Skiing and words

The last three days I have been skiing at Whistler. There was not a cloud in the sky for two days and today is a little overcast. The snow conditions are not ideal but not bad. A little ice in spots and some bare patches. You kind of have to pick your spots.

I brought along three books on vocabulary learning that I ordered from Amazon. I have read two of them now. I was looking for insights that could help us at The Linguist. I picked up a few ideas although much of what is written is simply too academic. There is research on the different ways people learn words, what it means to learn a word, whether we learn by direct instruction or by osmosis when reading, how many words we need to learn and which ones, the importance of lexical phrases and how to use new research to make learning more efficient and on and on. Every second paragraph had to refer to the work of some famous scholar on the subject.

Over the next few posts I will be giving my opinions on vocabulary learning with some reference to what some of these experts are saying and based on our experience at The Linguist and my own experience.

I agree with the experts who say that vocabulary acquisition is the key to learning and improving in a language. I agree that a great deal of reading is necessary. I agree that deliberate learning of vocabulary can help, but only if the words are first encountered in a natural context.

In all of these books there was no reference to the power of audio in combination with reading. In other words you can remember words better if you also hear them. Furthermore it is the combination of audio, reading and deliberate study of words that will help the learner to increase vocabulary the fastest.

Nowhere in these books on vocabulary was there mention of e-text. It is postulated by Nation and others that a person needs to read text with at least 95% known words in order to be able to read comfortably and infer the meaning of the missing words. But what if the learner can choose what to read so that the content is of interest and familiar? What if an audio file of the content is available?
And finally what if instant explanation and translation of any new word is available via an on line dictionary? What if new words and phrases are automatically stored in a data base for future study?

I believe that by incorporating these and more features, as we have done in The Linguist, vocabulary learning can be greatly accelerated. More on this later.

I should probably refrain from kicking the university establishment. However, my belief that too much power and privilege is attributed to universities in our societies has nothing to do with grievances as Lizz suggests. I and my two sons all went to fine universities. Learning needs to be made available to all. I believe this will happen. The iPod/Internet revolution is an indicator of how.

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