Learning Academic, Discipline-specific and Technical Vocabulary: Life in a Fast Lane
Traditional approaches of learning vocabulary encourage word analysis, word awareness, vocabulary expansion strategies, and using visual organizers for better retention. Such approaches also place strong emphasis on extensive reading to build up a wide and deep pool of active vocabulary for use. But learners in general, and undergraduates in particular, are always complaining about the serious lack of time to engage in labor-toiling vocabulary building tasks to meet their pressing needs for academic success. Added to this, the inherent problem that English words have multiple meanings depending on the context and intent of the writer, and that a huge proportion of words are of low frequency in use, makes incidental learning of vocabulary through extensive reading almost impossible to achieve within a short time frame. Against this background, this presentation describes a learning approach that enables social science majors enrolled in undergraduate level writing courses to gain substantial growth in academic/discipline-specific/technical vocabulary through the optimal use of time and resources. When the saying “Life in a fast lane” is always associated with negative connotations describing a life that consumes much and wastes resources quickly, a learning life in a fast lane has a meaning different from the conventional conception. Vocabulary growth in the fast lane is now made possible with the easy availability of computers in language classes for learners to access rich language resources, to observe appropriate vocabulary use in an authentic text, to employ free online vocabulary analysis tools for meaning- and form-focussed learning, and to engage in guided and independent discovery through cooperative learning. This vocabulary expansion project aims to increase the size and develop the correct use of academic/discipline-specific/technical vocabulary, thereby raising the standard of academic/professional writing. In this talk, the focus is on the instructional design and the learning sequence, together with a demonstration of the online vocabulary analysis tools used. Some empirical findings regarding this method of intentional systematic vocabulary learning and sample worksheets and learning products will also be shown in the presentation.
Keywords: Vocabulary Learning Strategies, English for Academic/Specific Purposes, IT in Language Teaching
Pauline Poyee Tam
English Language Teaching Unit, The Chinese University of Hong Kong