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How Word Surfing began

The Word Surfing idea originally came from talking to a large number of adult students and being told about the frustration that they feel in the vocabulary area. It also reflects their general lack of enthusiasm for language courses with too much early emphasis on grammatical instruction.

Students consistently said that what they really wanted to learn was

  • Vocabulary – in order to lead to better understanding. 
  • Conversation skills – in order to practice using their words.
  • Grammar skills.

This is perhaps an over-simplification, but the general message was clear.

First, vocabulary. Second, practice. Third, grammar.

The need to learn grammar was definitely appreciated – but the main concerns seem to be understanding and communication. People want to be able to talk to each other.

So what were students actually doing about vocabulary development? The general answer was “not very much”. Most had tried to learn long lists of translated words but had then virtually given up after an enthusiastic start. Some had tried card systems … but very few students seemed to be using this translation method long-term either. Others had tried putting little notices around the house … or used books with gap-fill exercises etc etc etc.Lots of people were trying lots of different methods according to their own individual style. Few seemed to be making sensible, efficient use of the new words that they were discovering - here, there and everywhere. Many of their new words seemed to be lost in jotted notes - here, there and everywhere. And almost always with translations.

The Word Surfing Vocabulary Development Strategy was developed to introduce a better alternative. It represents a needed focal point to help students understand, investigate, practise and get to know their new vocabulary. It's goal is to promote "LEARNING BY DOING" - as efficiently and enjoyably as possible.

Originally the concept was intended to help adult learners of English            - but it can, of course, also help different age group learners of                 many other languages.

The relationship between vocabulary and real language level appears to be both simple and obvious. Basically the relationship might be described as this..

Real language level increases as more words and phrases are known. i.e. They are immediately available for fluent and correct conversational or written use.

This "definition" suggests to me that language learners would benefit from being given the opportunity to keep vocabulary books at the earliest practical stage in the learning curve.

Word Surfing  gives learners the ability to organise and use their Vocabulary Books - rather than simply trying to memorize lists of translations within a "traditional" vocabulary book.

Of course, all language learners naturally recognise the need to develop their vocabulary -  and teachers will usually encourage them to keep a traditional vocabulary book involving long lists of words and translations.

The major responsibility for vocabulary development is therefore almost always handed over to the student in one short, easy step. Failure to develop vocabulary can then also be seen as primarily the responsibility of students rather than that of teachers – or the recommended method.

Traditional vocabulary books may

* help initial awareness through writing practice …

* occasionally involve a small degree of organisation by attempting to          learn language items in different categories. (by motivated students) …

* very occasionally involve some limited use of the language through “mind-mapping” or extended notes/example sentences - and diagrams (by very motivated students)

… but they

* rely heavily or exclusively on a translation technique

* tend to encourage short-term learning rather than long-term knowing

* usually fail to motivate students over a period of time

* almost always fail to help students to recognise real progress and

* may even encourage fossilization problems

The resulting need, as I see it, is to make as many improvements as possible to the traditional vocabulary book – and turn the basic concept into a far more useful and motivating language learning tool. After all, the idea of encouraging learners to write down their new words is an undeniably good one.

The rationale behind the Word Surfing organised vocabulary book is therefore based on the perceived need for improvement in a vital area of language acquisition. A presentation of these books together with a full description of the additional features is given at WS Books .They are designed to provide learners with an motivating long-term opportunity to improve their Real language level” -  as defined above.

Word Surfing Discussion Group

Any member wishing to discuss

  • the WS Book concept and the above rationale - or
  • any other matters relating to vocabulary development strategies

may also, of course,  give their opinion at that discussion group.

© Copyright 2003 - 2006 Will McCulloch