Building Your Vocabulary

How do I build my academic vocabulary? This is the question I am asked most often by prospective bilingual teachers seeking to pass the rigorous certification tests.

Read on to get tips and tricks for preparing to pass your bilingual language target proficiency test (BTLPT) or languages other than the English (LOTE) exam.

A broad and well-developed academic and education-specific vocabulary is one of the most critical factors for success on the BTLPT. Many teachers who take this comprehensive language proficiency exam have spoken Spanish mostly in a family or social context.

This kind of language experience alone won’t be enough to pass the Bilingual Target Language Proficiency Test (Texes #190). The scoring rubrics for the written expression and the oral expression components of the test both refer to “varied vocabulary appropriate for the content and used with precision” in the Language Use category.

With some careful studying, you can be sure to showcase this area of your language skills, especially since you have time to prepare some phrases and words you want to be sure to use on the test in advance.

I recommend keeping a notecard of high-level educational buzzwords and professional-sounding phrases to review daily and bring it with you on test day to serve as a reminder right before you enter the testing center. You will want to use these words regularly in your practice sessions in the oral AND written components.

Here are some great ways to enhance your vocabulary:

  1. Listen to Tedx Español. You can find these 15-20 minute speeches on YouTube and they are perfect because they are bite-sized for a study session and the speaker is always using a professional, high-level register of Spanish.You will hear different accents and be exposed to different topics. You can even find subject areas that you are actually interested in learning more about and get two benefits at the same time!I strongly recommend that you focus on art/culture, science, and education topics as these will give you the biggest bang for your BTLPT buck.
  2. Read articles about bilingual or general education in a textbook or journal. You can use the Google Translate extension in your browser to translate any website or article you find into instant study material! Highlight and write down the words that you learn so that you can review them regularly until you “own” the word.Keep a list of phrases and structures you find that you want to incorporate in your listening and speaking as well.
  3. Find articles on El Pais or El Mundo. These will contain academic vocabulary and you will begin to notice that the same words come up again and again, so after you learn for a while, more of the article will be comprehensible to you and you will be able to use context to figure out the few words you are still missing. This is an essential skill for the reading comprehension section of the BTLPT (and the LOTE).
  4. Try translating in your head in an ARD meeting or staff development session. You can even use videos on YouTube in English about education, science, or cultural topics. If you get to a word that you aren’t able to translate, write it down.After the session, look up the vocabulary you didn’t have ready to use!
  5. Watch documentaries with Spanish subtitles on. Reading the word at the same time as you hear it (in English or in Spanish) will help you build your vocabulary. Make notes about the words you want to work with.
  6. Do something with your new words. Don’t just read them. Come up with your own definitions for them in Spanish. Spend one minute writing about the word. Use the word in 5 different sentences. Do something that makes the word become available for your use. Just like we tell our students – you have to own the new vocabulary so that you can easily retrieve it when you want.

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