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Students’ Vocabulary Memorization is Enhanced via Fishbone Diagram

Students’ Vocabulary Memorization is Enhanced via
Fishbone Diagram
Mai Huyen Le Quy1 Van Anh Huynh Thi2,*
1 Major Education, Vietnam
2 Major Education, Vietnam
*Corresponding author. Email:
Nowadays, high school students are facing tremendous difficulties in memorizing vocabulary. The aim of this
research is to offer a deeper insight into one of the most immensely popular ways of learning and remembering
English vocabulary for high school students, the Fishbone diagram method. The study focuses on the
effectiveness of this method in vocabulary memorization. High school students have many difficulties in
memorizing vocabulary, and some highlight obstacles they find demanding are pronunciation, tough spelling and
especially word family and collocation. The fishbone diagram method helps students a lot in overcoming the
problems. Hopefully, this method will be applied much and become a popular choice among students in learning
English vocabulary.
Keywords: memorize, Fishbone diagram, method, vocabulary
In the global integration era, English is being spoken
by millions of people as their native language. It has
been considered as the first international language used
by most people around the world. According to Bang
(2007) [1], he also noted that English was considered by
the majority of the participants as crucial. Hence, each
individual knows the importance of learning a second
language or foreign languages, which help us
communicate with other people all over the world,
succeed in many different fields and catch up with the
speed of the growth of the global society. specifically, to
acquire english, vocabulary learning is very crucial to
english learners. vocabulary decides over ninety percent
of the purpose of the process of communication and the
meaning of speakers. the more vocabulary they learn,
the more successful they are in the process of acquiring
english. in other words, the process of english learning
is not only the study of basic grammar but also the
learning of vocabulary in order to make basic
meaningful sentences at the beginning and present
logical arguments at an advanced level later.
it is undeniable that knowing a language inside out,
especially its vocabulary, has been a long-running and
challenging battle for vietnamese people, including 11th
graders, ever since they started studying english.
complicated as it is, there are still some possible causes
that could explain this issue. the first main reason for
this matter is vocabulary instruction. in fact, an
overwhelming number of new words are delivered to
the students in just 45-minute periods, and the size of
vocabulary is so impractical for them that they can
understand deeply the nuance of english words, then
apply them in real-life situations appropriately. another
concern for this problem that needs addressing is the
passive learning of students. in class, students literally
note down words, including the vietnamese meanings,
on the board provided by teachers without double-
checking the english lexical definitions in the
dictionary. this may lead to inflexibility in the word
usage due to several possible conflicts between
vietnamese and foreign definitions.
The two main limitations in the vocabulary teaching
and learning which have led to the restriction in
students’ memorizing process that we have discussed
Advances in Social Science, Education and Humanities Research, volume 621
18th International Conference of the Asia Association of Computer-Assisted
Language Learning (AsiaCALL–2-2021)
Copyright © 2021 The Authors. Published by Atlantis Press SARL.
This is an open access article distributed under the CC BY-NC 4.0 license - 380
earlier are the vocabulary instruction and passive
We think that finding a teaching or studying
method that could effectively tackle the two major
concerns behind the pressure in students’ memorizing
process, which are the vocabulary instruction and
passive learning, is an urgent action at this time.
After considering all of the descriptions, reasons and
some temporary solutions above, we have come to a
decision about choosing the topic: “Students’
vocabulary memorization is enhanced via fishbone
diagram”. We hope that this study could be applied to
memorizing English vocabulary more proficiently
with a view to helping our students use this foreign
language as their mother tongue to communicate in
their lives. To conduct this research, we will answer
the three following questions:
1. What are the difficulties that 11th graders meet
when learning vocabulary and how they overcome
those ones?
2. How is the fishbone diagram implemented in
vocabulary recollection for 11th graders?
3. Among the difficulties, which one that fishbone
diagram can deal with?
Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary [2]
defines that vocabulary is all of the words that a
particular person knows and uses. Many experts have
defined vocabulary. Hatch and Brown (1995, p1) [3]
states that vocabulary is a list of words for a
particular language or a set of words that an
individual might use. Moreover, according to
Webster Dictionary (1985, p.1073) [4], vocabulary is
a list or collection of words usually that are arranged
alphabetically and explained or lexicon, the stock of
words used by individual, etc.
In Advanced Learners Dictionary of Current
English, Hornby (2006) [5] stated that vocabulary is
all the words that a person knows or uses, all the
words that exist in a particular language, a list of
words with their meanings, especially in a book for
learning a foreign language. From Nation (2001,
p.66) [6], vocabulary is the main element of
language. It's the center of the language. Language is
a system of communication that is constructed by
vocabulary. People use words to think, express ideas
and feelings and to know about the world. Therefore,
vocabulary is a crucial component in language
learning. It's related to all the four skills of speaking,
listening, reading and writing.
Hatch and Brown (1995, p.1) [3] defined that
vocabulary is a catalogue of target language words in
a particular language or a list of words that an
individual might use. vocabulary is a list of words
with their meanings, especially in a book for learning
a foreign language, which is used to communicate by
an individual or a group of people.
From the academic viewpoint of language experts
above, we can generally define that vocabulary is a
list of words with meanings that are used to
communicate between one person to another. the
more vocabulary you absolutely know, the more
knowledge you can build up for yourself. the more
learners try to look up the meaning of vocabulary.
they need to focus on how important vocabulary
affects on learning, memorizing these new words and
especially using them clearly and fluently in
communication in real life.
Vocabulary has three main aspects. There are:
2.1 Meaning
The students try to make a guess at the meaning
of new words from the instructions and clues of
teachers. This is not preferable on the ground that
clues may or may not provide the meaning of the
word accurately. It is advocated as it enables the class
to go without grasping the meaning of a word that
they learned to pronounce rather than to depend
upon the translation. Hence, students can memorize
not only the meaning but also the form of these new
words easily and fast.
2.2 Spelling
According to Nation (2001) [6], a word has
pronunciation (spoken form), spelling (written form)
and any other parts that create the particular item
(such as a prefix, root, and suffix). Hence, the
students should learn to spell the word and
differentiate it from a similarly pronounced word.
Thus, they can memorize and realize these letters
that form the words and especially can know how to
spell precisely.
Advances in Social Science, Education and Humanities Research, volume 621
2.3 Pronouncing
The method of pronouncing the vocabulary helps
students to memorize the words longer and identify
them more readily when they hear or see them. we
should implement it in teaching and memorizing new
DeCarrico (2001, p.58) [7] stated that vocabulary
learning is central in language acquisition whether
the language is first, second, or foreign, etc. Indeed,
vocabulary is a dominant element in language
absorption as it helps learners improve the percentage
of English apprehension considerably, especially in
Reading comprehension. In addition, Professor Paul
Meara also shows the agreement to this point through
what he states in his research “The learners are not
likely to know the important meanings words in most
reading texts. The vocabulary of a learner is usually
limited to 500 words or so. He or she will meet a lot
of unfamiliar words in most of the common context
that can prevent most learners from understanding
much at this level. (Meara, 1995, p.16) [8]. All in all,
having a wide range of vocabulary is a must for every
English learner.
The very first important point needed putting into
consideration is teaching word families. That is to
say, teachers can teach word families to maximize
students' vocabulary considerably. a list of words that
have a base word with its inflections and/or
derivations is called word families. to help students
recognize words, it make more sense to present a set
such as say, saying, says and said as members of a
“family” not as four single words. gathering many
words that are built around a particular root helps
learners see the associations among them.
Another significant point that needs to be
mentioned is teaching meaning associations.
DeCarrico [7] has shown several pieces of evidence
about this view in his thesis that meaning associations
links to words is crucial. in mind, words appear to be
grouped into semantically related sets, and the
connections associated with a word will influence
how it is stored in the brain. according to some
psychological studies, these linkages can be
discovered by giving individuals a term and asking
them to think of additional words that it conjures up.
the psychologists, for example, give a word table and
ask what other words come to mind first. the most
prevalent association for a table is a chair; for a boy,
it is a girl, and so on.
