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Problems & Solutions - Lexis at
Pre-Intermediate Level
by Emma Worrall
- 1

I am going to look at the problems that my pre-intermediate students might have with vocabulary; identifying the problems and suggesting ways of overcoming the problems. I will begin the assignment with a brief introduction to vocabulary then I will go to look at some of the problems that students have with vocabulary and in particular multi-word verbs. I feel that my students need to be better equipped to deal with them before they go on to a higher level. The few multi-word verbs that the students have already encountered have been a challenge for them and I want to see how I can help them cope with multi-word verbs when they are dealing with texts inside and outside the classroom.

How important is vocabulary?


"Without words to express a wider range of meanings, communication in an L2 just cannot happen in any meaningful way" (McCarthy 1990)


"Without grammar very little can be conveyed, without vocabulary nothing can be conveyed" (Wilkins in Thornbury 2002).

Thornbury (2002: 13) says that teachers often underestimate the 'communicative advantage' in developing a wide range of vocabulary.

As teachers I think we often find it hard to keep up with the demands for vocabulary from our students. However, this can be used to our advantage: students are already motivated to learn vocabulary. On needs analysis forms vocabulary rates highly as a student need. In my own experience of teaching vocabulary I have found that, due to time constraints, vocabulary sections are often rushed through and often in end of year exams there is little emphasis on the vocabulary learned during the year.

Despite my students' enthusiasm for learning vocabulary, they often find it difficult to acquire vocabulary, which is a problem I hope to assess during this research into vocabulary in this assignment. I encourage my students to read and listen to as much English as possible outside the classroom. I feel there is no denying the value of exposure to 'comprehensible input' (Krashen 1983) in expanding students range of vocabulary. I feel, from my own experiences of learning Spanish here in Spain, that everyday exposure to L2 can help you to acquire language faster than having twice-weekly classes in your native country. The more advanced my Spanish becomes, the more I am able to infer new vocabulary through context.

What makes learning a word difficult?

Thornbury discusses how cognates are easier to teach and should be exploited. I often use cognates to explain or define vocabulary (without the need for translation) and I feel that it helps me speed up the class and provides clarity for my students. However, he advises us to be aware of false friends .

Factors, which inhibit a learner's ability to learn a word, are:

Pronunciation: Words that are difficult to pronounce are more difficult to learn, for example words with consonant clusters (for example, crisps, breakfast, asked). I have been training my students to record words with their phonemic script to help students remember pronunciation. I also find it helpful to show students how word forms change in speech, particularly with weak forms (at this low level) and connected speech patterns.

Spelling: Sound-spelling mismatches create lots of errors (for example, words with silent letters).

Length and Complexity: Long words are more difficult to learn than short words. Generally, high frequency words in English tend to be short.

Grammar: The grammar associated with the word. Thornbury cites phrasal verbs (multi-word verbs) as particularly confusing.

Meaning: Some words overlap in meaning. I find it useful to present different meanings in context.

Range, Connotation and Idiomaticity: Problems with cultural references and words with a narrow synonym range are more difficult to remember.

Of course, all of these factors are especially difficult for low level learners. Not only do they not have the vocabulary necessary to communicate fluently, but they have to contend with all the above factors. I feel they need to be gradually introduced to these factors to build confidence in our students.

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