06 October 2011

ELT in Japan, Issue #4 (October 2011)




In this issue:

1. Teaching English /l/ and /r/ to EFL learners: a lexical approach

2. Basics of vocabulary study in TOEIC practice class

3. Another way to integrate more vocabulary practice and learning into TOEIC lessons

Feature 1: Teaching English /l/ and /r/ to EFL 
learners: a lexical approach
Charles Jannuzi
University of Fukui, Japan


English /r/, /l/ and contrasts across these two categories of sounds are often judged to be pronunciation and listening perception problems for a variety of EFL learners, most from E. Asia. The language backgrounds most often associated with these problems are Japanese, Korean, Chinese and some languages of SE Asia (e.g., Thai but also Cantonese Chinese). Other language speakers may also express an interest in improving their pronunciation of English /r/ and /l/, including Russian and German EFL learners, in order to reduce an accent.

Perhaps the most well-known group to have a problem with the two categories of English /l/ and /r/ sounds is Japanese EFL learners. This could be because their native language background creates the most difficult problems to overcome, both in terms of listening perception and spoken production. It could also be, in part, because Japan attained affluence before most of the rest of Asia and hired native speakers of English to help teach and model the language. Meanwhile, because of their relative affluence, many Japanese learners of English went abroad to study. So a lot of information based on knowledge and experience of Japanese and Japanese learners of EFL has been exchanged and discussed in 'global ELT'.

This paper describes and explains classroom procedures and activities to guide and help learners make a systematic distinction between English /l/ and /r/. One unifying principle of the procedures is that they adhere to a lexical approach—that is, pronunciation is best taught using the most frequent and useful words of the English lexicon. The procedures and activities are not limited to English /l/ and /r/ and could be extended and applied to other problem sounds and contrasts of English or any other language. 

What is the issue for Japanese learners of English?

In the case of Japanese learners of English, just what is the issue? Accounts vary and can even contradict not only each other but themselves. The most common, internally consistent account is based on a simple 'contrastive analysis'. Japanese is said to have one categorical sound (or phoneme) whereas English has two. The Japanese sound is often referred to as a type of [r] that is tapped, flapped and/or trilled. The Japanese sound never closes a syllable and has a very limited distribution in Japanese (for example, it is only found at the beginning of words if they are foreign loans). In other words, the word-initial form of Japanese /r/ is limited to words of foreign origin (e.g., ramen, a type of Chinese noodles now a national dish in Japan, or ramune, a soda the name for which seems to be derived from the English word lemonade). Another commonly occuring form of the Japanese /r/ is as the initial part of the syllables (syllable onsets) used in grammatical inflections (such as verb forms, which are suffixes in Japanese).

English-speaker descriptions of the Japanese sound--or of the Japanese learner of English's inter-language sound--represent the Japanese (or inter-language) sound as variably resembling English /l/, /r/, or /d/ (especially [d] in the middle of a word, like in the word middle). Phonetic descriptions have also said that the American medial tapped, voiced [t] of words such as little are quite like the Japanese /r/.

However, it is not really clear how useful a cross-linguistic, contrastive analysis of phoneme inventories is in diagnosing the problems or in helping Japanese learners of English to overcome them. For one thing, the often-stated argument that Japanese has only ONE phoneme, Japanese /r/, is arguably wrong. That is because, using structuralist criteria for determining what is and what is not a phoneme, we can isolate at least two Japanese [r] sounds that are distinct: initial [r-], such as in the word rou (candlewax) from palatalized initial [r-] in ryou (dormitory).

Also, it is also misleading to teach EFL learners that there is one English /r/ and one English /l/. That is because they will hear native and fluent speakers of English make a wide array of both categories of sounds in actual speech. The real issue, though, is: What is THE SAME across the [l]s that make them an English /l/, and what is THE SAME across the [r]s that make them an English /r/? Phonology as an academic pursuit has not really answered that question. Phonetic analysis shows, in terms of articulation, that there is a wide variety within both categories of sounds. Interestingly, the distribution in the lexicon of English [r] sounds strongly parallels English [l] sounds: word-initial (right vs. light), word-initial cluster unvoiced (crime vs. climb), word-initial cluster voiced (grow vs. glow), post-vocalic (fear vs. feel, stir vs. still), medial (correct vs. collect), and unstressed syllabic (batter vs. battle).

