Vocabulary Focusing on Specific Topics For Adult Language Learners
Can focusing on targeted vocabulary lists improve the acquisition of a foreign language? This is a question that has led to the widespread use of word clusters and, within linguistics and applied linguistics circles, research on frame semantics. I will not dwell on the technical side of current research, but it does indicate a recognition on the part of educators and researchers alike of the importance of learning contextualized vocabulary.
So how does targeted vocabulary help adult learners? Many adults learning a new language do so for professional reasons - whether for better understanding and collaborating with international colleagues or for a new international assignment. This means that they need specialized vocabulary for their performing their job duties, which often is rooted in industry-specific jargon. For example, a logistics manager from the U.S. who is promoted to oversea the Americas territory (both North & South America), may not know the right terminology in Portuguese for instructing her direct reports in Brazil.
What about the partners of those employees starting a new international assignment, who might not have a work visa in the country to which they are moving? What specific vocabulary do they need to learn in order to start functioning as a normal adult in their new community? Pragmatic, everyday language that is task-based, such as used in talking about setting up utilities or discussing amenities in housing, will be their focus. How do you learn vocabulary fast and efficiently?
There are a number of strategies for learning vocabulary quickly. These include using flashcards (or virtual flashcards through an app like Quizlet), real-life situations (i.e. contextualized usage), images, cognates from native language, scaffolding, reading activities (pre-reading glosses, follow up questions/discussion about specific words and how they are used in the text, etc.), and rote memorization. However, not everyone learns the same way, and some of these strategies are more efficient than others. This is where the idea of word clusters come in handy.
Word clusters contain many related words to the term being explicitly learned. They include synonyms and vocabulary that is often used in the same context as the target word. Look at the picture above containing familiar business terms. The larger font words are related to business, if you could imagine the word "business" in the center, creating a word cluster. Each of the subsequent words evoke further associations (e.g. Growth → Shares, Research, Productivity), which, in turn, call to mind more related words. Imagine if you are trying to learn jargon in a specific industry, such as the semiconductor sector, in a foreign language. Wouldn't it make sense to have many other available synonyms and contextually-related words to help you not only decipher the target word, but increase your vocabulary at the same time?
At CORE Languages, we embrace this idea and tool to create customized vocabulary for our clients that caters to their specific job-related needs. After all, isn't this why many of you are working with a language services provider in the first place - to learn how to converse intelligently about your field and job with native speakers of the target language? Contact us to see how we can help you succeed in your coming international assignment!