and the latter
contains cognitive, metacognitive, memory and social strategies. Schmitt includes social
strategies in both categories since they can be used for both purposes. To Schmitt,
determination strategies are used when “learners are faced with discovering a new word’s
meaning without recourse to another person’s experience” (p. 205). Hence, learners try to
discover the meaning of a new word by guessing it with the help of context, structural
knowledge of language, and reference materials. For Schmitt, the second way to discover a
new meaning is through employing the social strategies of asking someone for help with the
unknown words. Beside the initial discovery of a word, learners need to employ a variety of
strategies to practise and retain vocabulary. Learners thus, use a variety of social, memory,
cognitive and metacognitive strategies to consolidate their vocabulary knowledge.
Cooperative group learning through which learners study and practice the meaning of new
words in a group is an instance of social strategies for consolidating a word Memory
strategies, traditionally known as Mnemonics, involve relating the word with some previously
learned knowledge by using some form of imagery or grouping. Cognitive strategies in this
taxonomy are similar to memory strategies but are not focused on manipulative mental
processing. They include repetition and using mechanical means such as word lists, flash
cards, and vocabulary notebooks to study words. Finally, metacognitive strategies in
Schmitt’s taxonomy are defined as strategies used by learners to control and evaluate their
own learning, by having an overview of the learning process in general. Testing oneself is an
instance of metacognitive strategies which provides “input to the effectiveness of one’s choice
of learning strategies, providing positive reinforcement if progress is being made or a signal to
switch strategies if it is not” (Schmitt, p.216).
In a more recent attempt, Nation (2001) proposes taxonomy of various vocabulary learning
strategies. The strategies in the taxonomy are divided into three general classes of ‘planning’,
‘source’ and ‘processes’, each of which is divided into a subset of key strategies. The
taxonomy separates different aspects of vocabulary knowledge (i.e., what is involved in
knowing a word). The first category (i.e., planning) involves deciding on where, how and how
often to focus attention on the vocabulary item. The strategies in this category are choosing
words, choosing aspects of word knowledge and choosing strategies as well as planning
repetition. The second category in Nation’s taxonomy involves getting information about the
word. This information may include all the aspects involved in knowing a word. It can come
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from the word form itself, from the context, from a reference source like dictionaries or
glossaries and from analogies and connections with other languages. Process is the last
category in Nation’s (2001) taxonomy of vocabulary learning strategies. It includes
establishing word knowledge through noticing, retrieving and generating strategies.
To Nation, noticing involves seeing the word item to be learned. Strategies at this level
include putting the word in a vocabulary notebook or list; putting the word onto a word card
and orally and visually repeating the word. He argues that although these strategies are all of
recording type, they are useful steps resulting in deeper processing of words. Retrieval
involves recalling the items met before. It contains recalling knowledge in the same way it
was originally stored. Generating strategies include “attaching new aspects of knowledge to
what is known through instantiation (i.e., visualizing examples of words), word analysis,
semantic mapping and using scales and grids (Nation, 2001, p. 222). Generating strategies
include rule-driven generation, as well; such as, creating context, collocations and sentences
containing the new word. Besides, the mnemonic strategies and using the word in different
context through four skills are also defined as generating strategies.
In general, although the taxonomies cited above may slightly differ in terms of strategies they
categorize, they all provide a list of widely applicable vocabulary learning strategies. There
are many words on which teachers may not be able to spend time within the class time limits.
Thus, if students are equipped with a number of the strategies mentioned in the taxonomies,
they can deal with these words on their own and as a result have access to a large number of
target language words.
3. A RATIONALE FOR VOCABULARY LEARNING STRATEGY TRAINING
It has been suggested that one way to accelerate the learning of a second or a foreign language
is to teach learners how to learn more efficiently and effectively. To this end, teachers are
recommended to train their students in different learning strategies. Learning strategies
instruction can help “EFL learners become better learners. In addition, skill in using learning
strategies assists students in becoming independent, confident learners (Chamot, 1999, p.1).
Research has also demonstrated that there is a relationship between strategy use and success
in second or foreign language learning. For instance, Cohen and Aphek (1981, cited in
Chamot, 2001) taught students of Hebrew to remember vocabulary items by making paired
mnemonic associations and found that those who made associations remembered vocabulary
more effectively than those who did not.
In another attempt, Sanaoui (1995) carried out a study to demonstrate the relationship
between vocabulary strategies use and success in acquiring and retaining vocabulary
items. The study demonstrated that adult learners of L2 vocabulary were likely to fall into
two categories: Those who adopted a structured approach to their learning and those who did
not. Learners in the first group took control of their vocabulary learning. They did not merely
rely on what the language course provided them with. They used their own initiative in
regularly creating opportunities for vocabulary learning by listening to the radio, watching
movies, reading and using self-study. They kept systematic record of vocabulary they learned
by using vocabulary notebooks and lists. They reviewed what they had done several times a
week. However, the learners in the second group who followed unstructured approach relied
mainly on course material. If they made lists of vocabulary items, they did not review them
and they occasionally lost them. Sanaoui concluded that students who had a structured
learning approach were more successful in retaining the vocabulary items taught in their
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classrooms than learners who had an unstructured approach. The research suggests that
helping learners gain control over processes for managing their own lexis is an important task
in vocabulary learning and teaching in L2 classrooms.
Thus, going through the literature, one encounters empirical evidence that strategy use will
result in more effective vocabulary acquisition and recall among L2 learners. This, in turn
justifies why teachers should embark on strategy training. Moreover, the significance of
strategy training is pointed out even by scholars who believe that context is a major source of
vocabulary learning. These scholars have expressed their concern over how well students can
handle context on their own. Therefore, they have strongly emphasized the teaching of
specific learning strategies to students so that they can effectively learn from context (Coady,
1997).
4. SOME CONSIDERATIONS TO BE TAKEN PRIOR TO STRATEGY TRAINING