There is some complementary distribution if we consider clusters: [tr-] as in true but no [tl-], [sl] as in slide but no [sr-], [shr-] as in shred but no [shl] (except some loan words), and [l] can cluster with [r] post-vocalically, as in girl or world, but not vice versa. Moreover, since both of these sound categories tend toward phonetically 'vowel-like' (voiced and relatively unobstructed), perhaps it is not surprising that in some cases they might reduce to a vowel or vowel lengthening in some accents, dialects and word contexts (such as post-vocalic [r] in the forms of the English of London, Boston, NY and New Orleans, or the lost [l] of the words chalk, talk, walk, etc.).

Given the variety of English /r/ and /l/ sounds and how they parallel each other in the phonotactics and lexicon of English, it is little wonder that EFL learners, even after they have practiced making an English /r/ vs. /l/ distinction (often initial [l] vs. initial [r], e.g., led vs. red, light vs. right, etc.), lose the ability when actually communicating orally. The one distinction they may have learned gets lost in the thicket of the lexicon, the various [l] and [r] sounds in all their positional variation, and in all those varieties of English. Therefore, it is best to teach--over a period of time and through a variety of activities--the full parallel variety of English /r/ and /l/ sounds as found in the MOST FREQUENT WORDS of the lexicon. A proposed sequence is this: first the variety of English /l/s, then the variety of English /r/s, then /l/ vs. /r/ contrasts in common words, then a follow up on the variety of post-vocalic [r]s in rhotic accents, such as US and Canadian forms of English.

What sequence should be used to teach English /l/ and /r/?

One line of reasoning might say that, since English /r/ is typically the last consonant acquired by native speakers, it might be best to teach English /l/ first to EFL learners because of the inherent difficulties with the English /r/ group of related sounds. A different line of reasoning that might support this first approach might be based on inter-language analysis. If Japanese has its own /r/ sound, the argument goes, then Japanese learners of EFL would find it easier to differentiate and master English /l/ first. However, as noted above, Japanese /r/ and Japanese learners' inter-language /r/ and /l/ sounds are often described as sounding more like English /l/ (or /d/ or medial voiced tapped [t]) than English /r/. If all these arguments are considered together, the issue of which sequence to follow starts to look rather difficult to decide.

One compromise might be to conclude that the Japanese /r/ and palatal /r/ are not acceptable substitutes for either English /l/ or /r/ and to start an instructional sequence with English /l/ first. The strongest justification for English /l/ coming first is that even English native speakers, in terms of production, typically acquire /r/ last in their language development and this complex set of sounds actually often requires remedial practice.

Sequence of instruction 

So one possible proposed sequence of instruction (as a pronunciation segment of a longer class, such as 20 minutes out of a 90 minute class period) is as follows:

First class: English /l/

Second class: Review of English /l/, English /r/

Third class: Review of English /l/, /r/, contrast of English /l/ vs. /r/

Fourth class: Review and revise as necessary

Subsequent classes: Work on problem contrasts within and across the categories (e.g., farm vs. firm, walk vs. work, etc.).

English /l/ should be taught using the most frequent and useful words of English as possible (and teachers should be prepared to provide an L1 translation in the case of less common words) and should cover the following types of /l/:

Types of English /l/

Word-initial [l]: like, lake, let, lot, low, lamp, leap, last, etc. 
Unvoiced cluster [l]: clean, close, clock, place, play, please, slide, slow, slip, etc. 
Voiced cluster [l]: blue, blow, blood, blame, glad, glue, glow, glass, etc. 
Post-vocalic [l] (dark l): feel, fall, fail, call, sale, all, deal, tall, etc.

Medial [l]: follow, hollow, yellow, jello, hello, pillow, filling, collect, etc. 
Unstressed syllabic [l]: settle, battle, riddle, middle, puddle, little, tunnel, etc. 
[-rl] cluster: girl, world, whirl, hurl, curl, twirl, swirl, unfurl, etc. 

Then, English /r/ should be taught using the most frequent and useful words of English as possible and should cover the following types of /r/:

Types of English /r/

Word-initial [r]: right, raise, rise, risk, rose, run, red, road, etc.

