Primary school

To know a word is one thing but we have to pause on the fact how this knowledge is absorbed. Thinking about little children who learn to speak, I have to mention that first they hear a lot of words before repeating, then they always start with words used for describing, so that the concept, for example, of cat has a name cat. But of course not every animal is a cat. The child needs to learn how far to continue the concept of a cat. “In other words, acquiring a vocabulary requires not only labeling but also categorising skills” (Thornbury, 2002, p 18)

In relation to the teaching of vocabulary for young learners, it is important to know the techniques used in teaching vocabulary to young learners. Good vocabulary range increases students’ reading comprehension, their ability in technical subjects as well as their written ability. According to Cameron (2001:73) “vocabulary is about learning words, children are not only expected to know the word but also they have to know what is the meaning of that word.”


There are many methods and approaches how to teach foreign language, including vocabulary, recommended as the best way for kids. I will mention some of them that can be used for teaching young learners.

Direct Method. 'Direct' because meaning should be directly taught. The teacher should use language naturally, so that learners induce grammar and vocabulary. The mother tongue is never used by the teacher, and there are no translations. Only the target language is used in the classrooms and only complete sentences are used. Inductive teaching is to emphasize the importance of sounds, simple sentences and direct association of language with an object and a person. Students should think as much as possible. Errors are corrected but they are allowed. Techniques are: dictation, questions and answers, speaking, map drawing, using lots of pictures. Teaching concepts and vocabulary through pantomiming, real life objects and other visual materials, teaching grammar by using an  approach (i.e. having learners find out rules through the presentation of adequate linguistic forms in the target language), centrality of spoken language (including a native-like pronunciation), focus on question-answer patterns.

Suggestopedia is another very successful method in helping learners to memorize words. Atmosphere is important, as there are some psychological barriers to learning. There are some characteristic things of that method: furniture, arrangement of the classroom, decoration, classical music is very important, dialogues are important. Teacher is self-confident but friendly. This method stimulates the learner's brain by music while learning but nowadays teachers seem to be leaving this method. The second technique is pointing. To help the learners is it important to visualize the item and get the kids to repeat or use the item actively. The teacher can use flashcards or a power point presentation to show the item that they want to teach. Another good way of doing this is to let children see or touch the vocabulary item. We need to let them repeat also and they should be given a chance to listen to the teacher talking about it.

The third technique is substitution. There are two ways to substitute the words: synonyms- we substitute one word students are familiar with or another new one, antonyms – we substitute one word they are familiar with for its opposite.

The fourth is naming. This technique is similar to substitution, but in this case, we set a scene or situation and then substitute it with a new word or phrase, thus effectively naming the scene.

The fifth is realia. The use of realia can motivate young learners to learn. It is fun and sets a more natural learning environment.

What really works especially for young learners is the Total Physical Response method (TPR). TPR is a Natural Method where children develop listening competence before they develop the ability to speak. Many children are nowadays very physically active and they cannot concentrate for a long time. They love games, topics that change all the time, variety of activities. Children's ability in listening comprehension is acquired because children are required to response. The teacher is a director, gives a bas; listening and physical response skills are emphasizes over oral production, imperative mood, interrogative mood, humor is injected into lessons to make them more enjoyable for students, students are not require to speak until the feel naturally ready, grammar and vocabulary are emphasized over other language areas. Typical techniques for TPR are using commands to direct behaviour, role reversal, action sequence.

Communicative Language Approach (Teaching) – CLT – stresses the meaning of a language in context. Communicative competence is highly developed here and learners are encouraged to communicate. Activities used in communicative language teaching: role-play, interviews, information gap, games, language exchanges, surveys, pair-work.

It is essential to make every lesson interesting, to keep it relevant, to set achievable goals: the words we are targetting (Are they suitable for students’ ability?), the amount of time we give students to learn them, the number of words we set. But the techniques are not all. As Earl W. Stevick points out, the success in helping people to acquire language depends “not only on the techniques you use, but also on how you, and what you do, affect their attitudes toward the language and the people who use it.” (1982)