Language is at the center of human communication, whether the language is oral, a form of hand signs, or written. Words serve to label concepts and they are the means by which we make meaning of the social and physical worlds in which we live.
At a certain point in development, many new words are learned through reading texts. Most of us are rarely in conversations where someone uses a word such as generative or eviscerate. Beyond the primary grades, the language of written texts becomes more sophisticated than the language of oral language. This doesn’t mean, however, that students don’t need numerous opportunities to hear and express sophisticated vocabulary in oral language.
Ellis (1994) has reviewed research to establish what it is that influences vocabulary acquisition from oral interaction. He has concluded that there are several factors that influence the ability of students—especially students who are English Language Learners—to acquire new vocabulary from oral interactions. One factor has to do with the properties of the word. A word for which an image is possible such as fashion will be learned more readily than an abstract and polysemous word such as role. Second, the nature of the input influences students’ learning. If students are involved in a conversation, they will be more apt to remember and use a word than if the input is only through listening to a teacher lecture. Individual student factors such as the level of their English proficiency will also influence their ability to benefit from oral interactions.
Ellis, R. (1994). Factors in the incidental acquisition of second language vocabulary from oral input: A review essay. Applied Language Learning 5, 1-32.
Biemiller, A., (Spring, 2003). Oral Comprehension Sets the Ceiling on Reading Comprehension. American Federation of Teachers. Available at http://www.aft.org/pubs-reports/american_educator/spring2003/biemiller.html