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This project points out empirical research that can lead to more efficient teaching of English as a second language. Also adds some experience of teachers of ESL.
In this learning project we aim to point out a few common mistakes often occurring in ESL that can be easily corrected. Suggestions based on research and experience are made to help ESL teachers and teachers of Languages in general.
Efficient Teaching of Languages and ESL Methodology
There appears to be a need to improve ESL instruction. In some classes the instruction is inefficient, and sometimes does not meet student needs. Some schools are still using rote memorization and translation from books and are passing over most common needed words. Newer methodologies have proven to be much more efficient especially for basic classes. All too often the school and teacher feel they are doing a good job but the students are still not being well served. With just a little tweaking these classes can be made much more effective and efficient This is based on experience as an ESL teacher in classes where there were often several native languages none of which was English.
ESL at the most beginning level could benefit from the following studies.
W. K.Durr, (27 1973) did a Study of High-Frequency Words in Popular Trade for Juveniles which became the famous Durr list often used by early reading teachers. Durr's research on high frequency words found in children's books found that 188 English words provided 64 percent understanding. With exception of a few animal names and other child centered words most of these words are applicable to basic adult communication.
EW Dolch did a study of common words and found relatively few were very common compared to the entire vocabulary..
Wesley Arnold did a masters degree study involving teaching language, learning and difficulty of languages And came up with percentages for the most common words, and that 600 words give 90% understanding of most human communication based on University Language Research. He also noted reasons behind the failure of Basic English. See Arnold Language Learning Research in bibliography.
Common mistakes made and easily corrected are:
Students being placed in classes above their level.
Teachers can be observed saying English words that the student has no idea of the meaning of and the teacher continues on without clarifying what those words mean. This is almost similar to the foolish scheme of people speaking slowly and loudly assuming that will cause the listener to understand. And then continuing to speak without bothering to see of the listener understands. Just because the teacher understands what is being taught does not mean the student understands it. The above statement is very clear to the student but often not picked up on by the teacher and school.
Advanced words are sometimes being taught before the basic words and concepts are taught and understood.
Words and concepts being taught are not those the student needs.
Work is sometimes assigned above the student's level.
Insufficient practice results in insufficient learning.
To improve ESL instruction at the very beginning level, and for classes with students speaking multiple native languages, consider the following:
Allow at least one native speaker as a guest in the class for each native language present. It is often the case that another family member wants to be with their relative in a class and this should be encouraged because they can be of value in clearing up misunderstandings. I discovered this was especially true when the teacher does not speak the native language of the student. Teachers in urban environments who have ESL classes with multiple languages will find it of great help to allow students to be accompanied by a relative who speaks both the native language and English.
Avoid having potentially hostile opposing groups in the same class. Although most of the time they can put differences aside this can be a source of trouble when an innocent comment is misunderstood and explodes into undesirable behavior. I did not notice that I had two mistrusting groups in one class. Something seemingly very innocent triggered them and let to fights after class. When both groups speak a common language they can easily resolve the problems by talking them out. But when they don't know enough English and do not understand each others language talking is ruled out. Physical action may result instead of talking it out.
With classes for beginners draw objects on the board, use picture flash cards, magazine clippings, or slides to clearly show the noun object, or verb action being taught.
Use gestures, or actually do the action. Demonstrate. Example sitting down, standing up.
Teach what the students need most. Start with: Greetings, introductions. Do you speak English? Speak slower. Asking basic questions such as What is this? Where is the… Who is that? What are they doing? I found out that most know about money even if they don't know anything else.. It is easy to build on that knowledge.
Teach the most used and most needed words first and in a practical context.
Based on several studies (see bibliography) it has been found that for common human communication, basic understanding can be achieved with around 600 word roots, and adequate understanding of most common communication with around 1000 word roots. We are talking in the ninety percents.
The American Heritage dictionary study concluded that most human communication (in the 90%) involved around 6000 English words. You may see the breakdown of these in Arnold's Language Learning Research page 87. However as far as word concepts if just word roots are counted the number can get down to around 1000. Why word root rather than word? Because if a student learns help they can easily pick up on helps, helper, helping, etc. To gain higher than 90% understanding, research shows takes many more words. This is because it involves learning increasingly more less used technical terms. To achieve 100% understanding of all communication we are looking at at least 500,000 words. But to know that there are lists of the most needed words and that is under 1000 words can be of practical use to the teacher.
Charles K Ogden created Basic English allegedly using just 850 words. Which turned out to not be quite true. And there were many books published in Basic English which were quite readable by English speakers. Unfortunately Basic English is not suitable for ESL as English speakers cannot limit themselves to Basic English and neither should the ESL student. English speakers cannot speak Basic English for long. Anyone who doubts this should try it.
Speakers of English often feel that it is the Easiest Language. Not so. See the empirical research in The Easiest language by Wesley Arnold. English is the most widespread and largest language as far as vocabulary. But English also has its own problems: Terrible spelling, Irregular verbs, terrible pronunciation, a grammar which has at least 1,400 rules with more exceptions than rules, and big time ambiguity. The word set has 266 meanings and the word drunk thousands of synonyms. And Idioms in excess of 8,000. And we won't even touch on slang and jargon here. Despite all of this there are multiple movements to force others to forget their mother languages and learn English.