Unvoiced cluster [r]: cry, cream, crazy, tree, true, try, pray, praise, prize, three,   throw, etc. 
Voiced cluster [r]: broom, bring, British, grow, grass, great, dry, draw, dream, etc.

Post-vocalic [r] (reduces to or alternates with 'schwa' in many dialects and accents):   car, fear, far, tear, fair, form, farm, dear, hear, more, war, etc.

Medial [r]: correct, Korea, porous, preferring, occurring, recurring, referring,  transferring, etc.
Unstressed syllabic [r]: ladder, litter, batter, motor, runner, sadder, madder,  heater, etc.

[-rl] cluster: girl, world, whirl, hurl, curl, twirl, swirl, unfurl, etc. 


Example teaching activities

Let us suppose you teach English pronunciation and spelling as a small but regular part in support of general EFL or a speaking/conversation/oral communication course. I suggested above a possible sequence of the following: First class, English /l/; second class, review of English /l/ then introduction of English /r/; third class, review of English /l/, /r/, contrast of English /l/ vs. /r/; fourth class, review and revise as necessary; subsequent classes, work on problem contrasts within and across the categories (e.g., farm vs. firm, pull vs. pool, walk vs. work, fall vs. far, etc.). Let us then look at some specifics of what to do in class.

Minimal pair drills and other possibilities

The traditional way to focus on sounds has been in minimal pair drills. There are at least two problems with these as they have often been done in ELT. First, they rush students into making listening contrasts between two similar sounds (acoustically and/or in terms of articulation) before they have learned how to make the sounds. Second, many materials often choose relatively infrequent words in order to illustrate the sound contrasts. I propose instead that we first teach the sounds positively (not in minimum contrasts), across a variety of positions in words, using words drawn from the students’ textbooks, word lists, syllabuses, the most frequent and useful words of English, and English loan words that are well-known in the students’ own language. Japanese, for example, is loaded with these and they make for very good reinforcement that there is an l/r distinction in English. This gives pronunciation an added lexical focus, thus letting the lexicon lead pronunciation practice, and not vice versa.

I usually teach a sound of English with a classroom sequence like this: Today we are going to practice the English sound /l/. Let’s look at how the /l/ sound is made in your vocabulary. 

Examples of English /l/ sounds to put on the board:

At the beginning of words: like, lake, let, lot, low, lamp, leap, last, etc.

After another consonant (unvoiced) : clean, close, clock, place, play, please, slide, slow, slip, etc. 

After another consonant (voiced): blue, blow, blood, blame, glad,glue, glow, glass, etc.

After a vowel (dark l): feel, fall, fail, call, sale, all, deal, tall, etc.

In the middle of a two-syllable word: follow, shallow, yellow, jello, hello, pillow, filling, collect, etc.

Unstressed syllabic [l]: settle, battle, riddle, middle, puddle, little, tunnel, etc.

[-rl] cluster: girl, world, whirl, hurl, curl, twirl, swirl, unfurl, etc.

I start with one type of /l/, the word-initial [l-] and give a few examples. I write them on the board and have the students say the words, repeating after my model. I make a point that students need to listen to my pronunciation, and look at my face when I pronounce the words (because visual clues on the face are often crucial to acquiring a sound). Then I ask students to give other examples from the vocabulary that they know. If this yields few examples, I ask them to search their textbook (e.g., today’s TOEIC practice chapter). Another way to elicit l-words is to write some simple sentences on the board from which the l-word has been deleted, such as:

_ _ _ _  Biwa  is  the   largest  in  Japan.

We continue the drills over the entire variety of English /l/ sounds. After we have practiced saying all the words, we then practice some simple sentences in which the sound appears several times, such as: I like lying lazily by the lake. Or, if students have dictionaries (or you are prepared to translate) , I like lilacs, lilies, lotuses and gladiolus.

