The Eight-fold Path of Vocabulary Development

| December 28, 2009
The Eight-fold Path of Vocabulary Development

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Mark O. James, PhD.
Brigham Young University-Hawaii

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In Buddhist philosophy there are four Noble Truths. The first Noble Truth states that life is suffering. The second great truth says suffering has a cause. In our profession, we know what that cause is—foreign language learning! Although we might joke about it, learning a second or foreign language is truly the source of much pressure, disappointment and discouragement for many learners. Feeling confident about the choices we make as teachers is also not automatic—the choices, the methods, the materials, and the priorities are many. Adding to the complexity, the results of research are not always clearly conveyed or summarized in ways that are beneficial to teachers or learners. My purpose here is to share a metaphor by which we may organize our understanding about vocabulary learning research, and guide our thoughts and decisions in the classroom. This metaphor may be equally useful in helping our students do likewise, and thus aid them in becoming more effective and independent as learners. The goal, in the Buddhist spirit of things, is to reduce suffering and improve our performance. In Ch an or Zen Buddhism the way to reduce suffering is called the Eight-fold Path –because it consists of eight principles. We should be grateful, of course, for the renewed focus on vocabulary development and maintenance (our students have long thought it important), but the renewed emphasis has led to a virtual avalanche of ideas. Where second language vocabulary was once the subject of neglect, it is now, for many, a subject of some confusion. Many teachers have been led to ask, Which of the many ideas, dictionaries, methods, and texts (not to mention words!) are most useful for my purposes and for my learners? Hopefully, this paper will help to sort out some of the answers to these and other questions and help us find a way to systematically enlighten our students. Perhaps a lucky few will even approach Nirvana.

[private] See page: 124 – 135

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Category: Quarterly Journal, Volume 11 Issue 5