Teachers' Typical Difficulties in Teaching Vocabulary to Upper Secondary School Students of Ethnic Minority and Suggestions for Solution

Vietnam is a country that has a combination of 54 ethnic groups namely: Kinh, Tay, Thai, Muong, Dao, H'mong, Khmu, Lao, Khme. etc. In the past, all of these ethnic groups took part in protecting and saving the nation together and now they are contributing their time and efforts to the nation construction. However, in some parts of the country where these ethnic minorities are living the standard of living is still bellow the wanted level. In order to help them improve their living conditions a lot of things, especially investments in education and economy are needed. Dien Bien is a small, remote and mountainous province but there are 24 ethnic minorities living here. At Dien Bien's Upper Secondary schools, most pupils belong to different ethnic minorities. Each ethnic group has its own language, and Vietnamese is their second, and at the same time, official language. English is really their second foreign language. We think you can imagine the difficulties the pupils have to face and overcome. In secondary schools in Vietnam today, English is one of the compulsory subjects. Many suggested solutions have been put into practice to improve the teaching and learning of English so far, but there still exist a lot of inappropriate things for ethnic English learners. Vietnam is in the open-door period, moreover, from the November 2006, Vietnam has become a member of WTO, and so, English is getting more and more essential to Vietnamese people. As for ethnic English learners in Dien Bien, English is also considered to be an important subject, but because of poor conditions for teaching and learning, together with extremely weak basic common knowledge of the learners, difficulties seem to multiply. To facilitate the English learners in Dien Bien Upper - Secondary School, I have chosen Teachers' Typical Difficulties in Teaching Vocabulary to Upper Secondary School Students of Ethnic Minority and Suggestions for Solution as the subject matter of the study.

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Chapter I: introduction I.1. Rationale Vietnam is a country that has a combination of 54 ethnic groups namely: Kinh, Tay, Thai, Muong, Dao, H'mong, Khmu, Lao, Khme. etc. In the past, all of these ethnic groups took part in protecting and saving the nation together and now they are contributing their time and efforts to the nation construction. However, in some parts of the country where these ethnic minorities are living the standard of living is still bellow the wanted level. In order to help them improve their living conditions a lot of things, especially investments in education and economy are needed. Dien Bien is a small, remote and mountainous province but there are 24 ethnic minorities living here. At Dien Bien's Upper Secondary schools, most pupils belong to different ethnic minorities. Each ethnic group has its own language, and Vietnamese is their second, and at the same time, official language. English is really their second foreign language. We think you can imagine the difficulties the pupils have to face and overcome. In secondary schools in Vietnam today, English is one of the compulsory subjects. Many suggested solutions have been put into practice to improve the teaching and learning of English so far, but there still exist a lot of inappropriate things for ethnic English learners. Vietnam is in the open-door period, moreover, from the November 2006, Vietnam has become a member of WTO, and so, English is getting more and more essential to Vietnamese people. As for ethnic English learners in Dien Bien, English is also considered to be an important subject, but because of poor conditions for teaching and learning, together with extremely weak basic common knowledge of the learners, difficulties seem to multiply. To facilitate the English learners in Dien Bien Upper - Secondary School, I have chosen Teachers' Typical Difficulties in Teaching Vocabulary to Upper Secondary School Students of Ethnic Minority and Suggestions for Solution as the subject matter of the study. I.2. Objectives of the study 1. Identify the teachers' typical difficulties in teaching English vocabulary to ethnic minority students at Upper - Secondary Schools in Dien Bien 2. Suggest some solutions to overcome the identified difficulties. I.3. Scope of the study The study only concentrates on the teaching and learning English vocabulary from textbooks “Tiếng Anh 10”, “Tiếng Anh 11” (used in Upper - Secondary Schools throughout Vietnam). I.4. Method of the study The study uses a combination of various methods to achieve its objectives such as descriptive, comparative and statistical. Various sources of data, including those obtained from the students and teachers in the Upper – Secondary Schools in Dien Bien, were collected. First, survey questionnaires were conducted. Data obtained help to design the final survey questionnaires to investigate teachers and students’ comments and attitudes towards teaching and learning English vocabulary in Upper-Secondary Schools in Dien Bien as well as their perceived challenges. After that, observing classes were organized to find out how effectively the students learn English vocabulary. Next, the researcher visited the students' families in order to get a deeper understanding about these students' real lives. From this information, the author could