Contrasting English /l/ and /r/ 

The same sort of activities can be repeated for English /r/ in the next class with pronunciation practice (see the figure above for 'Types of English /r/' for examples of words). I like to start with a quick review of English /l/ before /r/, even though the contrast is not made directly. Rather, we review English /l/ and then practice English /r/ with the same sort of simple pronunciation and lexical tasks. After these two lessons, the class is ready for a classic English /l/ vs. /r/ contrast. We review /l/, then /r/, and then the repetition drills expand to the minimal pairs, across the different types of the sounds: low/row, light/right (or write), lies/rise, led/red, climb/crime, play/pray, glow/grow, blue/brew, collect/correct, feel/fear, still/stir, little/litter, etc. If a word falls outside the typical word lists, most frequent words, or English loan words, it is a good time to add some dictionary practice to the pronunciation routine. The minimal pairs can be presented on the board as opposing columns:

Minimal pairs for repetition drill and practice distinguishing English /l/ from /r/

/l/ /r/
low row
light right
led red
climb crime
play pray
blue brew
glow grow
collect correct
feel fear
still stir
little litter

The teacher can lead a repetition drill first of the the /l/ words, and then the /r/ words, and then a back-and-forth contrast of the contrasting word pairs (e.g., light-right, etc.). Avoid, however, a rising-falling sing-song tone when saying the contrasting words in pairs.

After word pairs, another way to contrast the words in short ‘tongue-twister’ sentences that include both sounds, such as:

 -I really like red roses, yellow daffodils and white lilies very much.

 She likes to read literature and writes really well.

 When I take a test, I feel a little fear that I might fail.

 He likes playing pool, but thinks bowling is boring

Listening Perception Activity

Having students listen and repeat words that exemplify the sounds covers both listening perception and production ( as well as short-term memory and vocabulary knowledge). However, there is a simple way to focus on listening perception to see whether or not they can perceive the differences in the categories of the sounds—minimal pair sentence cloze listening.

Repeat an ambiguous sentence 6 times, plugging in one of a a minimal pair, which changes the meaning of the sentence. Students number from 1-6 on their paper and then write if they hear the word with an /l/, if they hear the word with an /r/. It's advisable to have ready translations of the sentences in the students’ L1 because then they won't be distracted by language that they don't understand, and it makes clear that what seems like a small difference in sound can result in a big difference in meaning. Note how the sentences also include other examples of /l/ and /r/ in use, which is an important aspect of listening perception. Some examples I have used (Choose a sentence and say it 6 times, 3 times /l/, 3 times /r/):

Minimal pair sentences for listening perception of English /l/ and /r/

 She wrote a note on her ____________. (list / wrist)

 The teacher ____________ the tests. (collected / corrected)

  The children _____________ at the church. (played / prayed)

  In the summer heat, the wind __________. (stilled / stirred)

  The worker cut the _________. (glass / grass)

  The people were __________ on the concrete. (walking / working)

Whole-class activities with a learner focus

Most of this sequence of pronunciation practice has been done as whole-class activities, but it's nice to shift more of the performance onto the learner. However, there are ways to do this without putting learners under too much pressure and thereby lead to embarrassing situations. In this case I prefer whole class ‘melee activities’ that send students to the board.

For example, prepare a list of frequent, useful words that fall under one of four categories: the word has an /l/, has an /r/, has both an /l/ and /r/, and has neither /l/ nor /r/ (like, long, low, bowling, flag, full, feel; red/read, wrong, right, boring, your, confirm; weather; curl, girl, world; way, day, decide, etc.), until every student has a word. 
Next, divide the board up into four areas: 1//4 space for /l/ words, 1/4 space for /r/ words, 1/4 space words with both /l/ and /r/, and 1/4 space for words with neither /l/ nor /r/. 
Then announce to the class that you are going to give each student a word. That you are only going to say it once and that they have to listen to their word and then write it on the board, in the correct space (e.g., if the word contains an /l/ sound, it should go in the /l/ space on the board). I like to demonstrate, giving an example of each type of word (one /l/, one /r/, both /l/ and /r/, neither). 
Students get their word from you (say it in a normal voice while standing in front of them) and then write what they think they heard on the board. After all the words have been placed in their spaces, you can then compare it with your teacher’s list. This can then be a good time to see how well they perceive sounds. Sometimes a student’s ‘miscue’ will surprise you. One student received the word well and wrote bowling instead. This means that she might well have perceived an /l/ sound but didn't perceive the word correctly. There will probably be some l-r inversions as well.

I recommend that you then re-read aloud the words on the teacher's list and write the ones that have been missed in a different color chalk or white board marker in the correct space. Then you might ask students to extend the activity a little further by giving still more words that fit under one of the four categories. Then you can finish with whole-class repetition of all the words as a final reinforcement of the /l/-/r/ distinction. 


