Rote Memorization of Vocabulary | Teaching ESL Vocab

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vocabulary acquistion
Rote Learning= vocabulary acquisition?

Think about your experiences with learning words in a new language? How did you do it?

Many people just white knuckle it and straight up memorize them with flashcards or something similar. Is it the best way?

Keep on reading to find out more details about rote memorization.

Rote Memorization: Out of Favour These Days

It seems that straight up memorization of a language is a bit out of vogue these days with things like the audio-lingual method going out of fashion and something like communicative language teaching or extensive reading being all the rage. In these newer methods, there is almost no emphasis on rote learning and it’s instead all about negotiating meaning between communicators or simply learning new words through repeated exposure.

However, I would argue that there is still a place in language learning for rote memorization and that it necessary, especially for something like vocabulary.

Paul Nation and Vocabulary Acquisition

I went to a couple sessions at a Kotesol conference a few years back with Paul Nation, who is generally considered to be the expert on vocabulary acquisition. The one thing that resonated with me deeply and has stuck with me since then was his emphasis on rote memorization of vocabulary as an essential part of learning another language.

He mentioned that rote memorization is a great strategy to use because it’s quick, easy and effective. My own experience shows this as well. I’ve just “picked up” very few words naturally along the way. The ones I still remember after all these years are the ones I made flashcards for and memorized.

Along with rote memorization, he’s also an advocate of extensive reading as a way to learn new vocabulary. You can learn more about his thoughts here:

My Own Experience with Rote Memorization

From my own experience in studying Korean and Greek, I understood intuitively what he meant when he said that. I’ve picked up some Korean words simply by being exposed to it so often that it’d be impossible to not remember it.  Hello, here, thank you, it’s okay. I knew the Korean word by sound even before I knew the meaning of them.

However, most of my vocabulary acquisition in Korea came through flashcards–what I know of Greek was done exclusively this way. The videos I watch or the books I study seem like grains of sand slipping through my fingers in a lot of ways and I will remember words I pick up through them briefly, but they’re not really in my brain permanently and they’re hard to access it quickly. It seems that those words I’ve studied with flashcards are the ones that I can recall instantly when needed.

Is rote memorization of new vocabulary words necessary?

What about our students?

How can we help them learn vocabulary? Is it enough to expose them repeatedly to the same words and hope they pick them up? Is it useful for students to explore and discover the words they want to learn through communicative language activities? Or, is there a place for rote memorization?

There are a lot of questions, but not many definitely answers unfortunately.

Need some ESL Vocabulary Activities?

ESL Vocabulary Activities

If you’re looking for some ESL vocabulary games and activities that’ll help your students learn, use and retain new English words, then you’ll need to check out this book over on Amazon:

39 ESL Vocabulary Activities: For Teenagers and Adults.

The way I use these vocabulary activities are as follows. I assign words for students to memorize for homework, and then have little quizzes in class on it.

Then, to reinforce these words and work more on context with them, I use a variety of activities. This helps them to “stick” because it’s easy to forget a word you’ve memorized for a test if you don’t use it.

The book is available in both digital and print formats. Keep a copy on the bookshelf in your office as a handy reference guide. Or, take a copy with you on your phone or tablet for lesson planning on the go.

It really is that easy. Learn more about the book on Amazon:

—>39 ESL Vocabulary Activities for Teens and Adults<—

Have your Say about Memorizing New Vocabulary Words

Do you have any tips or tricks for helping students with vocabulary. Leave a comment below and let us know what you think.

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