reinforce his understanding about this matter. Finally, the author interviewed the teachers who are teaching English in Upper - Secondary Schools in Dien Bien and some ethnic students to get better insights into the research questions. Chapter II: Literature review II.1. Vocabulary and its significance in language teaching and learning II.1.1 what is vocabulary? Vocabulary is a matter which many linguists and language teachers have been concerned for a long time. Nevertheless, to provide an exact definition of vocabulary is not easy. Below some definitions of vocabulary are introduced. Vocabulary is considered as the synonym of lexis and lexicon. "They refer to the total stock of words in a language" (from the Greek lexis, 'word', lexikos, 'of/for) (Jackson. H, and Ze' Amvela. E. 2000: 11). From the definition, we can see that the centre of the lexis/vocabulary is word. So the study of vocabulary can be understood as the study of word. Vocabulary is the knowledge of words and word meanings. As Steven Stahl (2005) puts it, "vocabulary knowledge is knowledge; the knowledge of a word not only implies a definition, but also implies how that word fits into the world." (Stahl, S.A. 2005). In the Oxford Advanced learner's Dictionary, “vocabulary” is defined as all the words that a person knows or uses. In general, it is possible to say that it is hard to give a precise definition of vocabulary. For the convenience of implementing the research the following definition is accepted: “Vocabulary can be defined as the words we teach in a foreign language. A word is a basic unit of a language denoting concepts, things, and phenomena in society.” (Cynthia. & Johnson, D) II.1.2. Classification of vocabulary Vocabulary can be classified differently according to different criteria basing on morpheme, meaning, function, frequency or the use of word, etc. II.1.2.1.Vocabulary classified according to the concept of morpheme Words can be divided into three kinds: simple, derived, and compound. - Simple word A simple word consists of one morpheme only and cannot be broken down into smaller meaningful unit like boy, dog, book… - Derived word A derived word is a word that consists of a root and one or more derivational morphemes. For example: careful, worker, taxation… - Compound word A compound word is a word that consists of at least two roots with or without derivational morphemes. For example: schoolboy, electric fan, washing machine, man killer… II.1.2.2. Vocabulary classified according to meanings A word can possess two kinds of meaning: lexical and grammatical meanings. Vocabulary, therefore, can be divided into notional and functional words. - Notional words Notional words are words with clear lexical meaning. They are objects, actions, qualities… and they have meaning in themselves. Notional words form a great number of each speaker's vocabulary. Example: a book, a house, to run… - Functional words Functional words are those whose meaning is grammatical and they have meaning in relation to the other words with which they are used. Functional words are particles, articles, prepositions, auxiliaries, conjunctions… for example: at, on, and, because… II.1.2.3. Vocabulary classified according to functions In sentence, word has many different functions. English words can be classified basing on functions as different parts of speech such as noun, verb, adjective, adverb, preposition and pronoun. Each part of speech has to follow particular grammar rules so that when learning English words we have to be aware of the importance of the parts of speech of that word in sentence. For example: Noun: a tree, a lake, a bird… Verb: to look, to walk, to play… Adjective: long, short, beautiful… Apart from the meaning, pronunciation and spelling of new words, learners need to know these words how function in sentences. For example, with the word 'foreigner' some learners may make sentence like this: * "she's a foreigner student" In that case, teacher would need to clarify that "foreigner" is a noun, and the adjective of it is "foreign". Also, teacher needs to point out that a word can have more than one grammatical functions, for example, 'farm' can be a noun, a verb, an adjective. (Paul Davis: 2000: 64) II.1.2.4. Vocabulary classified according to the frequency of use To save time, and even more important to reduce possible stress caused by learning by heart many new words each lesson, learners should be aware of words with high frequency in use and those with low frequency. For example: Words used to denote daily activities or routines are often employed. Such as; to go, to work, to eat… (High frequency) Many other words are only used in some specific situations such as the words belong to some specific fields. For instant: word processor, main board, wizard… (Low frequency) Active words refer to vocabulary that students have been taught or learnt – and which they are expected to be able to use, for example: to do, attractive, under… Whilst the passive words refer to words, which the students will recognize when they meet them but which they will probably not be able to produce, such as, ISP, IP, URL… (Harmer, J: 1993: 159) II.1.3. What should be taught in teaching vocabulary? According to Jeremy Harmer, in teaching vocabulary, the teacher should pay attention to the word meaning, word use, word formation and word grammar. II.1.3.1. Word meaning The first thing to realize about vocabulary items is that they frequently have more than one meaning. The word 'book' for, example, obviously refers to something we use to read from, but it can also mean a number of other things. When we come across a word, then, and try to decipher its meaning, we will have to look at the context in which it is used. In other words, students need to understand the importance of meaning in context. For example, if we see a person arguing at the ticket office saying 'But I booked my tickets three weeks ago' we will obviously understand a meaning of the verb 'book' which is different from a policeman saying to his colleague 'We booked him for speeding.' Sometimes words have meanings in relation to other words. Thus, students need to know the meaning of 'vegetable' as a word to describe any one of other things - e.g. carrots, cabbages, potatoes, etc. 