7. The problem of voc. errors and mistakes. Control of Voc.
Mental lexicon is “vocabulary in mind". It consists of the smallest independent meaningful units of speech. These units of speech are called words. The words have word-forms and meanings assigned to them. Words in mental lexicon create lexical networks. Once activated a lexical item stimulates other associated lexical items and this causes activation of a bigger network. To access mental lexicon an idea has to be mapped onto meaning and form that are stored in our memory (Aitchison, J. 1994. Words in the Mind. Blackwell. Garman, M. 1990. Psycholinguistics. CUP).
Mental lexicon performs the functions of word storage, retrieval, comprehension and use (After Carter, R., and M.McCarthy. 1988. Vocabulary and Language Teaching. Longman). Storage of words in mental lexicon is the result of a person’s cognitive processes in real world situations. As a result of cognitive processes, the words form up the situation sets (associated with a particular situation, objects, phenomena or processes), semantic sets (associated with a concept) and collocation sets (associated with other words by habitual everyday use).
Word comprehension can run into a problem because of the vague lexical meaning, allusions and references, symbolic, metaphorical and idiomatic use of words. One of the means to overcome lexical ambiguity is getting the cues from the context, background knowledge, social culture and the situation setting.
Word use can be hampered by the absence of the necessary word in processing memory or in the mental storage. In this case language users resort to lexical strategies such as circumlocution (putting the idea in a different way), word coinage (creating a non-existent word) and derivation (forming a word from the one that is known to the language user). Another strategy is using the gestures and mimic.
Word compounds in mental lexicon are phrasal verbs, adjectival collocations and other word combinations. Phrasal words are illustrated by the following example specially created for the demonstration purpose: Every time I try to talk up a new idea to my boss, he talks down to me, or talks around the issue. I can talk back to him but fail to talk him into anything. We can talk over and out (no words are left) the problem but here is no way to talk him round (make him change his mind). So we are just talking away (wasting time) I talk up (raise my voice) but we never come to talking through (consider the matter thoroughly). Word collocations can have connections between co-ordinates i.e. words that have a semantic relationship between them. E.g. fever – yellow, finger – green, mood – black, blood – red, colour – deep etc.
Vocabulary acquisition. The process of vocabulary acquisition has certain “laws” of its own. E.g. The first encounter with the word is sometimes more important than its frequency in exercises. That is why it is essential to “prime” the word, i.e. to prepare the learners for the encounter with the new word through activation of prior knowledge and creating the necessity of using the word. Development of vocabulary in mind depends on the complexity of the concepts that are expressed with the help of words. E.g. words with a concrete meaning are acquired easier and sooner than abstract meaning words. Learners acquire separate meanings of a word. First they acquire one component of meaning and then another. Basic terms (e.g. potato) are learned before superordinate words (vegetables). The storage of words in memory depends on the depth of meaning processing. The deeper learners get the meaning of the words in examples and associations, the stronger will memory traces be.
Receptive skills come before productive skills and the learners find it easier first to understand a word and then to use it. The knowledge of a vocabulary item comes before the knowledge of a vocabulary collocation i.e. first the learners acquire words and then learn how to combine them in collocations. Words are best remembered in their situational context (combination with other words) but situation context can limit the potential use of the words to particular situations only. In a motivating activity the word is remembered strongest. Motivating activities are more important than continuous repetitions. (After Cook V. 1991. Second Language Learning and Language Teaching. OUP)
Teaching and learning words is organised with vocabulary exercises (Oxford, R. 1990. Language Learning Strategies. Mass.: Newbury House.) The studies show that not surprisingly the learners' main approach is simply to try to memorise the words they do not know. Beginners prefer learning words in a list, while more advanced learners find context more effective (Ellis, R. 1994.The Study of Second Language Acquisition. OUP. P. 553-554). Exercises to acquire vocabulary are meaning interpretation (facilitating word understanding), word reinforcement (making learners practice the use of vocabulary in vocabulary focused activities) and communicative use (creating communicative conditions for using the instructed vocabulary), mnemonic exercises (using the technique to facilitate memorisation) are used. The activities for teaching vocabulary are given in the table: