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Vocabulary: Principles and Practice

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All teachers realise that their students need to know vocabulary in order to function in English. But the best way to best help our students learn this vocabulary remains an unresolved issue. Some commentators (such as Stephen Krashen, 1985) assert that sufficient vocabulary can be learnt simply from exposure to English, particularly reading. Other commentators (such as Batia Laufer, 2005) argue that much vocabulary needs to be taught. As is usually the case, some middle ground is probably the best course. This would include maximum exposure to English, both inside and outside the classroom, and also explicit teaching of selected vocabulary. There is also the question of how to carry out the explicit teaching: what are the most effective teaching techniques and tasks? Luckily, there has been an explosion of research into second language vocabulary learning in the last 25 years, and in this talk, I will introduce some of the key principles for vocabulary teaching that have come out of this research.

Norbert Schmitt began his career in 1988 as an EFL teacher in Japan and quickly became interested in how language learners acquire their second languages. During his Masters study at Temple University, Japan, he began researching how students learn vocabulary in particular. He extended this interest in vocabulary through his PhD research at the University of Nottingham in 1994. Upon completion of his PhD in 1997, he joined the University of Nottingham staff, and became colleagues with the two prominent vocabulary specialists already there (Professor Ronald Carter and Professor Michael McCarthy). After their retirement, he became the leading vocabulary specialist in the department. Prof. Schmitt has researched second language vocabulary issues for nearly 25 years, and his interests have broadened to all aspects of lexical study, including vocabulary testing, formulaic language, corpus-based research, and the interface between vocabulary knowledge and the ability to read and listen in English.

This talk is part of the Second Language Education Group series.

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