'Vegetable' has a general meaning whereas 'carrots' is more specific. Words have the words with similar or opposite meanings (synonyms and antonyms) - e.g. good - bad, bad - evil. As far as meaning goes, then, students need to know about meaning in context and they need to know about sense relations. (Jeremy Harmer: 1993: 156) II.1.3.2. Word use The meaning of words can be changed, stretched or limited by how it is used and our students need to know about this factor. Word meaning is frequently stretched through the use of metaphor and idiom. For example, the word 'hiss' describes the noise that snakes make. But we stretch its meaning to describe the way people talk to each other ('Don't move or you're dead' he hissed). Word meaning is also governed by collocation - that is which words go with each other. E.g. strong wins, heavy rain, to do the home work. It would not be normal to say heavy winds, strong rain or make homework... Students need to recognize metaphorical language use and they need to know how words collocate. They also need to understand what stylistic and topical contexts words and expressions occur in. II.1.3.3. Word formation In English, different devices are used to form new words from existing ones. Each word-formation will result in the production of a specific type of word. If the learners know how complex lexical items are made by the association of different constituent morphemes, then they can also analyze any complex word into its various constituents. + Inflectional affixes Inflection is a general grammatical process, which combines words and affixes (always suffixes in English) to produce alternative grammatical forms of words. For example, the plural morpheme is a flectional morpheme. E.g. book – books, student – students, boys – boys… Inflectional affixes may be described as 'relational makers' that fit words for use in syntax. It means that when the inflectional affixes added to a stems, that stem does not change classes. It only changes its distribution in the syntactic structure. For example, dog - dogs, cheap - cheaper, speak - spoke. The inflections may show some variation in spelling and pronunciation so that inflections often cause difficulties for learners. E.g. Japan → Japanese, child → children… + Derivational affixes Derivation is a lexical process, which forms a new word out of an existing one with the help of the addition of a derivational affix. For example, free → freedom, depart → departure, hope → hopeful. Derivational affixes can change the word class of the added item and establish words as members of the various word classes. There are two kinds of derivational affixes in English: class changing and class maintaining. Class maintaining derivational affixes do not change the word class of the word but change the meaning of the derivative, such as, child → childhood, malaria → anti-malaria, agree → disagree, kind → kindly, green → greenish. Class changing derivational affixes often determine or govern the word lass of the stem. Such as, leak → leakage, accurate → accuracy, fright → frighten, season→ - seasonal, consistent → consistently, home→homeward. + Compounding A compound often consists of more than one root, but different roots need not belong to the same word class. Compounds can be classified as follows: - Noun compounds: (The second root must be a noun). N+N (modifier - head): table-tennis, text-book, ash-tray. V+N (verb - object): daredevil, pickpocket. Adj+N (modifier-head): golden-fish, soft-cover. Adv+V (not syntactic): after-thought, downgrade. - Verb compounds: (The second root must be a verb). N+V (objective-verb): baby-sit, brainwash, housekeep. V+V (co-ordinate) dive-bomb, drop-kick. Adj+V (not syntactic): Dry-clean, sweat-talk, whitewash. Adv+V (modifier-head): over-do, under-estimate, downgrade. - Adjective compounds: (The second root must be an adjective). N+Adj (not syntactic): seasick, carsick, ox-eyed. Adj+adj (co-ordinate): blue-green, mental-grey, southeast. Adv+Adj (modifier-head): near-sighted, off-white. - Adverb compounds: Adv+Adv(co-ordinate): in-to, through-out. + Conversion Conversion is the process of transferring the word class of one word to another word class without any concomitant change of form, either in pronunciation or spelling. Noun-Verb: to bottle, to dialogue. Verb-Noun: a call, a guess. Adjective-Verb: to better, to dirty, to empty. Adjective-Noun: the poor, a double. + Blends A blend is a new lexeme was built from parts of two or more words. For example, brunch (breakfast + lunch), motel (motorists’ hotel). + Shortenings Shortening is a way of create new words from the long existing words. For example, lab, aeroplane, phone, flu, car, mob… II.1.3.4. Word grammar Just as words change according to their grammatical meaning, so the use of certain words can trigger the use of certain grammatical patterns. For example, we can say 'one student' or 'two students' but we cannot say 'two furnitures'. This difference, then, has certain grammatical implications. 