Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Book Review: 'Vocabulary Matrix - Understanding, Learning, Teaching'



Vocabulary Matrix
Understanding, Learning, Teaching

by Michael McCarthy, Anne O'Keeffe and Steve Walsh
Heinle Cengage Learning 2010
ISBN 9781424052530
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From the blurb: "Vocabulary Matrix: Understanding, Learning, Teaching is an innovative resource for language teachers, particularly those who are pre-service or new. This dynamic guide to the methodology of vocabulary instruction offers clearly written theory and keeps a compelling focus on practical teaching applications."
The complex matrix within which words exist is made accessible as readers are led through the life-cycle of a word. Supported by corpus-based evidence and real classroom data, the book explores what words mean, how they relate to other words and how they function in different ways within society."
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Ahh, the gentle joy of language, and those wonderful people who write about it, eh? To the desert of dry, dusty lugubrious lexical liturgies comes a refreshing splash of colour in the black and white world of words. Well, the cover’s colourful in any case, and the inside, whilst not exactly a rainbow of hues, offers much stimulating stuff for inquisitive English teachers.

Vocabulary Matrix, in effect, takes a thoroughly practical approach to teaching vocab. More than we could ever imagine, the stream of consciousness (and sometimes apparent nonsense) which continually pours from our mouths is actually organised and regimented to a high degree. The average native speaker is, for the most part, blissfully unaware of all this underlying structure to his spontaneousness, and gets along just fine. We language teachers, on the other hand, are often faced with some embarrassingly tricky questions, and what’s more are expected to have answers to things like:
  • Why do we say 'A big black dog' and not 'A black big dog'?
  • Why do we say 'kick the bucket' or 'pass away' when we have the perfectly good verb 'die'?
  • Why do we say 'attend a meeting' but not 'attend an appointment'?
  • Why do we say 'I like English too' but not 'I like too English'?
  • Why do we pronounce the ough differently in the words cough, tough, though, through and bough?
  • Why do we say 'She’s very short' and not 'She's very low'?
And on and on. Tempting as it is to reply, as if to a child who doesn’t need to know more, that’s just the way it is, or because I say so, we English teachers really need to do better. Vocabulary Matrix offers us ways of doing so.

Each of the nine chapters takes a theme such as Words and their meanings, Collocations, or Idioms, and splits it into three clear sections. For example:

Collocations 28 
 Part AWhat do we know about this? 28
What is collocation? 28
What types of words collocate with each other? 29
Collocations and word frequency 30
Weak and strong collocations 30
Collocations and meanings 31
Collocations and register 33
 Part BWhat are the problems for learners? 34
How well do learners learn and use collocations? 34
Learning special registers 35
 Part CHow do we teach it? 36
Chapter Review 38

We are introduced to each concept in an entertaining and often enlightening way, through thought-provoking mini-tasks, clear explanations and hundreds of examples:
From Part A of Words and their meanings:
  • We agree, in English, for example, that dog means a four-legged animal that we often keep as a pet and that can be used for hunting and so on.
  • We also agree the meaning of dog in relation to what it is not. For example, it does not mean a small, furry, four-legged feline animal with a tail and claws. For that, we have the word cat. Nor does it mean: [see pic below]
  • When we see or hear the word dog, we also connect it to the concept of a dog by its shape and sound. It is not bog, log or dig, etc.
They say in the blurb that the book is perfect for pre-service and new teachers, but I don’t see why it wouldn’t be interesting for all teachers who want to keep up in the latest thinking on vocab teaching, novice or not. I’m certainly going to recommend Vocabulary Matrix to my TEFL Certificate trainees, but also to anyone who has a real interest in how we use words when we speak, and just as importantly, why.

Other notable aspects of this fascinating little book include the chapters on Words and Their Forms, Word Relations, Words in Text and Discourse, and Words in Society, all eminently readable. Then there are useful Vocabulary Files which are 'instructive teaching points and factoids' according to the publishers, and a ten-question review section to finish each chapter.

Finally, there's a fairly hefty glossary and bibliography, without forgetting full answers to all the tasks and review sections. So, all in all a sweet little methodology package for all teachers who want to discover or refresh their knowledge of the wonderful world of the English word in a highly practical fashion.

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Hotch Potch English: 'The English Language Teaching (ELT) Review Blog" ~ Book Review: 'Vocabulary Matrix - Understanding, Learning, Teaching'
Created & written by Sab Will
Copyright 2010 Sab Will / Hotch Potch English
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1 comment:

Princesse Ecossaise said...

Excellent! I need to get this book...I have one student who is always asking me wonderful questions about the English language that stump me.

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