The English /l/-/r/ distinction is usually considered an important one for clear speech and avoiding a derogatory stereotyping of accent. However, if you actually look at the two sounds as categories, you see that there is tremendous phonetic/articulatory variety of both English /l/ and English /r/ across the lexicon. I have argued here that because of this variety we need to give many examples of how the sounds are used in frequent, useful words of English. It is my hope that the explanation of the phonetic variety of English /l/ and /r/ and my detailed, practical suggestions for classroom activities prove useful for you and your English learners.

Feature 2: Basics of Vocabulary Study in TOEIC Practice Class
Charles Jannuzi
University of Fukui, Japan


Teaching and studying vocabulary are a major part of EFL classes. However, are we really doing all we can to help students acquire a broad, deep and nuanced lexicon? What we do in the classroom takes on even more importance when the students have very few chances to hear or read or use the FL outside the classroom, as is so often the case in EFL. Many TOEIC practice textbooks on the market here in Japan include a vocabulary section. Usually this is presented as a pre-reading or pre-listening task. Often it is a list of key words taken from the reading or listening exercises of a given unit. And the units are often 'themed': food and drink, shopping, at the airport, recreation, etc. So the themes and the TOEIC practice texts 'select' the vocabulary.

Also, textbook writers like to stick with the most frequent vocabulary of English because they know the TOEIC test writers do. The vocabulary pre-reading or pre-listening tasks most preferred here in Japan are (1) the bilingual word list (i.e., a list of English words requiring translation into Japanese) and (2) the matching exercise (i.e., a list of English words that are matched with their Japanese translations and/or English-language definitions). This article looks at ways to make better use of these vocabulary sections.

Pre-listening, pre-reading tasks

Activity One

If a unit has a specific theme, why not try, as pre-listening or pre-reading task, to get the students to pool their English vocabulary to make a simple themed semantic map on the board. Students are asked to activate their own vocabulary in anticipation of the key vocabulary in the unit that they are going to study. For example, a simple concept map of a chapter on 'the airport' might produce: check-in, tickets, ticketing, passports, passport clearance/immigration, customs, etc.

Be prepared to give examples. Encourage students to put bilingual words and phrases on the board so that the other students, who may not know the item, can understand it (this works in Japan because most students are either native speakers of Japanese or are studying it as a second or foreign language). When the first map is complete, go over the vocabulary with the students, practicing pronunciation.

Activity Two

Being able to match key terms with equally important or even more basic synonyms is an important skill for taking language proficiency tests. You can practice it in this task. From the first map that you and the students did together, choose key items. For this task, ask students to see if they can produce synonyms, synonymous phrases or near equivalents for the key terms that you have chosen. For example:

  baggage: luggage, suitcases, bags

  confirm: check, make sure, verify

  restroom: toilet, WC, washroom

  restaurant: cafe, snack-bar, grill, cafeteria

  allowed: permitted

It might also be useful to isolate some key action verbs and verbal phrases:

get: buy, purchase get: arrive depart: take off, embark arrive: land, touch down, disembark

When words are not clear synonyms, it is a good opportunity for the teacher to explain the similarities and differences. For example: We disembark from the plane after we have arrived.

Activity Three

Another task that will help students to activate language that participates the language of the listening or reading units of the textbook is the generation of key collocations. Some collocations are so strong that they overlap with what is a lexical item. Ask students to come up with some key collocations for some of the words that they have already come up with so far. Be prepared to give examples to get the process started.

For example:

Get: some food, some drinks, some cigarettes, some rest (a meaning or use of 'get' not listed above but relevant to the given theme, airports, air travel, etc).

Restroom: use the restroom, go to the restroom, find the restroom, ask where the restroom is

Allowed: smoking is not allowed, entry beyond this point is not allowed

Buy: buy duty-free goods, buy a magazine, buy a newspaper, buy some snacks

Lexical items that pair common words but result in idiomatic meanings:

get in, get down, get up, take off (as a verb), touch down, etc.

The teacher should again be prepared to give sentences that show the particular meaning in use:

Get up from the seat. 
Could you get that bag down for me?
It's hot, so I'm going to take off my jacket. 
The airplane was delayed by a half hour before it could take off.

