Lesson 1: The Importance of Vocabulary

Teacher Training Shortfalls

Introduction to the Importance of Vocabulary

Duration: 00:45


Sample a variety of beginning language textbooks, and you are very likely to find lists of vocabulary at the end of the chapters. What message does this send to the students about how much time and effort they should spend learning the vocabulary? If students are to learn and recycle the vocab throughout the chapter, shouldn't it appear at the beginning of the chapter rather than at the end? Most second language textbooks neglect completely the topic of how to learn vocabulary. In fact, vocabulary learning strategies are not taught as part of most curricula, but certainly should be. Similarly, teachers' annotated editions frequently fail to provide information on how vocabulary should be taught.

Before watching this video, reflect on whether you were trained how to teach vocabulary.


Language teachers share their experiences in vocabulary training.

Duration: 03:37

Vocabulary is an essential component for successful communication in the second language classroom. While grammar is important, a lack of vocabulary may result in complete failure to convey a message. Let's see what the following students from the Department of French and Italian have experienced.


Teacher training often emphasizes grammar.

Duration: 02:04

This video reinforces how common it is for students to be trained in various aspects of language pedagogy but rarely in vocabulary instruction.

Why is the teaching of vocabulary often neglected in a beginning language classroom?

  • Teachers often mimic the classroom behavior of their own teachers. Consider how you learned a second language. More than likely, your instructor stood at the front of the room and "taught" verb paradigms, and other features of grammar.
  • Vocabulary must be learned item by item and is a challenge to teach. A single word can have multiple pronunciations (I say tomato, you say tomahto), meanings, contexts, collocations, and spellings.
  • Finally, beginning language textbooks are often organized according to a grammar agenda, with less emphasis on vocabulary.

Many factors need to be taken into consideration when deciding what vocabulary to teach and how. In a nutshell, the vocabulary of beginning language classrooms should be limited to a set of high frequency words that students can employ to create messages right from the start of language learning. This raises a question: Should beginning students learn vocabulary from simple lists or from more richly contextualized language samples? Before addressing in detail how to teach vocabulary (Lessons 3 and 4), let's first take a look at why it is so important to actively teach vocabulary.