Knowledge of Word Meanings Vocabulary
is the foundation of reading for understanding. ELL students
have their vocabulary knowledge in the process of development
at the same time that they are attempting to learn how to
read or read to learn. Children’s vocabulary may vary
from knowing the meaning of a word in one language, but not
in the other, to knowing the meaning of words only on English
regardless of how limited their English may be.
The distinction between fluency and proficiency in vocabulary
is really important. Students sound fluent with 1,500 words.
However, to be able to read with understanding, students need
to have the vocabulary necessary to understand the task. Native
English speakers arrive at school at age six with at least
6,000 words. On the other hand, ELLs who have become fluent
may have only 1,500 words. They may sound equally fluent but
are different in their levels of English vocabulary proficiency.
Educators need to become very strategic in uncovering what
students already know in both languages, to determine the
entry points for instruction. The following classification
has been found very helpful in assessing vocabulary knowledge
in the classroom.
Words that the
student owns, meaning words "already present in
students’ speaking-listening vocabularies.”
An example of a Type 1 word would be table.
The student knows the word and its meaning. This includes
need to use consistently the students Type 1 words
in English as a bridge to learning to read in
English or any other language. Assessment and instruction
of the student’s phonemic awareness and phonics
in English needs to be done with the words that the child
already owns, otherwise the student may look like s/he
has a problem.
Words with multiple
meanings are those like book, which may be
in the students’ vocabularies but with only one
or two meanings and which are now being used with a
For example, book may mean something one
reads or one may book a flight on an airline.
This includes false friends.
Words which are
not in the students’ vocabularies but which may
be easily explained (usually with synonyms, or a translation).
An example of a Type 3 word is large which
can be explained by the synonym big or with
a translation grande in Spanish.
||Words may be considered
“the real trouble spots. They are words which cannot
be easily explained through existing, related schemata.
For them, schemata must be ‘built from the ground
Adapted from: Graves’ (1984) By Prof
Maria de Lourdes Serpa (1985, 2000).