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Why do we speak or write? To communicate. Why do we need to communicate? To pass on whatever it is that needs to be passed on to others. So do we opt to communicate in English? We opt to communicate in English because we have a reason to. If you have no reason to speak in English – there is no need, and therefore why bother.
This is the key point of communication. There has to be a reason to open you mouth and make a sound.
So often in class I get students asking me for ‘more vocabulary’, particularly IELTS vocabulary. And they never quite understand that, there is no point in me giving them a whole list of 1000 IELTS vocabulary words if there is no reason for knowing or using them. They may say – yes there is a reason – it is to pass the IELTS! But sadly, that is not going to work for the student. IELTS is only an invisible line that a student has to cross, it has no specific group of words that are always used. The only thing I try to do is to make sure that they understand that words are only short-form codes for bigger ideas. That the bigger ideas are the things are need to be understood.
Learning new words should start from the very beginning of any English course, however, it should be only words that have come up in conversation, in readings and listening. The reason why they have come up is because they are not understood by the individual, therefore the whole meaning of that sentence is not understood either. The reason why the person wants to know the word is to understand the greater picture.
Now, I do know that when you are learning techniques for passing the IELTS exam, it is important to know that you may not be able to understand the actual word, but you do need to have strategies to understand the context of the word in the sentence, for example, identify what type of word it is e.g. noun, verb etc or what the root words is, or even are there other words around it that will give clues to the meaning. All these things will give the student the chance to gather information and propose a possible meaning to the word. This is something we all do, even native speakers, when we come across a new word. Sometimes it is the simplest of words that somehow alluded us for years and we’ve never quite had the time or opportunity to go deep on it’s meaning. It’s simply that a situation or reason presents itself and you have to finally get clear about it’s true meaning.
We all know that learning English for one or two months is only going to get you a short distance into developing your English skills, but it is the constant search for reason that will make the difference in terms of vocabulary building.
Starting a word bank with new vocabulary a student has ‘come across’ and thinks they need to remember, is the first learning strategy that needs to be in place in any classroom. The student doesn’t need to write down every single new word, all the student needs to do is to make sure they understand the reason for why they are writing it down.