My teacher readers have permission to roll their eyes now, but I've finally figured out the reason for those stupid vocabulary exercises we did in school—look up the word, define the word (don't just copy the dictionary), use the word in a sentence ("XXX is a vocabulary word" doesn't count), test on Friday.  I dutifully complied, but don't believe I learned any new word that way.  I'm very good at remembering something long enough to pass a test, but what increases my vocabulary is reading, hearing, and using new words in context.

Having subscribed (thanks to my father) for many years to A.Word.A.Day, and recently extended my random vocabulary fun to Free Rice (thanks to my brother), I realized that the point of vocabulary work is not to learn new words!  The purpose is to increase one's awareness of new words.  Perhaps slower, more careful readers do not have this problem, but I devour books, and any word I don't know is glossed over, its general meaning derived from context and the word itself forgotten.  However, if my awareness of the word has been raised through seeing or hearing it before, even if I don't know the meaning it will begin to pop out of the page at me, and gradually become incorporated into my working vocabulary.

So for me, and I suspect many others, vocabulary lessons are useless outside of the context of an environment rich in words, but given that context they are a useful tool after all.  I wonder, however, if they are of any use at all to children who will not go on to encounter the words in real life.  Another example of the rich getting richer and the poor poorer, I suppose.
Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, March 31, 2008 at 6:20 pm | Edit
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