Evaluating some ways of semantisation of the vocabulary in teaching English in high schools

The study presents evaluation and analyses of some ways for semantisation in foreign vocabulary mastery in teaching English in high schools. The study aims to identify effective ways of semantisation in vocabulary teaching and word mastery. The relevance of the present study can be explained by the fact that identifying effective ways of semantisation in vocabulary teaching may aid higher English language proficiency of the 10th-grade students in meeting the curriculum requirements and standards. This also relates to the fact that teaching vocabulary remains to be one of the central issues in foreign language acquisition, as it is the basis for both productive and perceptive skills. It is hard to imagine a learner speaking a foreign language well without sufficient vocabulary. Thus, one of the main tasks in the EFL class is to expand the vocabulary of learners. The study provides general background on the peculiarities of teaching and learning foreign vocabulary, types of vocabulary, and reviews some ways of semantisation. The authors have reviewed and classified vocabulary semantisation into several groups: semantisation through translation, demonstration, description, numeration, synonyms, antonyms, semantic fields. A survey was applied to identify the effectiveness of the ways of seman- tisation in teaching vocabulary. Thirty-eight 10th-grade students answered survey questions and shared their perceptions and views on the ways of teaching vocabulary in EFL classrooms. According to survey results, semantisation of vocabulary based on lexical-semantic fields and description were evaluated as the most effective ways. It was found that each semantisation method may work effectively if it is applied with the appropriate word, phrase, or concept.


Nowadays modern schools are facing significant changes covering almost all aspects of the learning and teaching process. Learners’ interest and motivation, as well as bright encouraging teachers, interesting content and ways or methods of teaching any subject, are the main factors in making learning successful [1; 22]. Teaching vocabulary remains to be one of the central issues in foreign language acquisition. This relates to the fact that vocabulary is the basis for both productive and perceptive skills. It is hard to imagine a learner speaking a foreign language well without sufficient vocabulary. When a learner feels he/she lacks words, it causes unwillingness to speak, language barrier, and fear to be shamed. Thus, one of the main tasks in the EFL class is to expand the vocabulary of learners [1; 22].

The present study aims to identify effective ways of semantisation in vocabulary teaching and mastery. The relevance of the present study can be explained by the fact that identifying effective ways of semantisation in teaching vocabulary teaching may aid higher English language proficiency of the 10th-grade students in meeting the curriculum requirements and standards. Vocabulary is a set of words of a language, its vocabulary stock. This term is also used with individual layers of vocabulary (household vocabulary, business vocabulary, poetic vocabulary, etc.), and to refer to all words used by any writer or individual in his/her work [1; 23]. The purpose of teaching vocabulary is to form lexical skills, the ability to combine words according to lexical rules. Lexical skill is the ability to choose and use words correctly according to the speaker’s intention.

The peculiarities of teaching vocabulary include such issues as matching the words or lexical units with the content of communication, an inexhaustible vocabulary supply, difficulties related to the internal form of the word, sound, graphic, grammatical representation, nature of compatibility and use with other words, continuous vocabulary expansion, and an insufficient number of classes.

The problems related to vocabulary teaching and learning were reflected in the works of the researchers such as I.L. Bim, N.D., Galskova, B.F., E.N. Solovova, and others [2; 124]. A number of issues related to vocabulary teaching have been covered in the methodological literature. One of the main and foremost aims of EFL teachers is for students are forming and mastering learners’ lexical skills necessary for speaking [3; 326].

The main objective of learning a foreign language in 10–11th grades is to develop the students’ ability and willingness to use a foreign language as a communication tool in the dialogue of cultures, namely: preparation for cross-cultural communication in the field of school education, youth tourism, using a foreign language as a means of self-education, as a tool for getting acquainted with the foreign culture, and presenting cultural values and life of Kazakhstani citizens [4; 302].

The level of skills in the school subject “Foreign Language” at the level of general secondary education is correlated with the Common European language proficiency levels (CEFR). Learning foreign language as a means of education, cognition, and interaction with a foreign culture and native speakers aims at developing learners’ functional literacy, further developing foreign language skills to provide competitiveness in the future. The ability to communicate in a foreign language in an oral and written productive way as a result of functional literacy is viewed as one of the key competencies. This determines the goals and objectives of teaching a foreign language in high school [4].

