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Which vocabulary really counts?

October 11, 2017

Fly Buys was a card that gave you points whenever you bought something. These points could be used to get plane tickets at a discount of for free. As the promotion continued users found that no matter how many things they bought, they could never use the points because they were expiring, essentially they always had the same number of fly buy points because the new points just replaced the old ones. People should have tried to use the points on short trips within their country, not for big trips.

Learning vocabulary is like collecting fly buys points, if you don't use the vocabulary regularly in short conversations, then you will just be replacing old vocabulary in your brain with the new vocabulary you are learning. You might spend 3 hours a day learning vocabulary, but very little of it will still be there in a month.

The tragedy of all of those happy shoppers accumulating fly buys points from supermarkets was that unless you use those points, then they expire. Vocabulary is the same, if you haven't used the word for 'table cloth' within a week of revising it, then it probably won't hang around and wait for you.

Students who are studying by themselves should try to organise or attend language exchanges multiple times a week so that they can practice the vocabulary they have been learning. Its totally acceptable to bring your vocabulary with you and deliberately use it and get feedback. Tell your language partners that these are the vocabulary items you are working on, and go through it together.


What does this mean for textbook designers? How can we choose the most relevant vocabulary?

- Place names can be avoided, if people go there then they will learn them, if they don't have anything to do with that city or province then they might not need to learn it

- Concepts that are uncommon can be avoided, such as minute household items

- Obsolete vocabulary which is rarely used.

- Vocabulary which is only ever written should be minimised. This can often be covered in a specialist textbook, for students still no comfortable in conversation then it is unlikely to improve their proficiency, and they may use it in spoken contexts and be discouraged.

The onus is on textbook writers to consult linguistic research into which words are most frequently used, and which are obsolete.




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