I had a real life experience of vocabulary learning this week. We have been musing for a while on the idea of changing this little blog into a self-hosted blog to give us the opportunity to do more with it. I may have lost some of you already?….
Having decided that now was the time to do this, we set about investigating what we needed to know and who we should get our web hosting with. I just about know what web hosting is (it’s nothing like hosting a dinner party), but a quick google and I found out that
“There are various types of hosting options -free, shared, VPS, dedicated and managed WordPress hosting. “
I know what 4 out of 5 of those words mean, but in relation to a website, they were fairly meaningless to me. I also discovered that I need” at least one MySQL database” and “a Linux server”. The more lost I became, the more frustrated I got and the more I wanted to just give up with the whole thing.
This is just how many children with language problems must feel daily as they battle to understand what’s going on in the classroom. If there is one word you don’t understand, you can usually guess the meaning from context or shrug it off. If every other word is difficult to understand it becomes impossible to keep going with the task. You have a few choices – give up and just ignore it all, get fed up and frustrated or take baby steps, and learn one word at a time, practically if possible. If we don’t offer children opportunities to do option 3, is it any wonder that they give up or get frustrated? They have few other choices if they don’t understand what’s happening.
It was also a good reminder that, even as a reasonably well-educated adult, words in a whole new topic area can be very confusing. I use terms like phonology, the Code of Practice and language disorder every day and it’s easy to forget that these words are not familiar to everyone and that for adults too, we need time and repetition to fully learn the meanings of unfamiliar words.
In my case, several things helped. I found people who do understand and can explain it simply, I accepted that I don’t need to understand it all and focused on the really important bits. Finally, I just started doing it. After all, before I started blogging at all, I had no idea what a widget was. Someone could have explained it to me and if you’d asked me an hour later I probably wouldn’t have remembered it because the knowledge was too abstract. Now that I’ve used them, I have a much better understanding of what they are, and it’s a word in my every day vocabulary.
The same principles work when teaching new words and concepts to children. Here are some suggestions to help.
- Cut it back to the essentials, at least to begin with. It’s much better to teach 3-4 words and have the child remember them, than to try to tackle 20 and find the child just muddles them all. Once they have a good foundation of simple words, it’s much easier to add to it.
- Repeat, repeat, Repeat. A child needs to hear a word at least 12 times in context before they remember it.* The more familiar you become with hearing a word, the more meaning it has for you.
- The “in context” bit of the point above is important. Just repeating the same word 12 times in a row won’t really help a child to learn it. Using it in real sentences in a range of different activities and everyday life is much more likely to help.
- Try to relate things to what the child is interested in, as much as possible. If someone tried to teach me lots of words about plumbing it would probably take me longer to learn them, because I’m just not interested. I was interested in learning about websites, so it didn’t take so long!
- Use all the senses. Look at it, taste or smell it (if possible), touch it, do it! There are two reasons for this. Firstly, most people remember what they have done better than what they have heard. Secondly, while doing it, you are likely to use the word lots of times while talking about what you’re doing and as we’ve already learnt, repetition is key in vocabulary learning.
Finally, in case anyone is interested, I am still by no means an expert on websites! But by using some of these strategies and a bit of help from some friends, I understand enough to get going and our new website is under construction!…. Watch this space!….
* Stahl & Nagy 2005 Teaching Word Meanings Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, New Jersey