The content and the educational technologies used should ensure the foreign language proficiency at the level of B1+ (B2) in accordance with CEFR. Students should master language skills, use language for communication, read, understand and make up monologs and dialogs in oral and written forms in accordance with communicative goals within certain topics. According to CEFR vocabulary amount for B1 and B2 level may range from 1,200–2,500 for active vocabulary and 2,500 and 5,000 lexical units for passive vocabulary.

According to Galskova “...school graduates should learn the meaning, form of lexical units and be able to use them in listening and reading, writing, correlate the sound / graphic image of a word with its semantics, understand the learned words and phrases in the speaking, to guess the meaning of words and phrases, based on the context of their use; establish associative semantic connections of words, recognize and understand homonyms, homographs, international words and apply word-building rules (affixation, conversion, borrowing), distinguish and understand the vocabulary that denotes objects and objects of a foreign language (monetary units, measures of weight, length, time designation, etc.), speech formulas, non-equivalent vocabulary, choose the right words and phrases in accordance with the communicative purposes, correctly combine words in syntagmas and sentences, follow the structural and morphological rules of words and phrases, possess lexical-semantic and lexical-thematic associations, be able to replace a certain word with synonyms and antonyms, paraphrase, apply learnt keywords and phrases in speech, be able to expand or shorten sentences. Graduates should know word-formation rules, and origin of certain words” [3; 288, 289].

The present study tried to cover the following research questions:

1. What are the effective ways of semantisation of a new vocabulary in foreign vocabulary mastery?

2. How do high school students evaluate different ways of semantisation in teaching vocabulary?

Materials and methods

The present study applies mixed research methods such as survey, comparative analysis, observation, generalization. The study was conducted among the 10th-grade students of one of the school-lyceums in NurSultan city. According to the rules of research ethics the name of the high school will remain anonymous. After some ways of semantisation have been applied in teaching vocabulary the 10th grade students were asked to answer survey questions to identify the most effective and likable ways of semantisation of vocabulary. Overall, 38 tenth-grade students voluntarily participated in the survey and answered survey questions. Students were asked to answer the following questions:

1. Which way of semantisation helped you to expand your vocabulary and memorize new words better?

2. How would you describe the ways of semantisation in teaching vocabulary which EFL teacher used at the lesson?

When teaching vocabulary in EFL classroom all teaching materials were based on the textbook “Acton” compiled for the 10th grade students recommended by the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Kazakhstan. During the academic year 2020–2021 EFL teachers used the following ways of semantisation of vocabulary indicated below in Figure 1.

Results and Discussion

While presenting and mastering the lexical skills of the 10th-grade students, we followed several strategies and techniques and tries to identify the stages and effectiveness of each. Vocabulary expansion is carried out almost at every lesson, as the teacher introduces learners to a new portion of words and works on its mastery. Vocabulary mastery should ensure the enlarging vocabulary stock and its retention in learners’ memory, its adequate use in a speech that is adequate for communicative purposes. Learners should acquire an excessive amount of vocabulary that allows them to choose the most appropriate word, phrase, idiom, or cliche based on their worldview and speech needs.

Unfortunately, most learners do not vary vocabulary in their speech; therefore, their speaking skills are evaluated as poor and not vivid.

Vocabulary acquisition traditionally includes three main stages:

  1. Preliminary stage or word presentation;
  2. Consolidation;
  3. Developing the ability to use lexical skills in various types of speech activity [2: 76].

All subsequent work on the vocabulary depends on the effectiveness and purposefulness of this stage. EFL teachers should choose the most effective way of presenting new vocabulary under the level of training, the level of knowledge of the students, vocabulary characteristics, and its type. The variety of different methods of somatization and primary consolidation enables EFL teachers to choose the method corresponding to the goals and objectives of the lesson, the teacher’s abilities and vary them from lesson to lesson. However, working with new vocabulary is not limited to one lesson. It continues in all subsequent lessons. Learners will encounter the same words many times while reading texts and doing exercises and assignments. The EFL teacher needs to make sure that the learners have mastered the new vocabulary, and which lexical units should be revised and mastered (checking to what extent the learners have gained practical lexical skills). School textbooks recommend forming and developing lexical skills at the same lesson [5; 33].