Before strategy training can be carried out, several issues need to be addressed: First, teachers
need to find out what strategies and in particular what combination of strategies should be
taught. Second, the learning strategies known and preferred by learners should be identified
and taken into account. Third, some learners may need to be convinced that strategy training
is to their own benefit (Ellis, 1994). Fourth, after deciding what strategies to give attention to,
teachers should decide how much time to spend on training the learners in strategy use, and
they should work out a syllabus for each strategy that covers the required knowledge and
provides enough independent practice (Nation, 2001). Fifth, when considering which
vocabulary learning strategies to recommend to students, teachers should notice not to take
strategies as inherently good. They should bear in mind that effectiveness depends on the
context in which strategies are used (Schmitt, 1997). The effectiveness with which learning
strategies can be both taught and used depends on such variables as “proficiency level, task,
language modality, background knowledge, context of learning, target language and learner
characteristics” (Chamot & Rubin, 1994). Finally, teachers should bear in mind that learners
need to understand the goal of each strategy and the conditions under which it works best.
Learners also need enough practice to feel confident and proficient in using strategies.
Therefore, teachers should provide ample time for strategy training (Nation, 2001). After
these issues are settled, teachers can adopt an appropriate framework for training students in
using vocabulary learning strategies. Below is an instance of such frameworks which seems to
fit the EFL context in Iran.