Variations on Activities One-Three (above)

Since one of the basic tasks for TOEIC listening is to choose the correct description of a photograph (such as people checking in at an airline's counter in an airport, someone getting off an airplane, etc.), you might have students generate on the board on a sheet of paper their own descriptions of the photographs in the TOEIC practice textbook:

  There is/are....
  The people are....
  He/she/they is/are....
  It's a .....
  The airplane (is parked on the runway).
  The airplane (is taking off).
  The airplane (is landing).

Activity Four

TOEIC is known as a test of everyday spoken English (e.g., for travel) and business English (e.g., communications for a trading company). This preconception can be misleading. TOEIC is marketed as a test for general learners of English as a Foreign Language and for EFL learners in business and company settings. This distinguishes the test from TOEFL, which is famous as a test required to get into universities and colleges in North America. However, more and more the tasks on the two tests have come to resemble each other: the TOEFL has become more practical in some of its content, and the TOEIC has become more difficult and demanding of short-term memory than before. One area where the TOEIC can still present difficulty is in SUB-TECHNICAL vocabulary--that is, vocabulary that is not informal, and knowledge of it is supposed to reflect a basic cultural (Anglophone), scientific and technical 'literacy'.

This activity has been designed to help students study and practice for the sub-technical vocabulary they will encounter on the TOEIC. To start, you can have students brainstorm terms that they relate to a specified theme. For example, 'breakfast'. This might help them to generate words like: croissant, toast, bread, coffee, tea, cereal, milk, cream, butter, eggs, etc.

Next, choose at least one term to use an example of the need to learn and review sub-technical vocabulary. For example, 'cereal'. What is cereal made of? Grains like corn, wheat, and rice. In the case of a Japanese-speaking EFL class, a lot can be made of a cereal box that is written in Japanese. Can students find the terms on the box that are related to ingredients and nutrition? If they can, it should generate word lists like


Another communicative situation that quickly requires knowledge of sub-technical vocabulary is a weather report (and these find their way onto TOEIC):

     gale force winds
     hurricane/typhoon/tropical cyclone
     tropical depression
     high pressure
     low pressure
     warm front
     cold front
     rain front
     moist tropical air
     rainy season

Post-listening, post-reading

Often where EFL teachers fail is not so much in preparing students for listening or reading units but rather in providing sufficient review, revision, consolidation and follow-up practice. One of the best ways to recycle vocabulary is to give sets of multiple-choice questions the week after a TOEIC practice unit. Also, as the semester progresses, the teacher will want to choose the most important vocabulary from all the previous TOEIC lessons.

Example multiple choice questions:

1. While breakfast cereal can be a good source of ______________ to start your day, some cereals are very high in sugar, carbohydrates and total calories.

a. nutrition b. partition c. division d. ingredients

(Answer: a. nutrition)

2. A: Brrrr. It's cold outside, isn't it? B: Yes, it is. The weather report said that there would be a 50% chance of ______________, with rain turning to snow.

a. nutrition b. participation c. perception d. precipitation

(Answer: d. precipitation)

3. What is XXXXXXXX?

a. At some companies and in some countries, it is difficult to _______________ a union.

b. Some fish in the open oceans _______________ themselves into large schools.

c. If you want to _______________ a surprise birthday party for a friend, it is a lot of work to get everyone to cooperate and participate.

a. plan b. originate c. succeed d. organize

(Answer: d. organize)

Note on the last one: Here 'organize' is used in three different contexts and it reveals a meaning, connotation or use that might not be so clear simply from consulting a bilingual or English-English learner's dictionary: To organize can mean to to plan, but plan doesn't cover the other areas of meaning with organize.

TOEIC also tests an EFL learner's mastery of inflectional and derivational morphology. Distractors for multiple-choice questions can focus on these aspects. For example:

4. Last week my friends and I got together and ________________ a surprise birthday part for Sue, and this week we held the party successfully.

a. to organize b. organizing c. organism d. organized

(Answer: d. organized)


Preparation for high-stakes exams, such as TOEIC, TOEFL, and IELTS is now a major part of EFL classes in Asia. Teachers can supplement comprehensive English courses with textbooks and materials designed to help practice for such language tests. Some include 'language building' tasks, most often as pre-listening or pre-reading tasks. But even the use of such materials does not guarantee students will get sufficient, effective and systematic practice of the key vocabulary that they need to boost their scores. Whether or not the ideas presented above prove useful to your classes, it might be helpful to keep the following suggestions in mind as you integrate vocabulary learning in your own classes:

1. It should be o.k. and even advisable during language building tasks, such as vocabulary learning, to allow students to confirm the meanings of words in dictionaries, including bilingual ones (good bilingual dictionaries can be sources for synonyms and example sentences).