Mastering lexical skills has become one of the focus areas of EFL teachers nowadays. Learning vocabulary plays a crucial role in foreign language learning. It is the vocabulary that conveys thoughts, ideas, names of the objects, so it penetrates into all spheres of life, helping to reflect not only a reality but also imaginary. It is impossible to create a solid language base for learners without mastering lexical skills. Proper vocabulary acquisition is the most important prerequisite for speaking [5].

Leontiev defined lexical skill as the ability to perform automatically, relatively independently, a number of operations related to calling a word from long-term memory, its correlation with other lexical units [6; 23]. Hence, the purpose of mastering lexical skills is interconnected with developing productive (speaking and writing skills)



and receptive skills (reading and listening). Kozhevnikov determined lexical skill as a synthesized action of right word choice and its combination with other lexical units in situations and speech [7; 98].

According to the survey results (Figure 2), the majority of the tenth-grade students (11 students) find learning vocabulary based on lexical-semantic fields as the most effective way of semantisation. Another larger part of the students (8 students) thinks that semantisation of new vocabulary through description is beneficial. The effectiveness of demonstration and translation as the ways of semantsation of vocabulary were valued equally (equal number (6 respondents) of students voted for translation and demonstration). Surprisingly, se- mantisation through antonyms and synonyms and numeration were not popular among the tenth-grade students.

Semantisation through expanding semantic fields

Vocabulary mastery should be a continuous process implemented in all EFL lessons. Encouraging learners to learn new words and enlarge their vocabulary should be one of the main tasks of EFL teachers. The most convincing evidence of learners’ vocabulary proficiency is the ability to participate in oral communication and reading. Solovova E.N. defines the following subjective factors that expand the individual semantic field, which is dynamic. First, the word(-s) must be presented in a specific context. Vast word associations contribute to better word memorization, word use in diverse contexts. It is crucial to establish paradigmatic connections of words (considering the features of the sound, graphic form, grammatical features), and semantic connections in the context and use in certain situations. Expanding the context can be provided through connecting adjacent semantic fields. Unfortunately, in many cases, the vocabulary of a certain unit is taught isolated from other topics, and it is easily forgotten after starting a new unit. It is beneficial for EFL learners to expand the field of word usage by combining some related topics. For example, when we talk about nature, we can also talk about books (books as a source of knowledge about nature, nature as a source of inspiration for writers, poets, musicians, and artists). Asking problematic questions may serve as one influencing factor in the positive dynamics of the semantic field. To achieve this aim, EFL teacher should provide learners with problematic questions which push learners to give extended answers. Constant use of learned vocabulary is one of the main factors of expanding the semantic field. It is much easier to increase the active vocabulary not by presenting new vocabulary, but by creatively applying the learned vocabulary in new contexts. A developed branched and stable semantic field significantly improves speaking skills. 32 % of respondents think that teaching through lexical semantic fields helps to enlarge vocabulary, because it is clear and logical. However, 16 % of respondents find this method challenging (Figure 3).

Semantisation through description

This method of semantisation can be referred to as the non-translation method in vocabulary presentation. Description enables students to guess the meaning of a new vocabulary, instead of giving a direct translation of the word. Semantisation through description enables learners to develop different types of thinking such as critical thinking, logical thinking, analysis, and synthesis. It also aids to develop students’ imagination and fantasy, which is important for their creativity. Teaching through descriptions teaches students paraphrasing skills when they do not know the precise name of the thing or object, so the learners learn to describe things themselves.

Examples: Colonization is the action or process of settling among and establishing control over the indigenous people of an area. Astronaut — a person who travels beyond the earth’ s atmosphere.

Mankind – human beings considered collectively; the human race.

The majority (34 % respondents) think that this way of semantisation of vocabulary develops speaking skills, for all new words are supposed to explain via explanation, not using translation method. 26 % of the respondents state that this strategy enables students to use passive vocabulary, as they are not allowed to use their mother tongue. 21 % of the respondents find this strategy time-consuming, for it takes a particular time to explain the meaning of the word without using the native language. However, 18 % of respondents find this strategy easy and clear (Figure 4).

