English study by rote memorization
Recently, I moved to a new high school in Seoul, notorious for its education fever. I encountered English worksheets, workbooks and sundry exam papers on their desks issued by cram schools.
Half of the sheets were English vocabulary lists numbered in order like an item description in a column. I often saw many students memorize mechanically the English words that they seemed to get assigned by their private instructors, pretending to be attending my lesson while hiding their work sheets inside their textbook.
It seemed to be urgent for them to have a good grade on an imminent vocabulary test at their private institutions. They were provided with a typical 40 x 6 sheet of paper in regular sequence. On the right half of the paper, they were eager to memorize the one corresponding Korean definition in a stereotypical way.
Their sheets say, ``Memorize the vocabulary perfectly! Rote memorization is a core in English!” What an easy and simple method of studying English it is! It looks much easier ― faster, cheaper ― for them to determine whether they know the words on the list.
Their private tutors use them to promote students as vocabulary kings and help their students get a good grade. This portrays the stark English tutoring industry in Korea.
All they have to do is to learn word fragments by rote memorization, regardless of its various usages or applicability to numerous passages.
Many students studied English in English speaking countries. I used to ask them how they tried to learn the language. They say they did not try to memorize but read as many books as possible.
What they memorize might not be what they understand. What they understand might not be used properly in a different setting. The memorized words might turn out to be useful.
I saw the vocabulary list ignoring conjugation rules and collocation.
Collocation defines a sequence of words or terms that co-occur more often than would be expected by chance. In speaking or writing, a target language knowledge of collocations is crucial.
Even a grammatically correct sentence will become awkward if collocation preferences are violated. In another familiar example of collocation, we talk of high mountains and tall trees, but not of tall mountains and high trees.
Collocation is an interesting area for language teaching especially for comprehending English phrases.
Non-native speakers encounter trouble in English vocabulary use. Could students use the memorized words properly in speaking or writing?
No collocation rules are available for learners of English. Non-native speakers tend to have a limited experience and may habitually collocate in a way that sounds odd to the native speaker. However, native speakers intuitively make the correct collocation, based on hearing and reading the words in set combinations.
There is only one path for increasing vocabulary. Reading, reading, reading. Do not try to memorize, just read, as you read some poem or an article.
When you are sure about the words, try to recall them in a dialogue or monologue, try to use all of the words together, combine them through syntactic relations. Through this habit, they can naturally memorize words. They can mix nouns and verbs, and remember them.
It is essential to ensure that students have a basic memorized vocabulary base to draw from in a different syntax. Students should also be encouraged to memorize certain words for certain occasions in reading paragraphs. Learning in phrases is better than memorizing single words.
Let them try to compose an article with the usage of their new vocabulary. This will help them use new words daily.
It is vital for English instructors to help students learn vocabulary in an interactive way.
For example, English teachers should provide funny reading materials to students.
The writer is a teacher at Shinmok High School in Yangcheon-gu, Seoul. Contact him at email@example.com.