Six Things from How Vocabulary is Learned by Webb and Nation

My last book to finish for 2019 was Stuart Webb and Paul Nation’s How Vocabulary is Learned. If you are interested in teaching languages, I highly recommend the book. Here’s six things I pulled from it, though there is much more of value to extract.

  1. Their approach is a four-strand model. A good language learning program should consist of a combination of meaning-focused input, meaning-focused output, language-focused learning, and fluency development. Though this gets mentioned in various places in the book, this is best described in chapter eight, probably delayed because the focus of the book is vocabulary and not a learning program as a whole.
  2. Chapter one has an interesting discussion on how to generate the statistics for word counts, which would obviously be useful for determining which words should be learned. Should stats be based on headwords (e.g. “assume”) or inflections (e.g. “assumes”, “assumed”), and how would derivations (e.g. “unassuming”) should fit in? How about multi-word/formulaic/phrasal expressions (e.g. “take place”), technical words (frequent in a specialized area), academic words (frequent in a wide range of academic disciplines), and collocations?
  3. Their discussion of learning burden (why some words are harder to learn than others) was interesting (chapter two). Their discussion on presentation and interference immediately made me think of the dreaded prepositions chapter in most NT Greek textbooks. Similar things were also mentioned in this helpful post by cjfresch recently. Some good things in this chapter for teachers.
  4. Chapter three centers around vocabulary size and growth. Sometimes I see people deny the value of deliberate vocabulary learning in the classroom. You can put Webb and Nation in the opposite camp, though they only have it as one segment of a good learning approach. Of related interest, there is discussion of giving definitions/explanations in both L1 and L2, citing research supporting that both are good (p. 54).
  5. Conditions contributing to learning vocabulary was the focus of chapter four, and it strikes me of particular use for those who want to create graded readers or exercises for learning vocabulary.
  6. Webb/Nation seem to differ from Krashen/VanPatten in the degree to which input plays a part in a good language learning course. In Webb/Nation (pp. 182-183) it is one of four parts (the meaning-focused input strand), while in Krashen/VanPatten it seems to play the most dominate role by far. I say “seems” because I have consumed little Krashen directly, though quite a bit mediated through BVP’s podcast. But that being said, in the words of Webb/Nation, “simply adding an extensive reading component to a program may well be the best thing that a teacher could do to bring about growth in language proficiency” (183). If you’re interested in both sides on this, do a search on YouTube for Paul Nation and you will find plenty of videos. For VanPatten, it seems like the role of input is the topic of most episodes of Tea with BVP.

And there is much more. Perhaps that is enough to pique your interest.