5.
A FRAMEWORK FOR VOCABULARY LEARNING STRATEGY TRAINING

Recommending a fixed framework for strategy training does not seem to be tenable as it was
already pointed out that a number of variables like learners’ proficiency level, language
modality, task, text, etc. have an impact on the effectiveness of strategies that can be taught
and used. Thus, what follows is a series of options which EFL teachers can have access to but
need to sequence in an appropriate way to best fit their classroom context.
Teachers should decide which strategies to give attention to and how much time they need to
spend on training. In order to catch a glimpse of the strategies learners need and the ones they
are currently using, students should be asked to draw up a list of strategies they employ to
learn English words in small groups. They report their lists to the class. The students and the
teacher can then, collaboratively construct a list of strategies the learners employ. After this
brainstorming session, the teacher can decide what strategies learners lack and need
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most. The teacher should model the strategy for the learners. Then the steps in the strategy
should be practiced separately. Learners are asked to apply the strategy in pairs while helping
each other. They report back on the application of the steps. The teacher monitors and
provides feedback on learners’ control of the strategies. She or he also systematically tests
learners on strategy use and gives them feedback. Learners report on the difficulty and
success in using the strategy outside classroom and they ask for teachers’ help and advice on
their use of strategy (Nation, 2001).
Learners should be given opportunities to examine the effectiveness of their vocabulary
coping strategies. For instance, in activities like guessing from context, teachers can see what
learners do (Porte, 1988), and learners can assess how effectively they can apply the inferring
strategies they were taught. Moreover, teachers should be cognizant of the interaction
between learners’ awareness of their own learning style and their ability to take charge of
their own learning. Teachers have two options at their disposal to foster this interaction: They
can provide learners with opportunities to do different vocabulary exercises. This will in turn
expose them to different strategies, and learners will discover which one feels right for them.
Teachers can provide learners with questionnaires to help them gain insight into what
strategies are more suitable for them. The questionnaire might include such questions as “Do I
learn vocabulary more easily doing speaking activities with my classmates?, Am I
comfortable with analyzing word parts?, Does it work better for me to collect words on index
cards or make word lists?” (Sokmen, 1997, p. 256).
Teachers should also recognize that some typical vocabulary learning strategies such as using
notebooks, dictionary and expansion exercises like semantic mapping are highly beneficial
and could be introduced as early as possible. Learners can write the words they encounter on
their vocabulary notebook and add L2-L1 translation or other knowledge they gradually
acquire about the words such as collocations, semantic associations, frequency tallies, roots
and derivations. Learners can be reminded to go through their notebooks regularly in order to
add more information and rehearse what they already recorded. (Schmitt & Schmitt, 1995).
The vocabulary notebook could then serve as a valuable resource.
Semantic mapping is also a useful strategy that can be introduced to learners at any level of
proficiency. It involves drawing a diagram of the relationships between words according to
their use in a particular text. Semantic mapping has the effect of bringing relationships in a
text to consciousness for the purpose of deepening the understanding of a text and creating
associative networks for words. It is best introduced as a collaborative effort between the
teacher and the class (Stahl & Vancil, 1986, cited in Nation and Newton, 1997). Such a
diagram “visually shows how ideas fit together. This strategy incorporates a variety of
memory strategies like grouping, using imagery, associating and elaborating and it is
important for improving both memory and comprehension of new vocabulary items”(Oxford,
1990, p. 62). In a guided semantic mapping, learners work with the teacher to develop a
semantic map around a topic, the teacher deliberately introduces several target vocabulary
items and puts them on the map as well as elaborating on them with the learners who then use
the semantic map to do a piece of writing. If the writing is done in a group, a learner in the
group can be assigned to ensure that the target words are used (Nation, 2001).
In general, teachers need to decide what framework and strategies they should choose to focus
on based on their student’s needs, learning styles, proficiency level as well as the task’s
requirements. Thus, frameworks are not fixed and can vary from context to context.

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6. CONCLUSION AND PEDAGOGICAL IMPLICATIONS FOR EFL TEACHERS

In the present paper, it was argued that vocabulary is an important ingredient of language and
vocabulary learning is an essential part of second or foreign language learning. Language
learners need a wide array of target language words to be able to tackle successfully both
production and comprehension activities in the second or foreign language. One way to help
learners to enhance their knowledge of L2 vocabulary is through equipping learners with a
variety of vocabulary learning strategies. Different taxonomies have thus been proposed, and
some of which were discussed in the present paper. The significance attributed to vocabulary
learning strategies and to training students in those strategies they lack may have the
following implications for EFL teachers:
Teachers should think of ways to provide less successful learners with vocabulary learning
strategies. This should be done by making them aware of the need to become independent
learners by recognizing the strategies they possess and those they lack. Learner’s attention
should also be directed toward the strategies successful learners benefit from. EFL teachers
should make learners practice a wide range of vocabulary learning strategies ranging
from decontextualized and mechanical strategies to contextualized ones. This enables learners
to deal with any unknown vocabulary they may encounter both in and out of class context.
Teachers need to bear in mind that individual learners may vary on the basis of which
strategies they consider more useful and they apply more frequently. Thus, teachers may first
need to have an appraisal of learner’s belief regarding vocabulary learning strategies and then
try to help them gradually realize the value of other types of strategies.
To sum up, learning new vocabulary is a challenge to foreign language students but they can
overcome by having access to a variety of vocabulary learning strategies. Learners should
then be trained in strategies they lack. To this end, teachers should consider the learners’
willingness and readiness to receive trainings and think of the most appropriate way to
introduce the strategies.
REFERENCES