Semantisation through translation

Translation methods in word semantisation are viewed as time-saving and efficient as they can be used to explain concepts that are not part of the active vocabulary and do not require memorization. These methods are used to prevent mistakes when explaining the so-called false friends of the translator and preventing misconceptions. There are two translation methods: translating the concept itself from a foreign language into the native language and interpreting the concept. The teacher should not overuse the translation method in word semantisation as it may reduce learners’ interest and motivation so it is recommended to use it reasonably to


keep students engaged. This method of word semantisation has its pros and cons. Wise use of this method may help to save time. However, it may increase the impact of interlanguage interference.

According to the survey results, 29 % of the respondents describe this strategy as straightforward, 26 % of respondents think that this strategy relies much on L1. However, 24 % of respondents believe that this method is time-saving, but does not help to memorize new foreign words properly (Figure 5).

Semantisation through demonstration

Word semantization can be implemented by means of non-translation methods, which involves using visual aids (paintings, drawings, objects, gestures, actions, etc.); explaining the meaning of a word in a foreign language by means of definitions, enumeration, synonyms, or antonyms; defining the word based on the contextual guess, knowledge facts; knowledge of word-formation. The advantage of this type of word semantisa- tion is stipulated by the developing student's guesswork, increasing language practice, creating supports for memorization; strengthening associative bonds. The drawback of this method is explained by the fact that it requires more time than the translation method and does not always provide an accurate understanding.

According to the survey results, 32 % of respondents think this method is effective, for a lot of visual aids are used explaining the meaning of words, 24 % of the respondents also find this way of semantisation as colorful and interesting. Though 24 % of respondents think this strategy helps students to develop students’ guessing, 24 % of the respondents answered that this strategy does not help to develop students’ speaking skills (Figure 6).

Semantisation through synonyms

A negative thing about the semantisation through synonyms is that it is approximate, and the differences between the synonyms should be explained additionally. This way of semantisation is considered for most effective, for the basic and the closing stage of the education. Synonyms are recommended to use in order to reduce the repetition of certain words to provide a vivid and bright speech and avoid monotonous monologues. Good knowledge of synonyms may aid learners to express the same idea in various ways.

Examples: Colonisation – founding, establishment, migration, immigration, settling.

Mankind – man, humanity, human beings, Homo Sapiens, human race, people.

To overcome – to conquer, defeat, control.

Semantisation through antonyms

This method of semantisation is appropriate only when the word “antonym”, which is used for explaining a new word, is already known to foreign learners. This way of semantisation definitely helps learners expand their vocabulary and distinguish close meanings of the words from one another. It also develops learners’ paraphrasing skills and helps to express their ideas using different constructions. One of the challenging aspects that learners face while using antonyms is the misuse of prefixes which relates to the issues of word-building. While presenting antonyms of the word with negative prefixes, it is essential to explain the rules of wordformation. English has a number of rules and exceptions concerning word-building with negative prefixes and learners should make sure they use the word and its prefix correctly by looking up the word in the dictionary or consulting an EFL teacher. Here, it is recommended to do some word-building exercises to consolidate and master learners’ skills in word building. Examples: Satisfy–dissatisfy, appropriate–inappropriate, patient–impatient, verbal–non-verbal, accepted–unaccepted, legal–illegal.

Survey results demonstrate that 32 % of respondents think that this strategy develops students’ paraphrasing and word-building skills, and 26 % of respondents agree that this strategy helps to expand students’ vocabulary. However, this strategy was not popular among respondents, and 13 % of respondents described this strategy as challenging (Figure 7).

Semantisation through numeration

This way of semantisation refers to using numerations denoting the parts of the whole notion based on deductive and inductive thinking. This type of semantisation considerably impacts the expansion of students’ vocabulary. In addition, students learn to distinguish hyponyms and heteronyms. This method is also good for associative learning and memorization of new vocabulary. Examples: Celestial bodies: star, planet, asteroid, comet, meteor, moon, constellation.

