Children have an uncanny talent for learning languages. The younger they are, the faster they seem to acquire a language. Just by playing around with others, kids add vocabulary at an astonishing rate. In a 2007 study, which was just made available on the internet, Meredith Brinster found at least part of the answer: Kids figure out words for themselves.
This has the potential to drastically shift how we view language education and our role in the classroom.
Meredith Brinster’s original research suggests that learning words by inference is more powerful than just being told their meaning. Interested in how very young children learn to attach the names of objects to the objects themselves, Brinster designed a study to measure which word-learning strategy was more effective: direct instruction, in which an adult “directly” points to and names an unfamiliar object, or inference, in which kids use reason (such as process of elimination) to mentally “fasten” an unfamiliar word to an unfamiliar object.
Although Brinster’s research was done with 3-year olds, it is most likely true for learners of any age. What does this mean for English teachers in Thailand? Design activities in which students can discover the meaning of words and immediately use them in context, rather than telling your students the meaning, or worse, give a translation.