Gaining vocabulary is obviously an essential part of a learning a language. There are several important parts of this learning process, I think, including having visual support for the word meaning, seeing it used in context, hearing it spoken and, ideally, having the learner speak it and get feedback on the pronunciation (either by a listener or by having the learner hear him/herself via a recording).
Of course, there are tons of other reading, writing, speaking, and listening activities that are not explicitly designed for learning vocabulary, but that ends up being one of their major results anyway.
A number of studies state that you have to experience a new word between twelve-and-fifteen times in various ways before you really learn it, and experiencing these new words via a computer-based tool can be a good way to get some of those word “touches.”
I thought it would be useful for my students and readers of this blog if I developed a “The Best…” list highlighting web tools that include some or all of the important elements of vocabulary learning that I mentioned at the beginning of this post.
However, I do want to make one important point about the sites on this list, and I’m not sure if I can do it clearly.
This “The Best…” list is sort of a companion to The Best Reference Websites For English Language Learners — 2008. That list, one of my personal favorites, includes (among other things) my choices for the best translation sites, dictionaries, and places to learn antonyms and synonyms.
This list will not include web tools in those categories. Instead, here I’ll be sharing applications that require more “active” participation by the user. In other words, the learner is “prompted” more by the application, or has to do something more than just type in a query. In the reference sites, the user seems to do more of the initiation. I don’t know if that explanation makes a whole lot of sense, but it’s the best I can do late at night
Another requirement I had for a site to be on this list was that registration was not required — all someone has to do is go the site and start learning.
Also, because the apps on this list all are pretty different, it was hard for me to rank them, as I usually do on this types of lists. So I’ve chosen to not list them in any order of preference.
(You might also find The Best Sites To Help ELL’s Learn Idioms & Slang and The Best “I Spy” (Hidden Object) Games For Vocabulary Development useful)
You can also find hundreds of other sites on my website in the Vocabulary section.
Here are my choices for The Best Sites Where ELL’s Can Learn Vocabulary:
Kindersay is a new free site that offers an excellent multimedia experience where Beginning English Language Learners can learn about 500 basic words. I wish the examples included sentences where the words were used in context, but, again, II guess you can’t have everything…
Word Ahead is one of the best vocabulary-learning sites I’ve seen for advanced English Language Learners and mainstream students. It uses SAT words, and shows the word and representative image, plus provides audio support for text showing the word being used in context.
Photo Munchr (their spelling, not mine) is a Pac-Man-type word game. It shows a word and a bunch of different photos. If you “munch” on the seven photos that correctly illustrate the word, you advance to the next level. It’s a fun way for English Language Learners to build and reinforce vocabulary.
Starfall is the established site that is rivaled by no other in providing accessible literacy activities to Beginning English Language Learners.
U.S.A Learns is an incredible website to help users learn English that’s on several of my other “The Best…” lists. Even though it’s primarily designed for older learners, it seems very accessible to all but the very youngest ELL’s. It’s free to use. Students can register if they want to save their work and evaluate their progress, but it’s not required. One of its great features is that learners can report and record words that they’re learning and listen to how they sound.
I like these simple exercises from Oxford University Press:
I also like these vocabulary games from Cambridge:
Splashr is an extraordinary application that students, particularly second-language learners, can use to easily create their own picture dictionary. Write in a word, choose from a ton of different presentation styles, and you get countless images representing that word. Even better — and this is really the reason for its placement on this list — you can email the link and create your own picture dictionary.
I’m not a real fan of Word Searches, and view them more as “busy work.” However, Photo Soup is can be a fun word search game where users pick the category, and then photos from Flickr are shown as hints. It’s a good way to reinforce vocabulary when you have a few minutes to kill in the computer lab.
Learning Chocolate is designed for English Language Learners to gain basic vocabulary through many interactive exercises.
I’ve previously written about the interactives created by teacher Mrs. Haquet from Frenchfrog’s Little English Pond. I just realized, however, that I have not included her extraordinary creations in this list.
All of her great vocabulary games can be found here.
English Central is, in my mind at least, clearly the most useful site for English Language Learners that’s on the Web. It’s on a zillion of “The Best…” lists, usually ranked number one. It was really difficult to believe that they could get any better. But they just did. Thanks to David Deubelbeiss, I learned they’ve added a whole new vocabulary building component to the site. My students use the site twice each week, but I hadn’t noticed the addition.
English Vocabulary Menu at ESOL Courses
Learn English Teens also has some good vocabulary activities.
PictoLang provides a series of interactives designed for English Language Learners (and learners of other languages) to gain basic vocabulary knowledge.
BONUS FOR TEACHERS:
Strategies in vocabulary learning is from Language Moments.
10 Principles for Effective Vocabulary Instruction is a really nice infographic from Eye On Education.
Other suggestions are always welcome.