Learning another language has always been problematic for learners. How and what skills should be learned has been a matter of inquiry. It is true that integrating language skills and component is against the nature of language and language should learn holistically, but some components of language, like vocabulary, are the building block of learning.
Vocabulary learning and teaching has had a long history in second language learning field, sometimes it has been the focus of attention and sometimes its margin; but it has never been absent. About six hundred experimental reports published over the last twenty -five years, indicates the significant role of vocabulary in L2 learning (Brown, &Rodgers, 2002). In addition, different scholars mentioned the central role of vocabulary; “Vocabulary knowledge is crucial to reading comprehension”(Mosher, 1999, p.9;cited in klepper,2003,p.4); “Mastering English vocabulary is crucial for ESL student to become language competent” (Avila& Sadoski, 1996; cited in Gaudio, 2003, p.18); “Without grammar very little can be conveyed, without vocabulary nothing can be conveyed”( David Wilkins; cited in Thornbury, 2002, p.13) . “If you spend most of your time studying grammar, your English will not improve very much. You will see most improvement if you learn more words and expressions. You can say very little with grammar, but you can say almost anything with words” (Dellar & Hocking; cited in Thornbury, 2002, p.13).
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L2 learners are the ones who struggling with learning and the first weapon used in this struggle is dictionary (Krashen, 1997; citied in Brown, &Rodgers, 2002) so it is evident that they are more aware of vocabulary role than scholars and researchers. “Sometimes, I am a lack of useful vocabularies to express my opinions.” And “too often my speaking is hard caused by missing word”; these are how learners mentioned their needs of vocabulary in Thornbury’s book (Thornbury, 2002, p.13).
What has been done in this field, remains no doubt in the importance of vocabulary on both scholars’ and learners’ side. However, which approach to take in order to make vocabulary teaching more effective, is still a question. According to scholars, “learning vocabulary through games is one effective and interesting way that can be applied in any classrooms”( Thanh Huyen,& Thu Nga,2003 , Learning Vocabulary Through Games,para.1)
Using games as an educational tool is not something new and had a long history in language teaching. Games were used for more repetition in Audio lingual; they were introduced in Desuggestopedia as role-play activities or other activities aiming to reduce language barriers; most activities in TPR were game like ones to insert fun in classroom environment; and they found to be handy in Cooperative language teaching, in order to maximize the learner- learner interaction. This long story may prove the effectiveness of games; however, what is the role of games in vocabulary learning? Moreover, do games truly have educational value? To answer this question systematically, as Klepper suggested (2003), “to form a basis for researching the effectiveness of games used in vocabulary instruction” (p.4), it would be useful to review researches done in related idea; like the effect of games on student retention and memory, and motivation.
To start, it would be a good idea to review games and memory in vocabulary teaching and learning. One of the teachers’ desires is to see their students retain what have been taught. To realize this wish, learners should memorize and recall the information in this field (vocabulary) accurately.
Frequently asked question by student is how to memorize and recall what they have learned. Even highly motivated learners facing the difficulty of memorizing vocabulary lose their motivation, because memorizing requires them to make efforts to keep increasing vocabulary accurately. Vocabulary needs great repetition drills to establish (Atake, 2003). It is true that drills are sometimes boring, but there is a simple solution for this problem, insert games to make drills fun. “Games bring in relaxation and fun for students, thus help them learn and retain new words more easily”( Thanh Huyen,& Thu Nga,2003 , Learning Vocabulary Through Games,para.1).
For learning vocabulary, learners need to be able to remember long term. Information, first is held in short-term memory and by lack of attention, it is quickly lost. In order for the information in the short term to be retained, enough rehearsal and elaboration is needed. The more that the knowledge is rehearsed in the memory the more likely it is to be retained in long term memory (Klepper, 2003). It is important to keep student attention, in order to increase their ability to retain words. One way to keep students attention as scholar suggested is “emotion”. When an educator creates emotion, such as in a game format, music, or drama, then the students’ attention is most likely to remain with the material and task at hand. In addition, using this strategy directly after a lesson increases the chances that the material will be recalled later.”(Meyen, et. al.1999,cited in Klepper, 2003)
The other related field is games and motivation. “We know that motivation is the root problem in learning. Without due attention to motivational inputs, they [output or ends of learning] are rarely achieved” (Clark, 2007, p.11). In order to achieve learning goal, teachers should pay attention to motivating strategies and One of these strategies used by teachers, as Hootstein (1994) mentioned, is using games. While you are teaching, sometimes you feel your students are just physically in the class, and what happen to attention? Not even a sign of it, what is the reason? As Ersoz (2002) mentioned, “language learning is a hard task which can sometimes be frustrating. Constant effort is required to understand, produce, and manipulate the target language” (p.1). “It is hard for students to keep trying to overcome their frustration and unfortunately, it is possible for students to easily lose their motivation” (Atake, 2003, p.9). When learners face so many essential words to comprehend and produce a language, they will find learning a burden. This burden is so heavy that makes even highly motivated learners, demotivate. “Research shows that games can serve to motivate and interest student in learning” (Hogle, 1996, p.8-10).
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Most scholars ( Wright, Betteridge ,& Buckby , 1984; Ersoz , 2000; Su Kim, 1995; Uberman, 1998; Lee,1979;Richard-Amato, 1988; Hansen, 1994; Wierus and Wierus, 1994; Zdybiewska, 1994; Thanh Huyen & Thu Nga, 2003; Yong Mei& Yu-jing, 2000; Lewis, 1999;Tyson, 2000; Lengeling & Malarcher, 1997) believe in the significant role of games in EFL field specially vocabulary development in addition some complained about the negligence of its importance; as Lee stated, a game “should not be regarded as a marginal activity filling in odd moments when the teacher and class have nothing better to do” (Language teaching games and contests, 1979; cited in Using Games in EFL Classes for Children,2000 ). He also says that games should be treated as central not peripheral to the foreign language teaching program. Thanh Huyen and Thu Nga,also aptly mentioned the advantages of using of games:
Games have been shown to have advantages and effectiveness in learning vocabulary in various ways. First, games bring in relaxation and fun for students, thus help them learn and retain new words more easily. Second, games usually involve friendly competition and they keep learners interested. These create the motivation for learners of English to get involved and participate actively in the learning activities.
Therefore, the role of games in teaching and learning vocabulary cannot be denied. ( 2003 , Learning Vocabulary Through Games,para.1)
However, considering games, as the central activity does not mean it is a safe way to stick to it and call it super technique. It can be said that games are an effective tool, but as Thanh Huyen and Thu Nga themselves observed, a matter of caution still remains:
However, in order to achieve the most from vocabulary games, it is essential that suitable games are chosen. Whenever a game is to be conducted, the number of students, proficiency level, cultural context, timing, learning topic, and the classroom settings are factors that should be taken into account.( 2003 , Learning Vocabulary Through Games,para.1)
So games are effective as long as their style, as Dunne (1984) reported, match with subject matter and types of student.
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