Rote Memorization of Vocabulary | Teaching ESL Vocab

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vocabulary acquistion
Rote Learning= vocabulary acquisition?


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 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.

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?  Tell me what you think!

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.

It’ll make your lesson planning easier, guaranteed.

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