The comprehensibility of spoken discourse is affected by a speaker's semantic competence. For example, an inadequately developed semantic network restricts flexibility and creativity of expressive language. As a result, inappropriate word choices may be made that can adversely affect message clarity and cohesiveness. In order to enhance semantic productivity, language instruction should include a focus on word meanings and word relationships.

 

Vocabulary Instruction

Instruction may address explicit knowledge or understanding of words and word relationships, including core and expanded meanings. This may include a discussion of Latin and Greek prefixes, suffixes, and roots.

 

In this instructional segment related to vocabulary, the instructor focuses the student's attention on words that share root meanings.

 

The following clip shows a student learning a set of Latin prefixes. This is a review of a homework assignment in the student’s third learning session.

 

Prefixes can be learned as an aid to word comprehension and word selection. This clip shows prefixes being practiced in appropriate contexts.

 

In this clip instructional activities allow the student to learn grammatical variations in a conversational context.

 

In this clip the use of prefixes remains a primary goal, but the student can also repair the pronunciation of any English word in the conversation.

 

Word Category Instruction

Instruction may focus on the classification of words into base, subordinate and superordinate categories. The intent of such instruction is to expand a student’s semantic knowledge and his/her utilization of that knowledge when expressing information. The following examples show an instructor probing a student's classification of various items.

 

In this segment the student struggles with associations vs. functions vs. exemplars.

 

In this segment the instructor stimulates thinking about similarities and differences between exemplars.

 

In these segments the student explains the function of an item.

 

This segment presents a follow-up activity where the student expresses the function of an item in conversational speech.

 

Referent specification

As mentioned above, the cohesiveness of a text influences message comprehensibility. A variety of structural and lexical devices are used to achieve textual cohesion, one of which is referent specification. Students should learn to analyze the syntactic and pragmatic factors that effect the introduction and ongoing referral to referents, including characters in a story. The specification of referents influences how well a listener can follow and understand spoken discourse.

 

In this clip a student is focusing on referent specification in order to distinguish one character in a story from another.

 

Idiomatic expressions

Students often need instruction in producing and comprehending literal vs extra-literal meanings. This is particularly true of idiomatic expressions.

 

This clip shows an international student focusing on idioms associated with her relaying of the surprise birthday party story.

 

Comparing and contrasting similar idioms can be helpful.

 

For international students, it is also helpful to compare everyday language in America and in their country.

 

Students enjoy conversing about cultural differences and generating comparisons.