Human anatomy: pharynx, larynx, heart, arteries, muscles, liver, kidneys, skeleton, pancreas, veins, lungs, stomach, spleen.

According to the survey results, 29 % of respondents think that semantisation through numeration provides a clear explanation of the words with examples, develops associate thinking (26 % of respondents), and develops inductive and deductive thinking (24 % of respondents). By contrast, 21 % of respondents answered that this strategy does not significantly expand vocabulary (Figure 8).


Vocabulary is an effective tool that helps to understand the language structure, rules, and other features. Oparina E.A. identifies the following stages of semanticisation related to the semantic field: presenting a word in the context, the creation of various links in different contexts, the links of adjacent semantic fields, asking a problematic question, and ensuring the constant practice of the learned vocabulary [8; 20].

Lexical skill includes two main components: word use and word formation [9; 148]. Many research in psychology have shown that lexical skills differ significantly from grammatical skills. Lexical skills are characterized by greater awareness. In speaking, a learner is aware of the content, which is manifested in the choice of words, correct word combinations related to the goals of communication. Word mastery is the most important prerequisite for speaking, which is not limited to word meaning only, but also knowledge of word formation and how it should be used and connected in the sentence and speech. Word knowledge means knowing the form, meaning, and use of a definite word. English has many polysemantic words. It is the teacher’s job to teach learners to distinguish words from each other by understanding the subtle meaning of the word. EFL teachers should teach the connotation of the words and their use in associations with the same word. By form of a word, one implies its sound and graphic representation, which helps learners to perceive and recognize correctly and produce phonetically correct so that the listener could understand him/her and learner could use it properly in reading and writing. Nation defines productive use of vocabulary as “wanting to express a meaning through speaking or writing and retrieving and producing the appropriate spoken or written word form”. Receptive or passive vocabulary includes words we recognize when we hear or see [10; 115].

Effective vocabulary mastery is also based on certain teaching principles:

  • didactic principles: visibility, involvement, reliability, consistency, consciousness, research-based teaching, considering age characteristics;
  • proper methodological principles: communicative approach, situation-based teaching, collaborative learning, life-oriented teaching, correspondence of tasks to speech activity.
  • particular methodological principles which include gradual skill formation, proper usage of exercises according to the skill being developed, interaction of exercises forming lexical, grammatical, phonetic aspects of speech [11; 290].

Effective lexical skills formation is directly determined by the expanding associative links of words. A.N. Shchukin [12; 196] defines the following stages of lexical skills formation:

  • perception of the word (creating a sound image);
  • awareness of the meaning of the word;
  • word imitation (in an isolated form or in a sentence);
  • word designation;
  • word combinations and collocations;
  • word use in different contexts.

E.I. Passov states that mastering new vocabulary should go through all six stages [13; 27].

Lexical knowledge provides a successful mastery of the basics of all types of speech activity. Lexical knowledge is understood not only as a set of linguistic information about a foreign word but also as knowledge of certain strategies on how to deal with a foreign word. According to Passov, mastering oral speech (listening and speaking) and reading is impossible without speech skills and lexical skills are of particular importance in this process [13; 56]. Mastering lexical skills in teaching productive and perceptive skills contributes to developing lexical competence which means learners’ ability to determine the contextual meaning of a word, to compare its volume in two languages, to identify its national, cultural characteristics.

Rogova G.V. [14; 56] predetermines the following tasks before mastering vocabulary according to developing skill. To use words in speaking and writing a learner should take the following steps:

  • to search and find a word in memory;
  • to pronounce a word;
  • to consider semantic compatibility and grammatical form of a word;
  • to use a phrase or word combination in the sentence or text.

To use a word in listening and reading, a learner needs to do the following:

  • to associate a graphic or sounding image of a word with a lexical meaning;
  • to determine the grammatical form of the word, connections with other words.

EFL teachers should always bear in mind that lexical skills should be taught for communicative purposes to recognize and comprehend the word in a speech to be able to reply and use the word in speaking [14; 58].