David Crystal in his book The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language states that languages have major statistical regularities. He quotes the famous linguist George K. Zipf (1902-50) whose best known law shows a constant relationship between the rank of a word in a frequency list and the frequency with which it is used in a text. Zipf stated take any text, count the words, put in decreasing frequency and the first 15 will account for 25 percent of the text, the first 100 words will account for 60 percent of the text, the first 1000 85 percent of the text and the first 4000 will account for 97.5 percent of the text (1987, 87). [Note it has been discovered that Zipf's law is for ethnic languages. With a planned language the number 1000 can be cut down to about half and the number 4000 can be cut by about one quarter.]
It should also be noted that many more advanced concepts can be taught with the basic words. Example for sarcastic one could use making fun of.
For students who know only a few words it is more efficient to teach them the most used 300 words in the most needed context. Teach first the most used common verbs such as: is, have, go, do, walk, drive, sit, the pronouns, the question words what, who, where, how, when, position words, etc. using common everyday situations.
In the free on-line book Language Learning Research Quick Language Learning 2010 (Arnold p 112) presents the results of several word frequency and language studies and lists the most used 1000 and needed concept words along with their ranking overall and in separate studies.
Also Professor Arnold also made a concise self tutor using these words in order of common usage using 42, 5 minute lessons, Using both Basic International Vocabulary and English. ESL teachers are free to use and or adapt those short lessons for their teaching. This is such a valuable resource I will give the website where you may get it for free and as a PDF file. http://easiestlanguage.info/IVandResearch.pdf This may be freely used by all teachers.
A time tested presentation method is for the teacher to say the word, then have the students first repeat after you then practice in each other.
Phrases are better than single words after the meaning of the word is learned.
Ask a question or use words in a phrase. This is a more efficient way for learning.
Words can be printed on the board, and pictures or drawings shown but the emphasis should be on understanding not writing.
Hand-outs with examples can serve as reinforcements particularly if you ask them to take these home and practice with friends.
Hand-outs with drawings or pictures are particularly useful for quicker learning.
Recommend the student practice often and use the new language as much as possible. Immersion works great but the student needs a good portable dictionary to look up words she does not know.
Knowing a little about the student's background and environment can help the teacher to better meet student needs.
Has it been ascertained whether the student able to read any language at present or only in non Latin script such as Chinese? This may influence whether it is better to put more emphasis in showing drawings and pictures as opposed to printing the English word on the board.
Having a vocabulary handout with English to their-native-language has proven to be of great help.
Those of us who have been in a foreign country and not spoken the language and not finding anyone around who speaks English have seen how useful and practical having a pocket dictionary is.
Hope to create a list of and upload basic dictionaries for this purpose in Wikibooks.
Readings and other resources
American Heritage Dictionary Word Usage Study Carrol, J. B. et al. (1971). The American Heritage Word Frequency Book. Boston:
Craig, R. P. (1986). Barron's 1001 Pitfalls in English. New York: Barron's Educational Series Inc.
Dolch E W. Sight Words- The Elementary School Journal, 1936 - JSTOR
Durr, W. K. (27 1973). A computer Study of High-Frequency Words in Popular Trade for Juveniles. Reading Teacher. p. 14.
Laboratory for Research in Instruction, Graduate School of Education. Harvard University. Cambridge: Harvard University Printing Office, p. 202.
Johansson, S. (1989). Frequency Analysis of English Vocabulary and Grammar Vol 1 . Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Johns, J. L. (1976). Updating the Dolch Basic Sight Vocabulary. Reading Horizons. 16.2 p. 104.
Makkai, A. Ph.D. (1984). Handbook of Commonly Used American Idioms. New York: Barron's
Makkai, A. Ph.D. (1987). Barron's Dictionary of American Idioms. New York: Barron's
Rutherford, W. (1976). Second Language Teaching. In A Survey of Applied Linguistics . Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Thorndike, E. L. & Irving G. (1944). The Teacher's Word Book of 30,000 Words. Teachers College, Columbia University.
Thorndike, E. L. (1975). Teachers Word Book of 20,000 Words. New York: Bureau of Publications, Teachers College, Columbia University, Revision Gale Research, Detroit.
Tisljar, Zlatko. (1980). Frekvenc morfemaro De Parolata Esperanto . Zagreb: Internacia Kultura Servo.
Williams, Norman. (1965). “A Language Teaching Experiment”. Canadian Modern Language Review 22, 1: 26-28.
The Easiest Language proven by scientific studies and practice. By professor Wesley E Arnold MA found free at http://easiestlanguage.info/
Language Learning Research Quick Language Learning 2010 Great for teachers and students of languages Also for ESL Teachers and Students with INTERNATIONAL VOCABULARY, QUICK INTERNATIONAL UNDERSTANDING IN MUCH LESS TIME USING INTERNATIONAL WORDS. And The University Research Behind It With 2-Way Dictionary With over 12,000 entries of most used words Giving 6,000 most needed word meanings Which in total give 95-99.9% understanding But around 600 words give 90% understanding of most human communication based on University Language Research. What words are best taught / learned first In any language to be learned. With Language Research found free at http://easiestlanguage.info/
Frekvenc morfemaro De Parolata Esperanto . Zagreb: Internacia Kultura Servo.
Makkai, A Ph.D Dictionary of American Idioms. New York: Barron's. Barron's
Piron, Claude. (1994). Le defi des langues. Paris: Editions l'Harmattan.
Thorndike, E. (1933). Institute of Educational Research Language Learning Report New York: Teachers College Columbia University.
Sherwood, B. (1981). Studies in Language Learning. 3. p. 145-155.