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Ways of presenting vocabulary

There are two ways of presenting the meaning of words: direct way and translation

Direct way brings the learner into direct contact with the word, the mother tongue doesn’t come in between; it establishes links between a foreign word and the thing or concept directly. The direct way is usually used when the words denote things, objects, qualities, gestures, movements. The teacher may use:


  • Real objects;
  • Pictures, photos, wall charts, blackboard drawings;
  • Mime and gestures: It is particularly useful for action verbs and some adverbs, for example brush teeth, ride a bicycle
  • Matching- learners match words or sentences or pictures
  • Definitions: for example, a blind person- a person who can’t see
  • Giving examples: shirt, jeans, jacket are clothes.
  • Synonyms and antonyms: the teacher uses words the students already know to teach them similar or opposite words, for example: The exercise is difficult. The exercise is complicated.
  • Context building: This is probably the most useful technique, because it gets students to work out the meaning of words for themselves. Teachers should think of a clear context when the word is used; at least three example sentences should be given. For example: It was hot. We had nothing to drink. We were thirsty.
  • Word building elements: prefixes or suffixes help learners build words or guess their meaning, for example, the students are familiar with the word dancer. By dropping the ending er they form a verb dance.


Translating: There are arguments for and against this technique. Its advantage is that it requires no preparation, and it can be done quickly. In contrast, it is sometimes too fast, and students forget the new word quickly. In addition, it encourages students to think that there is one to one equivalence between English and mother tongue. Consequently, translation should only be used for time saving.

The choice of the way of presenting the meaning of the word depends on the following factors:

  • Psychological ( students’ age, their intelligence)
  • Pedagogical factors ( the stage of teaching-junior, intermediate, senior; the size of the class; the time; the qualifications of the teacher)
  • Linguistic factors (whether the word is abstract or concrete).


No matter what way of presenting the meaning of the word is used the teacher must show its meaning,us, form and pronunciation.

For example, the new word is to chatter. To show its meaning the teacher uses the technique of definition: to chatter means to talk quickly for a long time about something unimportant.

To show its use the teacher gives an example sentence: Girls like to chatter on the phone.

To check for understanding the teacher asks questions based upon the parts of definition that might be confusing: Does a person when he chatters speak about smth important? Does he speak for a long or for a short period of time? To broaden understanding the teacher might ask such questions: Do you like to chatter? What do people usually chatter about?

To show the form the teacher writes the word on the board.

To show pronunciation the teacher has the class repeat the word.


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Principles of vocabulary selection for active and passive vocabulary | Techniques for testing vocabulary

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