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Vocabulary Matrix - understanding, learning and teaching.

Reviewed by Norman Cain, IH Rome Manzoni

It is not often that a book about vocabulary comes onto the market that can satisfy a cross section of ‘teacher’ readers but McCarthy, O’Keefe and Walsh have managed to do this with the Vocabulary Matrix. The book is intended for pre-service or recently qualified teachers who are new to the profession, however it provides a wealth of information for even more experienced teachers.

The layout of the book is very user friendly divided into ten chapters each of which is further divided into three parts. These parts respectively deal with background information and theory relating to a particular area of vocabulary, identifying the problems learners may have regarding that aspect of vocabulary and thirdly, discussing how to apply the theory, address the leaner problems and give practical suggestions to teach that area of vocabulary.

The tasks the authors provide to contextualize the theoretical and pedagogical concepts they cover are easily adaptable and can be used either by teachers with their own students or by teacher trainers on training courses. There are commentaries provided on all of these tasks an answer key, a ten question review section at the end of each chapter and a glossary of key terms at the end of the book. All of this make the book highly suitable both for self study not just for teachers in training, current practising teachers but also for teachers who provide training.

The chapters in the book build up successively taking the reader from the origins of ‘what is a word?’ in chapter one through, how words have meaning, collocation, the grammar of words, multi-words, idioms, word relationships, words in text and discourse and how we store words to the final chapter that looks at how words come into and go out of use.

What I liked in particular about the book is its accessibility. Each introduction is clear and immediately involves the readers by getting them to carry out tasks to help question what they may already know or be aware of about that aspect of vocabulary. New key vocabulary is often introduced through these kinds of tasks and then a definition given followed by series of examples or other tasks to reinforce the point.

For example in chapter four, which deals with the grammar of words, learner problems are well highlighted and the reader is encouraged to think about other layers of meaning that could cause further difficulties such as colligates and collocates. Other common student problem areas such as negative transfer are also given. There is an abundance of theory throughout the book to back up the authors’ claims. They stress the importance of teaching patterns even with beginner students supporting their claims with Hoey’s research. The suggestions for materials to use for tasks covers tried and tested activities such as gap fills but the book also provides the readers with useful CALL sites references and suggestions for software material.

Apart from all the excellent suggestions in the book itself anyone interested in further study can also refer to the list of references at the back which is extensive. While reading the book I recently showed it to a group of DELTA trainees and they immediately decided to go out and buy it and I am sure we will be purchasing it too for our training library.

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