Adult learners need to build vocabulary in contexts and topic groups that are relevant to their lives. Many learners will build vocabulary through a language learning programme designed for their needs. The learning stages described here follow recognised adult language learning principles.16 You can select vocabulary items for learning from a language programme or from an assessment of the topic areas the learner will need to operate in. You may also select them from materials the learner will study later as they further develop decoding skills. To prevent overload, a maximum of 10 items should be presented in a session. Allow for regular revision and practice. The steps for learning activities are listed below.
Present the meaning of each item by:
- showing a real object
- drawing or showing a picture
- miming an action
- tasting (food or drink)
- translating (preferably by another speaker of the same language: beware of an over-reliance on dictionary translations, which may not be appropriate for the context), and
- using a cline or other visual technique (a cline situates a word with a meaning related to degree along a visual continuum, for example, for clothing sizes).
For listening practice of the vocabulary: say the word several times as the learner listens. Ask the learner to select an object, point to a picture or draw the word. As they become familiar with print, they can also point to the word in a list.
Ask the learner to repeat the word aloud two or three times so they focus on accuracy of pronunciation. It is important they have an aural memory of the sound of the word and can relate this sound to meaning.
Write the word or phrase and let the learner copy it onto a flashcard. It is a good idea for the learner to write the item on the front of the card and the meaning (for example, using a picture or translation) and pronunciation cues on the back.
Learners will also need to be able to use (produce) most of the vocabulary presented to them, so it is a good idea to include a production phase in the lesson. Provide multiple opportunities for you and the learner to use the word or phrase in meaningful ways (for example, roleplay shopping for clothes of different sizes).
Other teaching ideas include the following:
- Make recordings of speech (for example, a simple relevant conversational exchange) for learners to listen to. They can listen for a particular word or phrase and:
- call out “Stop!” or raise a hand every time they hear the word
- match, show or draw the word when they hear it
- repeat the word as they hear it used.