Solovova E.N. defines active vocabulary as is the vocabulary that a person constantly uses in oral speech communication, i.e. those words that are at the tip of the tongue. If a word is not used for a long time, then it passes into the passive dictionary, i.e. it can be recognized when reading and listening, but it is not used in speech. The boundaries between them are very mobile related to several conditions [15; 43]. It is also vital to develop learners’ potential vocabulary, which originates from unfamiliar vocabulary while reading. Potential vocabulary mastery directly depends on learners’ amount of active and passive vocabulary.

Cho and Krashen classify vocabulary into incidental and intentional vocabulary in vocabulary acquisition. It is widely believed that most vocabulary, in both native and foreign languages, is acquired incidentally by means of receptive activities such as reading and listening [16].

Incidental vocabulary learning regards more natural language learning, outside formal classroom instruction, whereas intentional vocabulary learning is assumed to be a complex of typical of practices. Hunt and Beglar indicate that most of the vocabularies are learned incidentally through extensive reading and listening and can be an effective approach for all language learners at all levels [18].

Vocabulary is divided into implicit and explicit. According to Rashidi and Ganbari Adiv, learning of implicit vocabulary refers to indirect or incidental while the explicit method involves direct or intentional. Explicit learning of vocabulary is conscious and is aware of what has been learned, but implicit learning of vocabulary is non-conscious and without awareness of what has been learned. Foreign language vocabulary acquisition a complex phenomenon that involves several different learning processes [17]. Explicit learning regards learning vocabulary “out of context”, (from word lists) as well as “in context” (searching for a word in a dictionary while reading, or review new words in a text after reading). There are some techniques of learning vocabulary explicitly [17].

According to Nezhad, the mnemonic technique is one of the strategies for enhancing memory. One popular mnemonic technique is the “keyword” method in which an L2 word is attached to an L1 word by an image. Some scholars argue that vocabulary is best learned when structured in lexical sets. For example, we may learn words connected to a particular topic (such as animals) including synonyms, antonyms, and hyponyms. The problem with this method is that related words can be confused. It may seem hard for the learner to distinguish two synonyms or antonyms when new words are learned [18].


Different ways of semantisation can be used in foreign language mastery, which will evoke foreign learners’ motivation and interest in using the language as a tool for communication and properly expressing themselves. All the methods of semantisation can be used related to the learning and lesson objectives, level of learners, and word characteristics and features (name of the object, action, abstract noun, proper names, etc.). EFL teacher creativity and mastery also play a key part in employing appropriate methods in presenting and mastering new vocabulary, as it is important to make it neither challenging nor demotivating. If the method of the semantisation is too easy and does not involve students’ participation and creativity, this may cause poor retention and vocabulary extension. The method chosen should not be challenging as it may lead to demotivation, as the learner does not fully comprehend the meaning of the word which may be neglected. It is recommended for beginners to use demonstrative ways of semantisation (demonstration through illustrations and subjects, gestures and mimics), and then gradually shift to verbal ones (usage of definitions, antonyms and synonyms, combined examples, illustrative situations—written and oral, etc.). Combining visual and sound images of a word and the ability to use it in the context represents the learner’s receptive lexical skills. While mastering lexical skills, learners work on semantics and form a word. Using all the above-mentioned ways of semantisation, learners acquire word-building rules and vocabulary and non-equivalent words becoming familiar with the cultural and historical aspects of the foreign language culture. As it is reflected in the research questions, effective ways of semantisation were found.

In conclusion, study results have demonstrated that semantisation of vocabulary based on lexical semantic fields and description were evaluated as the most effective ways of semantisation. Study results proved that semantisation via lexical-semantic fields helps to enlarge vocabulary, because it is clear and logical. Semanti- sation through lexical-semantic fields, antonyms and synonyms were defined as challenging strategies. The description was described as time-consuming strategy that develops speaking skills and enables students to use passive vocabulary. Semantisation through antonyms and synonyms develops students’ paraphrasing and word-building skills significantly expanding students’ vocabulary. Semantisation through numeration clearly explains the words with examples, develops associate, inductive and deductive thinking. Semantisation through translation is evaluated as straightforward, and time-saving, but does not help to memorize new foreign words properly. Furthermore, survey results conducted among the 10th-grade students established that each semantisation method may work effectively if it is applied with the appropriate word, phrase, or concept.



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Year: 2022
City: Karaganda
Category: Pedagogy