To be sure, you could memorize thousands of a language's words and still have less ability to communicate than a 3-year-old, because how the words are put together is equally central to what a language is.
Nevertheless, every linguist realizes that expressing yourself with utmost clarity and precision requires a growth of vocabulary. A mere stock of arbitrary words does not help much toward fluency.
For me to know the basic definitive meanings of, let's say, put, run and set, limits me to elementary usage, and does not imply that I can use these three words in different ways effectively in sentences.
The head of the pack is the word run, now with no fewer than 645 meanings according to the next Oxford English Dictionary, which is no longer set in type, shall have a press run of limited editions and shall be put to bed in about 25 years.
Of course, it is not expected that a new student of the English language be able to exhaust the semantics. As a linguaphile, off the top of my head at best I may be able to distinguish 15 to 20 delineated meanings and uses of the aforesaid complex verbs.
However, as linguists, we must recognize the concept of total immersion and, thus, the necessity to build vocabulary. I encourage my students to explore words that wear many hats, especially as far as parts of speech go.
No language behaves perfectly, and context usually but not always makes a meaning clear. For example, George Carlin's observations point out that sometimes the same words mean opposite things and sometimes the opposite is true.
“Slow down and slow up are interchangeable. Bad taste is tasteless. Something invaluable is very valuable. I'll bet you could care less. Or maybe you couldn't care less. Same difference. By the way, is it ‘from here on in’ or ‘from here on out?’”
I hope you did not miss the whole point of the joke in this. Language's redundancies play with us and we play with language.
As far as methods and materials go, I run the whole gambit in my classes. Recently, I incorporated common nouns and verbs with their affixes and presented handouts showing a range of usage that new learners should be familiar with. One guiding model, the bare word work with its associates works, working, worked and worker, the classes found to be absorbing and enlightening.
CSI does clever police work. He is out of work. The “Enter” key doesn't work. His pottery work is unique. He ordered his pizza with the works. He works his crew hard. The works of Poe include the poem “The Raven.” I need to have dental work done. This has been a day's work. That is a work elephant. These are my work clothes. My work hours are 9 to 5. Hinges work better with oil. This is a plan that will work. I worked my way up in the company. The knot worked loose. The salesman was working my territory. She is a working mother. The workers want more money. Drones are not worker bees.
Additionally, I presented 10 common compound words: workbench, workbook, workday, workforce, workhorse, workload, workmanship, workout, workplace and workup.
And finally, I presented special uses. Workaholic: a compulsive worker; worked up: emotionally upset or excited; working-class: manual laborers, hourly wage earners; workers' comp: special insurance to pay an employee who is injured on the job; work someone over: to beat up; work-study program: a program giving high school and college students work experience; work oneself up to something: to get mentally ready or prepared to do something; work one's tail off, work one's buns off, work one's butt off: to work very hard.
As you can see this is ``Extra, extra, extra! Read all about it!" The class conversation textbook is only a guidebook. It is hardly all encompassing. You don't have to be a lexicographer, interpreter or translator to tone up your vocabulary. But there must be curiosity and engagement, and a good time should be had. Remember, there are no easy languages.
“Prefix has no suffix, but suffix has a prefix. Always do whatever's next.” Cheers!
William Roger Jones has taught English in Korea for five years. He presently teaches with the English Program in Korea (EPIK). He has written a novella with his Korean wife, entitled, “Beyond Harvard.” He can be reached at email@example.com.