In order to offer students with a deeper
knowledge of a word's meaning and enhance
vocabulary development, explicit learning should be
taught in conjunction with activities that provide
relevant contexts.
Teachers should insist on vocabulary exercises
because, no matter how hard they try, students forget
the words they learn. according to jeremy harmer [9],
there are two basic causes of forgetting: interference
from subsequent learning and insufficient recycling.
Most teachers are aware that teaching a new
vocabulary might lead to forgetting an older one.
This is especially common when the words being
taught are quite close to the ones that have just been
Furthermore, memorizing vocabulary aids
students in their language creation. According to
Hubbard (1983) [10], the more words a learner
knows, the more precisely he or she may express the
exact message he or she desires. According to this
viewpoint, pupils must be familiar with a great range
of word meanings in order to communicate
successfully. Similarly, according to Cardenas (2001)
[11], vocabulary is utilized to measure a student's oral
proficiency. This is to suggest that a student's
vocabulary is a critical factor in determining how
well he or she can communicate. In order to
communicate successfully, learners must overcome
their lack of language knowledge.
To summarize the foregoing academic
viewpoints, it is assumed that memorizing vocabulary
is critical for learners learning a foreign language and
conversing with one another. Most importantly,
learners can easily understand what the foreigners
talk about and the teacher's instruction about the
lecture by the number of vocabulary they acquire.
A fishbone diagram, also known as a cause-and-
effect diagram or an Ishikawa diagram, is a
visualization method for categorizing the various
sources of an issue in order to discover its root causes
in some academic texts and materials. However,
cause and effect diagrams can be used to help with
teaching because they are easy to visualize and
organize. For visual learners, the diagram-based
strategy is quite helpful in promoting learning. A
cause-and-effect graphic is quite helpful when it
comes to remembering new words.
It can be used in combination with brainstorming
to assist students in developing creative thinking
Advances in Social Science, Education and Humanities Research, volume 621
skills and learning a large number of words,
particularly word families, antonyms, synonyms, and
collocations. the fishbone diagram is regarded as a
creative approach to memorizing vocabulary. and
most of the authors encourage using this method
frequently because of its positive influences on the
vocabulary memorization process.
In research named Fishbone strategy in teaching
English in Indonesia: A tool organizer for learning
EFL reading”, according to Nair [12], the fishbone
strategy benefits visual tools by highlighting
significant ideas with visual aids; providing an oral
and written presentation to comprehend the structure
of organization; and unable to recollect their
memories. Simmonds (2013, p.22) [13] discovered
that fishbone analysis separates the program and
category of causes, allowing health services to focus
on the content of the problem and so increase safety
and quality. Furthermore, Martin (2006, p.38) [14]
discovered that using the fishbone technique to teach
reading gave learners a lot of opportunities to
memorize vocabulary while reading. in "improving
students' reading comprehension using fishbone
diagram, " which was brought about by doctor
widyahening [15], demonstrated that fishbone
diagram was the best technique to memorize
vocabulary and enhance the ability of reading
comprehension in both active and innovative ways;
moreover; students are also suggested to apply this
technique to make it easier to widen their vocabulary
and understand the materials. besides, the fishbone
diagram is also applied in real life in the reality
television program named "hc sao cho tt - tiếng
anh! t tin lên nào!” [16], which was recorded by
vtv7 a national education channel, has indicated
that some shortcomings of learning english
vocabulary by traditional methods, such as english -
vietnamese translation by google, disordered list of
words and especially the introduction of fishbone
diagram method. the teacher instructs the learner how
to use this method to memorize countless words such
as word family, synonyms, antonyms, and so on in
various fields fast. from the result of the application
of this method from the learner, the fishbone is
considered a useful and effective way to memorize
the vocabulary besides the traditional methods.
