Anyone who has done research on vocabulary acquisition has come across Dr. Paul Nation’s articles and books. His 1990 book, Teaching & Learning Vocabulary, as well as his 2001 book, Learning Vocabulary in Another Language, are the basis of most vocabulary acquisition classes at universities today. He favors frequency lists, extensive reading, and the lexical approach to language teaching in addition to the need to teach students strategies so they can become autonomous learners. In case you haven’t read my previous posts on vocabulary in language learning, I completely agree with his methods.
Currently, Dr. Nation teaches at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, and his homepage offers useful resources to download for those interested in vocabulary acquisition. The ZIP file Vocabulary Resource Booklet includes survival vocabulary in 19 languages, based on Nation and Crabbe’s 1991 article “A Survival Language Learning Syllabus for Foreign Travel” (which is also included), ideally for tourists who will be in a foreign country for only a few weeks or months. This survival vocabulary should take no more than 60 hours to learn.
Here is the syllabus in English, from the article. Numbers in parentheses simply mean that the item occurs in more than one section.
1. Greetings and being polite
Hello/Good morning etc. + reply [there are many cultural variants of these, including Where are you going?, Have you eaten?]
How are you? + reply e.g. Fine, thank you.
Thank you + reply e.g. It’s nothing, You’re welcome.
Excuse me [sorry]
It doesn’t matter
Can I take your photo?
2. Buying and bargaining
I want … (4, 6)
Do you have …?/Is there …?
This (one), That (one) [to use when pointing at goods]
There isn’t any
How much (cost)? (5, 6)
A cheaper one (5)
NUMBERS (5, 7) (These need to be learned to a high degree of fluency)
UNITS OF MONEY (5, 6)
UNITS OF WEIGHT AND SIZE
How much (quantity)?
all of it
Excuse me [to get attention] (4)
Can you lower the price? + reply (Some countries do not use bargaining. In others it is essential.)
NAMES OF IMPORTANT THINGS TO BUY (These may include stamps, a newspaper, a map.)
3. Reading signs
4. Getting to places
Excuse me (to get attention) (2)
Can you help me?
Where is …? (5)
Where is … street?
What is the name of this place/street/station/town?
I want … (2, 5, 6)
How far?/Is it near?
How long (to get to …)?
Slow down (Directions for a taxi.)
5. Finding accommodation
Where is … (4)
How much (cost)? (2, 6)
A cheaper one (2)
I want … (2,4,6)
Leave at what time?
NUMBERS (2, 7)
6. Ordering food
How much (cost)? (2, 5)
The bill, please
I want … (2, 5, 9)
NAMES OF A FEW DISHES AND DRINKS
A FEW COOKING TERMS
7. Talking about yourself and talking to children
I am (name)
Where do you come from?
I am (a New Zealander)/I come from (New Zealand)
What do you do?
I am a (teacher)/tourist
You speak (Chinese)!
A little/very little
What is your name? (Especially for talking to children.)
How old are you? + reply
NUMBERS (2, 5)
I have been here … days/weeks/months
I am sick
8. Controlling and learning language
Do you understand?
I (don’t) understand
Do you speak English? (7)
Please speak slowly
I speak only a little (Thai)
What do you call this in (Japanese)?
Do you agree with this list? Anything missing? Anything not that necessary for survival as a tourist?
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