It’s really simple. The vocabulary of vocabulary – denotation and connotation, literal and figurative uses, synonym and antonym – is the formula to unlocking the meaning of a word, and the dictionary is the best teaching aid in learning word definitions, but these are all lost on the students of today. The dictionary would be right under their noses and they’d still be looking around – the ceiling or the floor – hoping to find the meaning written somewhere. Only when you snapped at them would they flip through the dictionary.
It’s really a tragedy when I assign a reading. They would say, “Yes, we read it” but ask them something simple as the meanings of words they’ve never encountered, and they’re absolutely clueless. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the formula of reading – you read something you don’t understand over and over again – which coupled with the formula of vocabulary, makes reading easier. And we’re just on the basic part – unlocking the vocabulary. Reading for details and beyond is a very painful next step. Having a discussion on the reading is like engaging in soliloquy, but unlike the lead actor playing Hamlet who’s in the zone of his character, the audiences of an English teacher are blasé.
Going through the vocabulary section of a check-up quiz, I stumbled upon some bizarre meanings to everyday words. For example, booty, which had a lot of meanings, meant how a goat is called; a shop that sells clothes; and the sound that a boot makes. Next word was flamboyant, which was defined by a student as a name of a flower. The clincher was the definition of gingerly. This student was using the rule of contextual clue, I guess. She wrote “gingerly = smells and tastes like ginger”.
On the up side of things, there’s something to a black comedy. English teachers get a slight relief from the bleakness of the situation and get a few laughs. After all, didn’t they say “Laughter is the best medicine”?