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Frequency-based versus topics-based teaching of language:

 

Teaching "topics" is less effective for rapid language acquisition than focusing on teaching frequently used concepts starting from the most frequently used to the least frequently used.


Consider the following: 
"There are more than 500,000 words in the English language, but a person who masters only 250 words will recognize more than two-thirds of all words shown in television captions -- provided the 250 words are those that are most frequently used.  Equally dramatic, a beginning reader could be taught just 10 words (the, you, to, a, I, and, of, in, it, that) and then recognize more than one out of every five words. Mastery of the top 79 words means being able to read half of all words captioned."
Source: Perspectives in Education and Deafness, Volume 16, Number 1, September/October 1997

The same principle applies to ASL (sign language) acquisition. Teaching specific subjects sacrifices more frequently used vocabulary for the sake of introducing less frequently used subject-related terms.

By focusing on teaching signs based on frequency (and not based on topic / subject) we empower students to quickly start having conversations using the signs they are most likely to need.

Compare language to a tool box. An efficient tool box has one each of the most commonly used tools - not 10 different screwdrivers.

The same goes for students learning ASL.  Students need to learn a range of common signs not a list of 10 different colors.

During the early stages of learning ASL -- if you teach a group of students a bunch of signs based on a single topic such as colors -- for example:
BLACK
BLUE
BROWN
GOLD
GREEN
ORANGE
RED
SILVER
WHITE
YELLOW
-- the students still cannot meaningfully communicate.

However, if you teach 10 frequently used concepts such as:
APPLE
HAVE
Indexing-[IX] = [he/she/that-person/they/it/there]
LIKE
NO
Possession-[POSS] = [my/your/their]
RED
WANT
WHO
YES
The students can immediately start having fun communicating -- asking questions and answering them.

I'm not opposed to teaching deep dives on specific subjects.  However, the time to teach lessons based on "subjects" is *after* the student has rapidly acquired functional communication skills via focusing on more frequently used vocabulary.
 



 

Notes: 

 




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