Vocabulary Building Strategies for Asian StudentsOne of the challenges L2 learners face while learning a second language is to build a strong vocabulary inventory to enable them understand different topics and discussions. For Asian students learning english
, the challenge can be greater due to many cultural and system differences, and the lack of equivalencies via translation. Wang and Martin (2002) argued that students construct meaning based on their previous learning and experience, and a key factor for effective comprehension was subjects’ familiarity with foreign culturally related topics. This argument was echoed by Jiang (2004), who believed that “the lack of contextualized input”...make the adult L2 vocabulary acquisition fundamentally different”. International students who have no idea of the same-sex marriage debate would be lost at the phrase “civil union” during the latest debate in U.S. To bridge such gaps, the instructors should try to understand students’ cultural backgrounds and daily life style while giving examples of the new words, so that “the connection” is made and the words retained longer. Researches have proven that words learned through examples and are generally retained longer, as one moves from the shallow sensory level of processing to the deeper semantic level (Brown & Perry, 1991). Also, new words that are used more often and in multiple language skills (reading, writing and vocabulary instruction, etc.) tend to be recalled and used more accurately (Lee & Muncie, 2006).
It is common knowledge that no one learns the same way. This is also true to Asian L2 learners in their efforts to improve their vocabulary capacity. To empower Asian L2 learners, while accommodating their cultural heritage and learning styles, it is recommended that ESL instructors provide plenty of opportunities and strive for the best strategies that work for certain learners. For beginners and lower level students, repetition of high frequency words is inevitable. Asian students, chinese
ones, in particular, have been criticized for their rote memory learning styles. The fact that many Asian/chinese
students excel in academic studies seem to perplex many educators who believe memorization is not what makes successful learners. It is not uncommon to have ESL instructors’ direct Asian students away from memorizing the vocabulary items, but with little success. Gu (2002) found out in the case study of two successful chinese
EFL learners, that their vocabulary acquisition could be incidental learning through reading, but also intentional learning through repletion. The author argued that Westerners mistake repetition for rote learning; and for chinese
learners, memorization and understanding are not mutually exclusive.
For students at intermediate levels, word-part analysis (root, prefix, suffix) can be quite effective. Students can be shown a word they know and move to the new target words. Another effective method for intermediate level students, especially if they are preparing for degree-seeking programs, is to provide reading materials commonly used in academic studies. Parry (1991) illustrated how instructors can help students build a vocabulary through academic reading by “guessing from context and demonstrating the necessity for using the text beyond the immediate sentence”.
The above strategies were proven to be effective as Zimmerman (1997) observed that using context in reading and spoken activities facilitated the word-learning process of the learners; and repetition of the newly learned words in various contexts “may lead to a better sense of how words are used in actual communication”. The author further suggested that “by focusing students’ attention on the limited set of words and drawing their attention to a limited set of lexical features, vocabulary instruction could make the word-learning task appear more manageable and could lead to increased motivation to learn vocabulary”.
Integrated skill approach is also supported by research (Lee & Muncie, 2006). By engaging students in integrated reading, writing and vocabulary learning help the students to retain the vocabulary longer. At a more advanced level, the instructors can spend more time with students using lexical inference strategy (Nassaji, 2006), which helps to expand both depth and breadth of word knowledge. It is also important for students to learn to tolerate ambiguity and become comfortable with learning, guessing, confirming the meaning as they read and listen (Johnson & Steele, 1996).
In summary, ESL instructors should tailor their teaching and instruction to the levels of the learners, with the best practices substantiated by researches, and use different strategies to help student build their vocabulary and boost their confidence in L2 learning.