Why are Frequency Lists Important For Language Teachers?

A frequency list identifies words that occur most frequently in that particular language in everyday conversations. For most languages, frequency lists are easy to find, yet for Indonesian the first one I found was this one and that was thanks to Penny Coutas. There are many sites that offer lists of common Indonesian words. See here, here (my favourite) and here. Look through their word lists and see if you agree that they are in fact a list of the words that you would use the most when communicating in Indonesian.

Ben Slavic says that a language teachers curriula is a list of words and for me this rings true. No matter what methodology you use to teach a language, your lesson is based around a particular group of words. As the goal of language teachers is to provide opportunities for students to develop conversational fluency, it makes sense for teachers to target the specific vocabulary necessary for this. The frequency lists are thus lists of the most frequently used words that occur naturally and regularly in everyday conversations.

From the list of 200 most common Indonesian words, we wanted to determine the Indonesian ‘Super 7” (credit Terry Waltz). To identify the core vocabulary  necessary to ensure 100% comprehensibility in all classroom conversations. Terry Waltz says of her ‘super 7’ that “if you can get novices to really, really, really own these words, they can figure out how to communicate about quite complex things with just a few words.”

So we decided we wanted to determine the Indonesian ‘top 10’. However I do agree with Penny Coutas about sudah/belum, so therefore I personally suggest that the Indonesian list becomes known as the Top 10 + sudah/belum. Knowing our Top 10 + sudah/belum, helps us determine the path necessary for students to develop and improve their proficiency.

So far, in term 1 we covered suka, pakai, punya, kasi, di and mau while this term our target structures have included revising the above as well as ada & pakai. The idea being that once students have thoroughly acquired the Top 10, we can start introducing more complex  target structures.

Elsewhere on Ben Slavic’s blog, he and other experienced TCI teachers advise that frequency lists are a very good place for novice TCI language teachers and learners to start; they are the ‘beginners curriculum’ (Alisa Shapiro). TCI teachers are in favour of a personalised curriculum – that is a curriculum based around the  interests and needs of students. Engaged students are after all far more enjoyable to teach, so it is a win – win!!

The Top 10 + sudah/belum list is always open for discussion and will be revised over and over as time goes by. No doubt, during the next opportunity to speak in Indonesian, I will hear/use a word that will make me stop and wonder whether it too should be a consideration!!


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