Vocabulary for MFL GCSE with James Milton - what does the evidence really say we should teach, and how

This course will be online.

In most of the world, the teaching of vocabulary is considered central to the business of teaching a modern foreign language. The targets that are set, and the approaches and techniques that are used to grow a large and fully functional lexicon, have emerged particularly from the last thirty years of research in this area. However, often when teaching MFL in the UK we have adopted a very different view of this research and use it to justify the side-lining of vocabulary, and to teach minimal numbers of only the most frequent words. Much of the research used to justify this approach is, I find, mine and I am not convinced that the research I have published can justify the approach we adopt in the UK.

In this session, therefore, I want to take you through the research evidence and explain the relationship between word knowledge and language level. I’ll introduce you to some tools that will help you test vocabulary knowledge and analyse the lexical content of text. We will look at some of the materials we use to teach vocabulary, and the relationship between the vocabulary we teach and the vocabulary that is learned.

In the first half we’ll look at:

1. What we mean by vocabulary and knowing. When we aspire to teach vocabulary knowledge what are we teaching and what are learners learning?

2. Coverage and communication. How many words are needed for even minimal understanding and to reach milestone exams like GCSE and its goal of CEFR B1 level communication? It turns out there are two very different vocabulary goals at play here.

3. Vocabulary size testing. To give an alternative approach to assessing learner targets for communication. This draws the same conclusions that studies of coverage give, but this gives you a test you can use with your learners.

4. Lexical profiling. Which words are needed for communication? We’ll look at the mixture of frequent and infrequent words that successful language learners possess.

5. Tom Cobb’s lextutor site. Which will allow you to make your own analysis of the lexical content of the materials you use (for French)

In the second half, we’ll look at:

6. Vocabulary learning. There’s an idea in the UK MFL literature that vocabulary learning is something that is just soaked up and doesn’t require much teaching. So, we’ll look at the ideas of explicit, implicit, incidental and informal learning in relation to vocabulary.

7. The relationship between vocabulary input and uptake. Not all the words you teach will be learned, so we’ll look at how this works.

8. The vocabulary of the textbook. These are a prime source of vocabulary for most learners so how good a job do they do? How much vocabulary is learned?

9. Teacher talk. This is something you can use to your learners’ benefit, with studies to show this.

10. Informal activities. If you can get your learners to read comic books or listen to songs in the MFL, I have studies which suggest you get astonishingly good vocabulary uptake form these sources.

Presenter Profile

James Milton is Emeritus Professor of Applied Linguistics at Swansea University. Before moving to Swansea he taught in Nigeria, Libya and in Kent. At Swansea University he both established, and for many years ran, the Centre for Applied Language Studies and the Department of Applied Linguistics. He also established, with Professor Paul Meara, the Vocabulary Acquisition Research Group in 1990, and this research group has played an important role in transforming our understanding of vocabulary in second language acquisition. Vocabulary is no longer a Cinderella subject, thought to be only incidental to the language teaching and learning process, but is described as the core element of language acquisition and communication.

Professor Milton has published 5 books on vocabulary acquisition and assessment including Modelling and Assessing Vocabulary Knowledge (CUP 2007), Measuring Second Language Vocabulary Acquisition (Multilingual Matters 2009), and Dimensions of Vocabulary Knowledge (Palgrave 2014). His output also includes over 100 refereed articles and book chapters, items of language teaching and testing software, edited journals, and commercial EFL teaching materials. Included in this output is research on the learning of MFL, particularly French, vocabulary in UK schools. The UK, it emerges, views vocabulary in MFL rather differently from other countries and its approach has been dubbed an anti-vocabulary school of language teaching. Research describes poor quality input in French MFL, both in terms of classroom time and the nature of materials for learning, and the lowest rates of vocabulary learning observed anywhere.

Cost: £85 per delegate

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