As shown above, it is eminent to bear in mind that
fishbone strategy not only sets a new conception on
an inventive word teaching technique but also raises a
curtain to a whole new and innovative approach to
memorizing vocabulary for English learners. This
method will be mainly analyzed and clarified in later
sections of this research, especially in memorizing
vocabulary for 11th-grade students.
The study utilizes a variety of tools and methods,
including secondary data analysis and questionnaire
surveys. However, the questionnaire plays a vital role
in the research as it is used mainly to collect the data.
Fieldwork will be conducted in high schools in Ho
Chi Minh City.
There are two kinds of approaches usually used in
a study, namely action research and survey. in this
study, the researcher chooses surveying as the main
approach of the thesis because it can provide
generalized results and a lot of data quickly.
Documentary research is used in this study, which
includes articles, official papers, reputable reports,
books, research works, and online journals that are
more specifically focused on language learning,
especially vocabulary memorization aspect to give
the assistance the students in grade 11 remember
vocabulary as much as possible.
The purpose of the questionnaire survey was to
acquire a better understanding of high school
students' difficulty in recalling vocabularies, the ways
of learning new words and the application of the
fishbone diagram in the vocabulary memorizing
process. after that, we can find out an understandable
way for to students to apply the fishbone diagram to
their learning process and which shortcomings of
students that the diagram works out effectively. in
this study, the research includes a questionnaire
The data are collected solely from nearly 300
students in ho chi minh city, especially those who are
in grade 11th of some high schools in many districts.
There are 12 questions put in the questionnaire
and illustrated in the charts. However, the results will
only be presented in five major sections. The first
section presents the number of students having
difficulties in memorizing vocabulary. The second
section presents the common difficulty that 11th
graders meet when memorizing vocabulary. The third
section presents the way students use to overcome the
difficulty in remembering vocabulary. The fourth
section gives information about the introduction and
Advances in Social Science, Education and Humanities Research, volume 621
implementation of the fishbone diagram in
memorizing vocabulary. Finally, the last section
indicates the effectiveness of using the fishbone
diagram in remembering vocabulary. We have the
following important findings:
Figure 4.1: Students’ goal in learning English
Figure 4.2: The number of students having
difficulties in remembering vocabulary
The two charts above give information about the
objective of students when learning English and the
size of students daunted by vocabulary memorization
in high schools.
Overall, most of the students from both schools
needed English for an ideal job in the future while the
figure for students having other goals (the ones which
are not listed) made the lowest contribution. In
addition, there was a considerable number of students
admitting that learning vocabulary is complicated.
In the first chart, more than half of the students
coming from the 2 different schools aimed to use
English to look for a good job after graduating, and
one-third of them wanted to improve communicative
skills. Additionally, the fraction for students whose
goal is to pass the entrance exam was in third place,
making up 14% of the whole chart. There was just a
minority of students having other goals, accounting
for 4%. In the second pie chart, only 17% of the
students of the 2 high schools did not encounter any
obstacles in remembering English vocabulary. In
contrast, an overwhelming number of students had
difficulties in memorizing new words (83%).
With the figure shown in the charts, we can
conclude that there are still many students struggling
in bearing new vocabulary in their minds and a vast
number of them learn English with the hope of being
offered a high-ranked job in the future.
Figure 4.3: The number of new words taught in class
Figure 4.4: The most difficult problems students
have faced in memorizing vocabulary
The two charts above indicate the number of new
vocabulary that was taught in school by the English
teachers and the most challenging issue of
memorizing new words existing among the students
of Tran Khai Nguyen and Tan Phong high schools.
Overall, more than 20 words were taught to most
of the students in English classes, and the number of
who find word-family (word classes, synonyms and
antonyms) and tough spelling and pronunciation the
most difficult aspects when learning English made up
the largest fraction in the second chart.
As shown in the first chart, more than half of the
students were introduced to more than 20 new words
in their English classes (57%), followed by the
percentage of 10 17 words (28%). Moreover, the
Advances in Social Science, Education and Humanities Research, volume 621
figure for 7 10 new vocabulary and other was 12%
and 3%, respectively. In the second chart, the
proportion of word family together with tough
spelling and pronunciation accounted for
approximately 30%, while that of collocations and
phrasal verbs were smaller, contributing about 21%
of the whole pie chart.