'Student' can collocate with plural verbs whereas 'furniture' never can. There are many other areas of grammatical behavior that students need to know about: what are phrasal verbs and how do they behave? How are adjectives ordered? What position can adverbs be used in? II.1.4. The role of vocabulary in language teaching and learning Vocabulary has an important role in each language, because "words are the tools we use to access our background knowledge, express ideas, and learn about new concepts" (Texas Reading Initiative: 2000: 4). So that the first thing we do in learning a new language is learning vocabulary of that language. As a child, at first he/she learns his mother's words after that he makes a full phrases and sentences. When a person comes to a foreign country, even his/her grammatical structure is not good but he has a certain amount of vocabulary of that country’s language, he/she can communicate. From the above evidence, we can say that teaching and learning vocabulary is very important to both teachers and learners. According to Ron Forseth, Carol Forseth, (1995)," words are a good place to begin a course in language teaching methodology. Vocabulary words are simple enough to begin learning on the first day of a class and they are powerful enough to encourage communication from the very beginning. Words are small pieces of language, which carry bits of meaning. Knowing many words does not guarantee a person will be able to speak a language, but not knowing enough words can prevent a person from effectively speaking or understanding a language. So, we must teach words from the very star". (Ron Forseth, Carol Forseth: 23) Meara (1995) points out that knowing only 500 words is functionally useless. English learners with such a minimal vocabulary who try to process a text will encounter too many unfamiliar words, and frequently these are precisely the words that convey the meaning of the text. "Vocabulary and lexical units are at the heart of learning and communication. No amount of grammatical or other type of linguistic knowledge can be employed in communication or discourse without the mediation of vocabulary. Indeed, vocabulary and lexical expressions can sustain a great deal of rudimentary communication without much support from other aspects of the language system. Understanding the nature and significance of vocabulary knowledge in a second language therefore needs to play a much more centre role in the knowledge base of the language teachers". II.2. Traditional approaches and techniques used in the presentation of new vocabulary items II.2.1. Visual techniques Visuals Visuals are the things such as flash cards, photographs, blackboard drawings, wall charts and realia. They are extensively used for conveying meaning and are particularly useful for teaching concrete items of vocabulary such as food or furniture, and certain areas of vocabulary such as places, professions, descriptions of people, actions and activities (such as sports and verbs of movements). They often lend them selves easily to practice activities involving students' interaction. For example, a set of pictures illustrating sporting activities could be used as a mean of presenting items such as skiing, sailing, climbing, etc. these visual aids can then be used as the basis for a guided pair work dialogue: e.g. Have you ever been skiing? Yes, I went to Italy last year. No, I haven’t. Have you? Did you enjoy it? etc. etc. (Gairns, R & Redman, S: 73) Gesture and mine These are often used to supplement other ways of conveying meaning. When teaching an item such as 'to tremble', a teacher might build a situation to illustrate it, making use of the blackboard and gesture to reinforce the concept. II.2.2. Verbal techniques Use of illustrative situations (oral or written) This is the most helpful when items become more abstract. To ensure that students understand, teachers often make use of more than one situation or context to check that learners have grasped the concept. For example, consider the changes in the word “have”, as it appears in the following sentences. The word “have” can have meaning as “possess”, “eat”, “do”, “get”… I have three books. (Tôi có ba quyển sách) I am having lunch. (Tôi đang ăn trưa) They are having an argument. (Họ đang tranh luận) I have no doubt. (Tôi không nghi ngờ gì cả) He had a letter from her. (Tôi nhận được thư của cô ấy) Use of synonym, antonym and definition Students will remember words better when they integrate the new words with the old ones. This type of active processing occurs when teachers use synonyms and definition to teach new vocabulary. E.g. miserable = very sad Examine means to think about, study or describe sb/sth carefully, especially in order to understand them, form an opinion of them or make a decision about them. Big - small, tall - short, empty - full... Scales This technique is useful in teaching contrasting or related gradable items. Adverbs of frequency are one of the examples. I never/occasionally/sometimes/often/always go to the cinema on Sundays. Explain of the type To illustrate the meaning of superordinates such as 'fur