ISSN 0909 9328
ISBN 87 7701 467 7
Editors for no. 3:
Eli Christiansen, Jørgen Gimbel, Kirsten Haastrup,
The language chronicle:
Søren Hegnby: Teaching the native language
Birgit Henriksen and Kirsten Haastrup: Why devote a whole issue on vocabulary?
Annie Christensen: Etymology - a way to language acquisition
Leni Dam:They can do it themselves - even the young ones!
Gudrun Wagner: Learning vocabulary in German teaching
Anne Holmen: When it's difficult to find the words. Conversation with speech therapist Lise Randrup Jensen
Return to overview of Sprogforum publications
Over the last couple of decades, language teaching has begun to take the content side of languages seriously - at all levels. The content of texts is not irrelevant - nor are the activities in which pupils use language. The content perspective is concerned among other things with vocabulary; not only the morphology and syntax of words but also the meaning of the single word and the meaning which words convey in a specific context, e.g. in the expression 'Et ord er et ord' (lit. a word's a word = a bargain's a bargain).
A couple of decades ago, written texts dominated practically all language teaching. The texts that were used at beginner and intermediate level were provided with vocabulary lists plus translations - and the vocabulary had to be learned, so that the pupils could understand the texts and talk together about them afterwards. The texts were often adapted and their vocabulary subject to control, so that only relatively frequent words occurred. There was a rigorously planned progression.
Today, reality usually looks completely different, both in foreign language teaching and in teaching Danish as a second language: teachers are wary about using a particular system of textbooks for any length of time - they would rather select here and there from various systems, or make a collection of authentic texts on the basis of thematic considerations. And written texts are not the only input: now there are such things as spontaneous speech, images, TV, etc.
Vocabulary has thus become more pupil-centred than before - and normally more relevant as well seen in the context of the pupils' communicative needs. At the same time, it is a vocabulary that cannot be planned or controlled as was formerly possible. This places certain demands on the development of types of activities that underpin the acquisition of a varied receptive and productive vocabulary.
Really basic questions need to be addressed: What mental processes actually take place when one develops one's vocabulary and, in doing so, one's understanding of the outside world? How are words in the new language stored? What sort of links are there to words in the native language? It is important to find answers to these questions in relation to FL and SL teaching.
This number of Sprogforum gives a few samples of present teaching practice and research concerning vocabulary in various languages and in various contexts.
The introductory article by Birgit Henriksen and Kirsten Haastrup outlines the research into vocabulary in connection with FL and SL acquisition, i.a. investigations into the mental corpus of bilingual individuals - word association investigations that shed light on the semantic network and the content of new, big computer-based dictionaries. The article explains certain basic concepts and provides a conceptual framework for the other articles in this issue.
Two of the articles deal mainly with word comprehension: Birgit Henriksen emphasises i.a. that knowledge of words has to do with both quantity and quality; she writes about in-depth comprehension and partial comprehension of words. Jørgen Gimbel discusses various investigations into bilingual pupils' understanding of Danish vocabulary in textbooks in various school subjects, such as Geography and Biology.
Four of the articles mainly deal with the teaching of vocabulary: Leni Dam describes two teaching modules in English: one in a Danish Class 5 and one in a German sixth-form class. She reflects i.a. on the concepts pupil autonomy and personal vocabulary. Annie Christensen writes about how she includes knowledge of etymology and word formation into her beginner's teaching in Russian at university level. Michael Svendsen Pedersen describes a method of teaching students at technical college level how to understand highly complex technical expressions in English. Birgit Henriksen discusses a number of types of assignments that can be used in teaching, focusing in particular on how one can remember words. And finally, Gudrun Wagner deals with certain questions that have to do with vocabulary teaching in German.
We have also asked Anne Holmen to interview Lise Randrup Jensen about her work with people who have suffered brain damage that has entailed partial loss of their language ability and who face having to rebuild their vocabulary from scratch.
The language chronicle has been written Søren Hegnby. It deals with native-language teaching of bilingual children - an area where Denmark, with its democratic self-perception and interest in the all-round personal development of pupils, ought to have been a pioneer country.
Translated by John Irons