Myths about Teaching and Learning Second Language Vocabulary

<b>Forum for teachers teaching adult education </b>

Moderators: Dimitris, maneki neko2, Lorikeet, Enrico Palazzo, superpeach, cecil2, Mr. Kalgukshi2

Post Reply
Posts: 1
Joined: Fri Apr 12, 2013 3:37 am
Location: San Diego, CA

Myths about Teaching and Learning Second Language Vocabulary

Post by somedude » Thu May 02, 2013 5:37 am

In my opinion, the most important thing we do as language teachers is teach new words to our students. Despite our best intentions, many common practices interfere with teaching vocabulary.

The subject line is the title of an article by linguist Keith Folse: ... /3794/3540

The article can be read online or downloaded as a .PDF.

I think the article is important because it highlights what research shows are bad practices in the language classroom.

There are eight myths:
1) Vocabulary is Not as Important in Learning a Foreign Language as Grammar or Other Areas

2) It is Not Good to Use Lists of Words When Learning Vocabulary

3) Vocabulary Should be Presented in Semantic Sets

4) The Use of Translations is a Poor Way to Learn New Vocabulary

5) Guessing Words From Context is as Productive For Foreign Language Learners as it is For First Language Learners

6) The Best Vocabulary Learners Make use of Only One or Two Effective Specific Vocabulary Learning Strategies

7) Foreign Language Learners Should Use a Monolingual Dictionary

8) Vocabulary is Sufficiently Covered Enough in Our Curricula and Courses

For me, the biggest eye-opener was the research on what Folse terms "semantic sets," which linguist Paul Nation calls "lexical sets." These are sets of words that are either semantically or morphologically related, such as opposites, types of fruit, colors, etc. These words are easy to confuse when presented at the same time, so members of these sets should be presented separately, days or preferably weeks apart from each other.

The problem is that most (all?) textbooks organize their vocabulary lessons around lexical sets. Does anyone have any ideas on how to break apart the lexical sets?

Posts: 3031
Joined: Tue Oct 26, 2004 6:57 pm
Location: UK > China > Japan > UK again

Post by fluffyhamster » Fri May 17, 2013 7:49 pm

Many thanks for posting this article - I might repost it e.g. over on the Job Discussion forums sometime. I have Folse's book, but it's nice to have a potted summary, especially to direct others to. Welcome to the forums, by the way!

Posts: 27
Joined: Mon Sep 02, 2013 3:47 pm
Location: Asia, Middle East, Europe, USA

Post by KatrinaB88 » Sat Nov 23, 2013 8:23 pm


Interesting. However, all teachers of language should bear in mind that there is never going to be one magically successful way to teach vocab and of course as people generally learn in many different ways, different approaches are needed. Teachers have to 'mix it up' in the classroom to gain any kind of success in language teaching, not just vocab.

Katrina (

Post Reply