2. Have students as individuals, pairs, small groups or as an entire class come up with synonyms for the key vocabulary of a given unit. More basic and frequent synonyms are perhaps the most important (e.g., use over utilize, use over utilization, etc.).

3. Have students brainstorm key collocations and idioms that at least partially contextualize the key vocabulary. As teacher be prepared to give lots of examples of your own.

4. Expand on collocations and idiomatic phrases with longer examples, such as sentences or small dialogues that show the words being used.


Feature 3: Another way to integrate more
vocabulary learning into TOEIC lessons
Charles Jannuzi
University of Fukui, Japan


Last term one of the classes I was responsible for is a course called Comprehensive English Communication II. It syllabus and content emphasize reading, vocabulary, and TOEIC reading and is complementary to Comprehensive English Communication I (which focuses on listening, vocabulary, and TOEIC listening).

The TOEIC reading practice unit that we were doing was themed on 'Health', and this theme then selected vocabulary related to that theme (e.g., patient, symptoms, surgery, dentist, etc.). Each unit in the textbook starts off with a list of key vocabulary items and asks students to translate them into L1 (for most, that's Japanese or Chinese). However, rather than simply start out the unit with this vocabulary activity (which is typical of many of the TOEIC practice books marketed for EFL in Japan), I thought it would be beneficial to elicit vocabulary from the students in a whole class activity, with the hope that their own vocabulary and phrases would ANTICIPATE much of the vocabulary that was being practiced and tested in the textbook unit. This was achieved by holding whole class activities that went as follows:

Whole Class Activity One

I handed out sheets of blank B5 paper to all the students and told them to fold theirs in half. Next, I divided the board up into two equal halves. At the top of the left half I wrote, "How can we prevent colds and the flu?" Then I wrote an example response below the heading. For example, "Eat a balanced diet." On the top of the right half I wrote, "How can we recover better from colds and flu?". Then I wrote an example response for this heading. For example, "Drink lots of fluids, like water, tea, chicken broth, sports drinks, etc.". Then I got 6 students to respond to the 'prevent' heading and 6 to write something for the 'recover' heading.

Then I corrected and read out loud all the responses that were on the board under each heading. I also added some information that I thought might interest students but had not been written on the board yet (e.g., Studies now show that many people don't get enough Vitamin D in the winter and this could be a reason why we get sick then. So we might improve our health by taking Vitamin D supplements in addition to Vitamin C).

This is also a good time to cover cultural similarities and differences. For example, the E. Asian equivalent of the American 'cold cure', chicken soup, is often rice gruel, which could include many of the same ingredients (if the broth is a chicken-based one). Also, Japan is a country with many different types of citrus fruits, so it is always an interesting area of vocabulary to see if we can find translations and/or western equivalents. For example, there is the Japanese mandarin orange called 'mikan', but also citrus fruits like 'hassaku', 'iyokan', 'yuzu', 'shikuasa', etc. During this particular class, a student from Korea also pointed out that the Korean dish, 'kimchee', (made from fermented cabbage) is a very good source of Vitamin C. I then observed that in the US I was used to eating a lot of the German dish 'sauerkraut', which is also made from fermented cabbage and contains a lot of Vitamin C. Also, many Japanese try to eat one pickled plum/apricot (Japanese 'ume') a day to get enough Vitamin C.

Whole Class Activity Two 

Activity I was followed by another whole-class activity on the board. This time I asked students to list the 'typical symptoms of a cold' versus the 'typical symptoms of the flu'. After students listed the most typical symptoms under each heading, we could then as a whole class isolate and discuss the similarities and differences between colds and the flu. For example, both might start with a feeling of 'general malaise'. That is a similarity. However, 'high fever', 'nausea' and 'severe joint pain' are more typical of the flu. These are differences.


After the two whole-class activities, students then did the TOEIC Reading unit that was themed on 'Health'. Much of the vocabulary that came up in the two activities did anticipate the vocabulary selected for the unit.

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