Chamot, A. U. (1999). Learning strategy instruction in the English classroom. Retrieved
January 7, 2007 from http:// www.Jalt-publications.org/tlt/article/1999/Chamot/.
Chamot, A. U. (2001). The role of learning strategies in second language acquisition. In M. P.
Breen (Ed.), Learner contributions to language learning (pp.24-44).Essex: Pearson
Education.
Chamot, A. U., & Rubin, J. (1994). Comments on Jennie Rees-Miller’s ‘ A critical appraisal
of learner training: Theoretical bases and training implications.’ TESOL Quarterly,
28(4), 771-6.
Coady, J. (1997). L2 vocabulary acquisition: A synthesis of research. In J. Coady & Th.
Huckin (Eds.), Second language vocabulary acquisition: A rationale for pedagogy
(pp.273-91). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Ellis, R. (1994). The study of second language acquisition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Gu, Y., & Johnson, R. K. (1996). Vocabulary learning strategies and language
learning outcomes. Language Learning 46 (4), 643 – 79.
Hatch, E., & Brown, C. (1995). Vocabulary, semantics, and language education, Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
Morin, R. & Goebel, J. (2001). Basic vocabulary instruction teaching strategies or word?
Foreign Language Annals, 34 (1), -16.
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ISSN: 1307-4733

Nation, P. (1990). Teaching and learning vocabulary. New York: Newbury House.
Nation, P. (2001). Learning vocabulary in another language. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press
Nation, P., & Newton, J. (1997). Teaching vocabulary. In J. Coady & Th. Huckin (Eds.),
Second language vocabulary acquisition: A rationale for pedagogy (pp.238-55).
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Oxford, R. (1990). Language learning strategies: What every teacher should know. New
York: Newbury House.
Porte, G. (1988). Poor language learners and their strategies for dealing with new vocabulary.
ELT Journal, 42 (3), 167-71.
Richards, J. C. (1976). The role of vocabulary teaching. TESOL Quarterly, 10 (1), 77.
Sanaoui, R. (1995). Adult learner’s Approaches learning vocabulary in second languages. The
Modern Language Journal, 79 (1), 15 – 28.
Schmitt, N. (1997). Vocabulary learning strategies. In N. Schmitt & M. McCarthy
(Eds.),Vocabulary: description, acquisition and pedagogy (pp.199-228). Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
Schmitt, N., & Schmitt, D. R. (1995). Vocabulary notebooks: Theoretical underpinnings and
practical suggestions. English Language Teaching Journal, 49(2), 133-43.
Seal, B. D. (1991). Vocabulary learning and teaching. In M. Celci- Murcia (Ed.), Teaching
English as a second or foreign language. Boston, MA: Heinle & Heinle.
Sokmen, A.J. (1997). Current trends in teaching second language vocabulary. In N. Schmitt &
M. McCarthy (Eds.),Vocabulary: Description, acquisition and pedagogy (pp.237-58).
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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Document Outline
  • 1. INTRODUCTION
  • 2. TAXONOMIES OF VOCABULARY LEARNING STRATEGIES
  • 3. A RATIONALE FOR VOCABULARY LEARNING STRATEGY TRAINING
  • 4. SOME CONSIDERATIONS TO BE TAKEN PRIOR TO STRATEGY TRAINING
  • 5. A FRAMEWORK FOR VOCABULARY LEARNING STRATEGY TRAINING
  • 6. CONCLUSION AND PEDAGOGICAL IMPLICATIONS FOR EFL TEACHERS
  • REFERENCES

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