This short blog is about how we can really become proficient in using language. When students are trying to acquire language and put it into practice they often wonder why they fail to remember the vocabulary.
Teachers often pull their hair out about why their students cannot retain all of these amazing words they are teaching their students. The answer is not so complicated but it is not particularly sexy either!
The brain has a limited capacity and only few students can be expected to see language, then apply it out of context and retain it after one or two uses of the word. Most people need to have seen language many times and need a good reason to use it. In the words of linguistic expert Stuart Webb:
´Incidental vocabulary learning through reading is strongly tied to lexical frequency in that repeated exposure to a word is key to its acquisition´.
So what are the implications for students and teachers? As teachers we cannot ram 30-40 language items down a student´s throat and expect them to waltz into class and be able to use them! We need to cut back on the number of language items and provide them with a real reason to use them.
As students we need to have realistic expectations. If you can learn 5-6 phrasal verbs in a day and be able to use them in conversation, you have done a great job and tomorrow you can look at 5-6 more. If of course you are gifted why not push yourself? Likewise, a teacher can challenge a talented student to aim for greater language retention.
Short of this, there is no sexy, quick-fix solution. Learning a language is like learning a difficult sport or a tricky instrument, it takes practice, time and consistency and you progress gradually! Good luck and take it step by step teachers and students!