[Kate Dingle. New York: Pearson Longman, 2008. pp. iii + 312. ¥3,539. ISBN: 978-0-13-243178-1.]
Vocabulary Power is a three-book series for learning vocabulary. Vocabulary Power 1 teaches words from the General Service List (GSL) (West, 1953), Vocabulary Power 2 from the GSL and Academic Word List (AWL) (Coxhead, 2000), and Vocabulary Power 3 focuses on more challenging words from the AWL. Vocabulary Power 1 is recommended for low-intermediate, Vocabulary Power 2 for intermediate, and Vocabulary Power 3 for advanced-level students.
Vocabulary Power 3 helps prepare students for rigorous academic challenges, such as content-based instruction in English, by providing students with the means to specifically learn and retain words from the AWL, which contains 570 of the most frequent words that appear in academic texts, excluding words from the GSL. For academic purposes, the AWL is the most useful vocabulary to learn after the GSL. AWL words make up approximately 8.5 to 10 percent of typical academic texts, nearly one out of every ten words (Nation, 2008). Furthermore, comprehension of both the GSL and AWL words gives learners close to 90 percent coverage of most academic texts (Nation, 2001).
In Vocabulary Power 3, three hundred target words are spread over thirty chapters, ten words per chapter. Each chapter, approximately ten pages in length, contains eight different contexts for learning and practicing the target words. This includes understanding collocations and multiple meanings of the words, completing articles adapted from authentic news sources, and applying the words with discussion questions and writing topics that have real-life relevancy. This format aligns with the research on memory, which states that it is often necessary to encounter a word seven or more times for memorization to occur and that words should be encountered in different contexts, retrieved, and used (Nation, 2001).
Vocabulary Power 3 is not specifically targeted to Japanese students. However, it is mostly culturally neutral, except for a few instances that presuppose some knowledge or experience of American culture. One noticeable feature of Vocabulary Power 3 is that there are no pictures. I view this positively, as I feel that the efficiency of design helps give the impression that Vocabulary Power 3 is intended for serious-minded English learners.
Strengths of Vocabulary Power 3 include the brevity and clarity of the target word definitions. In comparison, dictionary definitions tend to be long and difficult to understand (Folse, 2004). The short and easy-to-understand definitions likely promote retention of the target words. However, this may be a doubled-edged sword. In some cases the definitions may be too short and simple, and, as a result, do not always capture the entire nuance of the target words. For example, the target word coherent is defined as clear and the target word theory is defined as an idea. Thus, students may misunderstand or misuse some target words unless the teacher provides further clarification. In spite of this minor drawback, the numerous exercises throughout the chapters help to elucidate the target words’ nuances of meaning and contexts for usage.
Vocabulary Power 3 functions well as a weekly homework assignment. I assign my students to complete an entire chapter per week as homework. In class, I have students exchange their textbooks and check their partner’s work as I read the answers aloud. Next, students are given time to ask and answer the discussion questions, which are generally interesting and relevant to students. After every three chapters, students are tested on the target words.
Currently, I am using Vocabulary Power 3 with intermediate and advanced-level students in a second-year junior college course and a first-year university course. Students have completed twelve chapters during the first semester, and will do twelve more chapters next semester. The students were asked to rate the usefulness of Vocabulary Power 3 via anonymous surveys. All 41 students surveyed rated it favorably. Survey comments include the target words are useful words to know, it is easy to memorize the target words and understand the meanings well, the discussion questions are interesting and fun, and the textbook is effective for improving TOEFL and TOEIC scores.
In conclusion, I highly recommend Vocabulary Power 3 as a main or supplemental textbook for both advanced and intermediate-level students. According to the surveys and feedback from teacher-student meetings, and supported by test scores, Vocabulary Power 3 is a satisfying and perceived to be a useful way to improve their vocabulary.
Coxhead, A. (2000). A new academic word list. TESOL Quarterly, 34(2), 213-238.
Folse, K. (2004). Vocabulary myths. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.
Nation, I. S. P. (2001). Learning vocabulary in another language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Nation, I. S. P. (2008). Teaching vocabulary. Boston: Heinle, Cengage Learning.
West, M. (1953). A general service list of English words. London: Longman.