English Learning Students associate vocabulary with translation of new words and then learning them by heart. But vocabulary is more than this. Most of the new words in English can be learnt interactive or through some techniques called by Harmer “Discovery Techniques”. Although these techniques are highly used they are rather ineffective sometimes. However there are other techniques/practices that can be used in the classroom to teach vocabulary.

The first technique called “Realia” refers to bringing objects into the classroom or simply using the things existing in the classroom in teaching vocabulary.  In other words students are shown a pen if teacher wants to teach them the word “pen”. Moreover he can ask students: What is this? the answer would be: This is a pen! Or he can hold up the o pen, says the word and then gets students to repeat it. But can teachers bring a car into the classroom? Surely not but they can use the following technique.

The second technique uses pictures of things that cannot be brought into the classroom as a board drawing, wall pictures, charts, flashcards, magazine pictures or other visual representation. For example if teachers want to teach students types of bird they can use flashcards. But what about actions that are not always understand from using flashcards? For all these there is another technique.

The third technique is mime and refers to actions that are better explained by gesture. Concepts like “sleeping”, “listening” are easy to be presented in this way.

The fourth technique is contrast and shows that some words can be thought in relation with their opposite meaning. For example the word good has the opposite bad, small-big, tall- short, expensive-cheap. These concepts can be presented with pictures or mime.

The fifth technique enumeration is used when referring to general or specific words. For example the general term “fruit ” has a sense relation with its specific terms such as: apple, pear, cherry, etc. so the teacher enumerates specific terms to reach the genera one.

Explanation is the sixth technique used to explain the meaning of vocabulary words and can be very difficult especially for beginners. However this technique can be used with intermediate students. It is important to know that when explaining the meaning of a word we must include any facts of the word which are relevant. If teacher explain the meaning of the word “mum”(=mother) he has to point out that it is a colloquial word used in informal contexts.

The last technique is mostly used: translation. Although it seems to be a quick and easy way to present the meaning of words, it is problematic. Not all words can be translated and furthermore students are not encouraged to interact with the new words.

All the above techniques used single or in combination are useful ways of introducing new words in learning English. Pronunciation is as important as it is for the structural material. Words should be introduced making sure that students know how to pronounce them. In this way they can use the new words in speech and it will help them remember the new words.

      Discovery techniques display from simple matching tasks to more complex understandings of connotation and context. Discovery techniques used with vocabulary materials allow students to activate their previous knowledge, to share with others what they know and interact with words. Learners will select the words they want to learn. The words they have acquired seem to move between active and passive status. Involvement with words is likely to help students to learn and remember them. If teachers provide the right kind of exposure to words for the students and opportunities for them to practise these words then there is a good chance that students will learn and remember some or all of them.

There are two types of vocabulary: active vocabulary and passive vocabulary. The former refers to vocabulary that students have been taught or learnt – and which they are expected to be able to use – whilst the latter refers to words which the students will recognise when they meet them but which they will probably not be able to produce.

At beginner and elementary levels it certainly seems a good idea to provide sets of vocabulary which students can learn. Most of these early words will be constantly practised and so can, presumably, be considered as ‘active’. But at intermediate levels and above the situation is rather more complicated. We can assume that students have a store of words but it would be difficult to say which are active and which are passive. A word that has been ‘active’ through constant use may slip back into the passive store if it is not used. A word that students have in their passive store may suddenly become active if the situation or the context provokes its use. In other words, the status of a vocabulary item does not seem to be a permanent state of affairs.

Experiments on vocabulary seem to suggest that students remember best when they have actually done something with the words they are learning. Somehow it seems that teachers should get students to interact with words, get them to do things with words so that they become acquainted with them. Especially at intermediate levels and above, discovery techniques – where students have to work out rules and meanings for themselves rather than being given everything by the teacher – are appropriate alternatives to standard presentation techniques. This is certainly true of vocabulary learning where students will often be asked to ‘discover for themselves’ what a word means and how and why it is being used.



  1. Harmer, Jeremy, The Practice of English Language Teaching, Longman LONDON, 1991
  2. Grigoroiu, Gabriela, An English Language Teaching Reader, Reprografia Universitatii din Craiova, CRAIOVA, 2000


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