This guest blog post, jointly written by three Ecuadorian student-teachers focuses on a recent international vocabulary tournament using one particular browser-based tool, WordEngine. The idea for the post was submitted by Elizabeth Bekes, who is a teacher trainer and volunteer mentor for the Action Research Mentoring Project at the Universidad Nacional de Educación in the South American country. It was written collaboratively by three of the eight member team at UNAE, Jose Fajardo, Kevin Suntaxi, and Axel Calle.
Currently, the wide access to electronic devices facilitates learner exposure to online language games, which create interest in and support for vocabulary acquisition. Vocabulary is important when you learn a foreign language because without this you do not have the words to express yourself or to understand what people are saying. When we learn a word, several factors are involved. We need to learn the spelling, the pronunciation, and the meaning of each word. There are several ways to learn vocabulary such as listening to music, watching a movie, however, the most motivating and exciting way to learn vocabulary is through games. Practising vocabulary through a game is engaging because it is fun, attention-grabbing, and it brings out students’ enthusiasm. This blog explores our experiences and perspectives as university students learning new words during an online vocabulary tournament organized by Lexxica through WordEngine, which is a self-study application for vocabulary acquisition.
The three of us kept vocabulary learning journals where we recorded the challenges we faced, the tactics and strategies we used, even our emotions about learning new vocabulary on a weekly basis. One of us, Axel, wrote this: “I studied this morning my vocabulary list which I made yesterday to be ready for today’s study session, I think it was a good idea because I could remember my vocabulary list.” In this blog, we will describe our experiences and the results we achieved by using WordEngine to demonstrate what motivated us to work hard on vocabulary acquisition and help our team to win.
Sign Up for WordEngine (4:36 mins video on YouTube)
Let’s start with describing the online vocabulary learning application in a little more detail. WordEngine is a digital learning tool designed to help users learn high-frequency vocabulary and spoken expressions as quickly as possible. The platform is user-friendly. You can log on to the platform from your computer or cell phone. To start learning new vocabulary, you first need to do a short test called V-Check. This test helps the platform to assess your vocabulary level, establishes the words that you are likely to know or not know, and creates a personalised list of words that you should start learning.
When you finish the V-check test you can select from three libraries with subcategories in each one:
- Special purpose vocabulary: TOEIC, TOEFL, IELTS, EIKEN, entrance exams, business exams, SAT and GRE.
- Spoken expressions: Daily conversations, presentations, internal meetings, negotiation, hospitality, and phonetic discernment.
- Specific terms: Macroeconomics, English composition, critical thinking, general psychology and sociology.
From these libraries you can select three subcategories over and above General English to learn new words and you can change these options at any time. When you start playing on WordEngine, there are three types of activities: you see a word and you need to match it with a definition; you hear a word and you need to match it with the correct definition; and you see a gapped sentence where you need to slot in the word whose definition is given. The words are presented in manageable groups of 15, which helps consolidation. Each time you finish a batch, you get the number of correct responses. You can check the ones you failed and see the correct answer and also hear the pronunciation. How much you practise and learn depends on the amount of time you spend on the platform: it may be 30 minutes or three hours, there is no time limit. You can set a learning goal for each week and the platform sets the daily and weekly goals for you.
When the three of us were invited to be part of the UNAE team to compete in the WordEngine tournament, we were excited and motivated to do our very best during the whole vocabulary acquisition process. As a team, we started working collaboratively. Once we started the tournament, we struggled to get a lot of points for the team because the time that WordEngine gave us to choose the correct option was limited but it motivated us to comprehend the word and think faster.
There are some key points that made us succeed in the vocabulary acquisition process and helped us win the tournament. There was the constant support that came from the rest of the team, namely, our teachers, who cheered us on to gain more points and move to a better position in the ranking table. Also, the constant communication we had by Whatsapp: we were informed about the weekly results as soon as they were published. Despite the fact that we are students, we felt comfortable sharing our feelings and thoughts with the teachers. We even managed to make up for one of the team members, a highly proficient polyglot, who ran out of words to practise. Instead of replacing her with another contestant, we just decided to work harder. We believed that no one should be left behind and ‘Together Everyone Achieves More’ (TEAM). This became our motto.
When it comes to using technology to learn online, there are pros and cons and this was our experience, too, while using this mobile and PC application. One advantage is that during COVID-19, this learning technology supported us in the acquisition of new vocabulary in an interactive way. Another advantage was the way words were recycled: if we missed a word or several words, they were repeated in the next round of 15 words. The third advantage of WordEngine was that it assessed our level of proficiency at the beginning and we could then take the V-Check test again to evaluate our progress.
While we were taking part in the tournament, we had a lot of feelings and emotions. When we started learning vocabulary using a digital tool, it was exciting. At the very beginning, we struggled with remembering some words but by the end we were able to develop the skill to think more carefully and critically to provide correct responses (CRs). Furthermore, working as a team during the tournament made us feel motivated to learn more words. The messages that the team posted in the WhatsApp group encouraged us to push ourselves against boredom when we were practising for hours every day. As a result, we began to acquire a competitive attitude and became good tacticians and strategists.
Indeed, having gone through this experience encouraged us to be constant vocabulary learners and we now think that it is never enough to learn new vocabulary. The use of an online application definitely helped us to acquire new vocabulary and this was clearly reflected in our results: each of us expanded our vocabulary size considerably by the end of the tournament. Not only did we improve our vocabulary but we also won the WordEngine tournament. The prize was free licences for one year for all 2854 UNAE students and about 150 teachers as well.
After this experience of having used an online vocabulary tool, we are more engaged in learning online and perhaps our perspective to this mode of learning has also changed somewhat. Together with other UNAE students, we are now actively using our new WordEngine accounts and are also looking for other online tools to learn new vocabulary. Since this model has worked so well for us, perhaps it might work for you, too.
Jose (Pepe) Fajardo has been learning English at UNAE where he continues to work on his pronunciation and vocabulary. He has earned an Associates of Arts degree in the US. He is now doing his English teaching practice and is part of the university research team where he is gaining knowledge on research methodology. He is adamant that technology should be widely used today. This is the reason why he has added online learning tools to his language acquisition skills during this pandemic.
Kevin Suntaxi has been an English student for nearly 3 years. He likes learning and teaching English and he is studying to be an English teacher. Thanks to his good grades, he has been selected to help out as an English teacher assistant. He is interested in research projects related to English Language Teaching (ELT), and is always on the lookout for resources to improve his English proficiency. He strongly believes that the integration of technological tools in the learning process is fundamental.
Axel Calle is an English student. He spends his time reading English books and speaking in English with his friends. He loves to be part of different activities that his University organizes. He was part of the UNAE ACCESS program. It is a program where teenagers learn English as a second language. He participates in community outreach programs where he creates online teaching materials to support online English learning during the pandemic. He is also writing a short story for a children’s book.
By having this article published, the writers have also been awarded a physical copy of our research book published earlier this year. To grab yourself a copy, too, submit an idea for a guest blog post or an article for our LT newsletter. If it gets published in either then we will send one out. Note: One physical copy per submission. For jointly written articles, an e-book version will also be sent by email. Write for us. Members – contact our newsletter editor Graham Stanley or joint coordinator, Vicky Saumell.