Monday, February 19, 2007

Krashen on Vocabulary

Vocabulary comes from reading

Published in Language Magazine, vol 6, no. 5, 2007
"Bonding words" (Dec. 2006) mentions that vocabulary
can be acquired "indirectly" through reading, but much
of the article is devoted to the direct teaching of
vocabulary. There is a great deal of research, in
first and second language acquisition, not cited in
the article, that supports the view that nearly all of
our vocabulary is "indirectly" acquired. Briefly:
(1) correlational studies show that those who read
more develop larger vocabularies,
(2) those who participate in self-selected reading
programs typically gain more in vocabulary than those
in traditional programs,
(3) "read and test" studies show that readers can pick
up a small amount of knowledge of unknown words each
time they see them in context, enough to account for
adult vocabulary size if enough reading is done, and
(4) the number of words adults know is too large to
deliberately or consciously learn one word at a time.
Also, those with large vocabularies do not give
"study" the credit. In 1984, in a paper published by
the Johnson O?Conner Research Foundation, Smith and
Supanich tested 456 company presidents and reported
that they had significantly larger vocabulary scores
than a comparison group of adults. When asked if they
had made an effect to increase their vocabulary since
leaving school, more than half said they had, but only
14% of this group mentioned the use of vocabulary
books, about 3% of the total sample: Fifty-four
percent mentioned reading.
I have nothing against explaining the meaning of
unknown words when this will help comprehension, but
rather than focusing so much on "the serious teaching
of vocabulary", let's at least try to encourage
massive, self-selected recreational reading and
provide the reading material that makes it possible.
Even if reading were less effective (which it is not),
it is an activity people will gladly do the rest of
their lives, in contrast to vocabulary exercises.
Stephen Krashen


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