Language Sensei

A Language Teacher's Journey

Continuing the “Vocabulary” Journey – A Quick Update


To educateI wrote recently about my ‘journey’ with going beyond the vocabulary list and the challenge thrown out by Amy Lenord (@alenord) and others to go beyond a confined set of words in a unit. My post spoke about the ‘shifts’ that needed to happen in my mind, and my classes, to allow the vocabulary freedom that I feel students need.

Today was a day in my Yr2 class when it all came together for me. There is a peculiarity in dealing with the “I like to do (something)” phrase in Japanese. It involves an alternative form of verbs that my students don’t know. In fact they don’t see it typically until their 3rd semester/year of the language. But today they were speaking in a situation that really demanded it. I heard the incorrect phrase and suddenly I stopped the class.

“I think we need to know how to say we like ‘doing’ things!” I began “What do you need to know how to say?”. We added the phrases on the board that they needed. I even extended it so that they were giving opinions on doing those activities – which, coincidentally, is exactly what my Yr3’s were going to be doing the next period. My Yr2 students were reminded that this was a “level up” addition which means that they won’t be tested on it, but are free to use it. Most went on to include it in their ‘Extra things I want to know how to say’ section of their unit handout.

It felt great to give myself permission to let them loose with the most appropriate language for them. I threw out the worry that they didn’t know how to construct/use the altered form of the verb and trusted that all these students wanted was to be able to use it.

What hit home for me today?

  • Give them what they need now – don’t worry about the ‘how will they know how to make it’ or the ‘what if they don’t fully know how to use it’ – they’re using the language appropriately NOW
  • Let them choose to include the new vocabulary without the pressure that they have to. It’s about choice. Those struggling to master the basics may not be using the “level up” additions – but they’ve had a preview of where they are going.
  • Relax – they just want to communicate – help them do that

My journey down the “non-restricted vocabulary” road is now, I think, past the point of no return and I ‘m looking forward to where it will take my classes! Thanks for the push Amy! (and if you’re interested check out her awesome blog)


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  1. Colleen, I am so happy to read this. At the risk of sounding ridiculous, I have tears in my eyes as I read it because I can relate to the breakthrough you are going through right now. I am honored to know that my learning and my journey could have an effect on not just the teacher, but all of her students, too! Wow! That’s powerful! The longer I go with this the more I realize that it is the right path. Would we tell our children as toddlers that they are not allowed to learn a word or phase until they are 3 or 5 or 10? No! Well, unless they are inappropriate, but that isn’t the case. We fan the flames in our own children, so why not when we teach our students another language. In fact, wouldn’t stepping on the breaks just be like throwing water on the fire burning in them to know the new words and communicate something new? THANK YOU for partnering with me on this journey. I am so glad to have a side kick! Hugs from Texas!

  2. You know its when we are challenged that suddenly what we have done can be seen to be not what we want to do! Thanks for your sharing about how you approach vocabulary – it makes it easier to make shifts knowing there are others out there who have been there – and are encouraging growth as well! Maybe we’ll have to team up at a future ACTFL and present on ‘The 4 stages of List Leaving’ (I could do the ‘rookie’ parts!) Muchos gracias amiga! (and ‘meet you’ in November!)

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