What are some major problems that ESL learners have with vocabulary?
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The problems that ESL learners have with vocabulary usually depend on the native language backgrounds. Many languages have words that are similar in sound and meaning to English words. These kinds of words are called cognates. They are some of the easiest words to learn, and you can use them initially to help students increase their English vocabulary rapidly.
To really understand words, students have to know:
- What they mean
- What other words they are used with
- Which situations they are used in
- What the social consequences of their use can be (e.g. saying "scram" has different social consequences from saying, "Please leave."). The best way to make sure that students know these things about vocabulary is to teach the vocabulary through use in realistic situations. If the situation is clear, the meaning and use of the vocabulary item also becomes clear. Teaching vocabulary through lists often results in students knowing how words are pronounced and what one meaning of a word is, but they really do not know how to use the words correctly.