Making Modern Language Long Vocabulary Lists into Meaningful Communication

Oftentimes a modern language teacher such as Miss Windber has to teach a long list of modern language vocabulary words such as forty food words to her students. Her students have great difficulty in learning forty words at once. She starts by dividing the food list into categories such as fruits, vegetables, meat, etc.

Miss Windberg prepares an important target language question about food for each  group of seven to nine words. As an illustration, she starts off with the question “What would you like to eat?” then she teaches seven to nine of the category words. After her students quickly practice identifying and saying these words, she has her students get into pairs. Each student asks his/her partner   in the modern language the first category question of “What would you like to eat?” four times. The partner replies with a different answer each time using “I would like to eat (the food)” or “I would not like to eat (the food)”. For the next set of seven to nine words, she introduces another food question such as “How is the ….?” and follows the same pattern. The long vocabulary list is broken into the smaller units and every time the students learn or review an important question for the topic. At the end of the vocabulary lesson, not only do they know the forty words but they can ask and answer questions about food in a mini-conversation.

How do you teach long list of vocabulary words?

I have developed 5 Visual activities/games  for any modern language (no words) and have developed 27 Spanish activities for students to begin to express themselves in the modern language and to move toward spontaneous speaking Teacherspayteachers:

My ebook, 90 Mobile Learning Modern Language Activities, is available at can instantly use these many communication activities in your classroom with even beginning students when only half the class has mobile devices. It can be downloaded as a pdf.

My three formative assessment books, Improving Foreign Language Speaking Through Formative Assessment, Formative Assessment: Responding to Your Students and Successful Student Writing Through Formative Assessment, are available at

10 Seconds to Learn a Modern Language Vocabulary Word

Vocabulary is critical to language learning.  Some teachers believe that the students have to repeat and repeat the modern language word and the English word  many, many, many  times before the student will learn the word.  However,  according to Brian Nielsen (  “mnemonic and non-mnemonic elaboration techniques involving deep semantic processing of target words have been shown to be more effective than memorization strategies involving only shallow processing, such as oral rote-repetition” Furthermore, he  states “There are two versions of the Keyword Method, one based on the construction of visual images and the other based on the construction of sentences. Evidence exists that the visual imagery version is superior to the sentence construction version in facilitating recall of words…“Consider, for example, the Spanish word carta meaning (postal) letter. Using the keyword cart, a learner might generate either an image of a shopping cart transporting a letter, or a sentence such as The cart carries the letter.”

In my class, I go over visualization techniques (the weirder and sexier the better according to Memory Experts such as Harry Lorayne).   When we learn a new word, the students have ten seconds to connect that modern language word to the English word meaning.  Once they have an image or use it an oral sentence, they review it to see if the image is hooked in.  I use the image of velcro; the image or sentence has to attach the modern language word to the English meaning. We review their connection over  the next few days;  if they cannot remember the word, then they need a better mental connection.

How do your students learn modern language words?

    My Spanish spontaneous speaking activities (20+) includes Modified Speed Dating (Students ask partner a question from a card-whole class), Structured Speaking (Students substitute in or select words to communicate in pairs), Role Playing (Students talk as people in pictures or drawings from 2-4 people), Speaking Mats (Can talk using a wide variety of nouns, verbs and adjectives to express their ideas- pairs or small group), Spontaneous Speaking (based on visuals or topics in pairs), and Grammar speaking games (pairs or small group). Available for a nominal fee at Teacherspayteachers: have a series of modern language visual stories (the beach, the city, school, etc.) for two students to role play; the restaurant role play involves four students. Can use in any language since there are just visuals, no words.

My book, Improving Foreign Language Speaking Through Formative Assessment, and my book, Formative Assessment, Responding to Students, are available at