With the figures above, it is conceivable that there
are a considerable number of students overwhelmed
with English learning in general and vocabulary
learning in specific. Based on our analysis, it is clear
that students not only struggle with such an
inappropriate vocabulary size taught in schools but
several specific aspects of vocabulary learning whose
the most part of are word family and pronunciation
and spelling.
Figure 4.5: The method students have used to learn
English vocabulary
The chart above demonstrates the percentage of
the methods high school students have ever used to
learn English vocabulary.
Overall, the majority of students used the method
- looking up the word family (word classes, synonym,
and antonym) of each word in the dictionary, while
the percentage of students used the other methods
like speaking out loud the new words or writing a
note is the lowest.
As can be seen in this chart, the number of
students who learn new words by writing each word
3 times or more and writing sentences with each
word accounted for the high rate, with 24% and 20%,
respectively. Furthermore, looking up the word
family (word classes, synonym, …) of each word in
the dictionary was the method students apply with the
highest proportion, 47%. Additionally, the proportion
of students who learns English words by writing each
word 3 times (or more) was approximately half that
of students looking up the word family (word classes,
synonym, …) of each word in the dictionary with
24% and 47%, respectively. At the same time, the
other methods like speaking out loudly or note-
writing made up the lowest percentage with 9%.
With the figure is presented in the chart, we can
see that high school students in general and 11th
graders in particular, they have applied many
different methods to enhance their range of English
vocabulary and address the problems they have in
doing the test at schools.
Figure 4.6: The effectiveness of method students
have ever used in remembering English words
The pie chart above illustrates the percentage of
effectiveness of methods students have applied to
remember English vocabulary. Overall, the majority
of students find it quite efficient to memorize English
words by using their own methods.
As can be seen in this chart, the proportion of
students who finds it efficient to learn new words by
their own methods accounted for a quarter of all
students asked to conduct the survey, with 25%.
Additionally, the percentage of students considering
it quite efficient to learn vocabulary by using their
own methods was the highest, with 62%. In the
meantime, the inefficiency of methods that students
use to learn English words accounted for the lowest
percentage, with only 13%.
With the figure presented in the chart, it is
conceivable that students in both schools apply these
methods to bring efficiencies in learning and
memorizing some aspects of English vocabulary.
However, it is not the most effective way for students
to learn and enhance their range of vocabulary.
Advances in Social Science, Education and Humanities Research, volume 621
Figure 4.7: The aspect of vocabulary knowledge
students would like to apply the fishbone method to
The chart above presents the percentage of the
aspect of vocabulary knowledge high school students
want to apply the fishbone method to memorize new
words. Overall, the percentage of students using this
method to learn word family was the highest, while
with synonym, antonym and other aspects, the
proportion of students applying this method to learn
was the lowest.
As can be seen in the chart, the word family was
the aspect students apply this method to study most,
with 37%. Moreover, collocations were also the
aspect students applied the fishbone diagram to learn,
with 25%. In addition, the percentage of students
applying this method to learn collocations was much
higher than that of students who used fishbone
diagrams to study phrasal verbs and synonyms,
antonym, with 25%, 19% and 11%, respectively.
Especially, the figure of students applying the
fishbone diagram to learn word family was nearly
double that of students who used this method to study
phrasal verbs, with 37% and 19% respectively.
With these figures, we can see that the fishbone
diagram is applied variously in many aspects of
learning English. Despite having many different
methods in remembering English words, when this
fishbone method is introduced, many high school
students apply this method to learning some difficult
aspects of English like word family and collocations
Figure 4.8: The effectiveness of the fishbone
diagram method in learning new words
The pie chart above illustrates the percentage of
the effectiveness of the fishbone diagram to students
in both Tran Khai Nguyen and Tan Phong high
schools when learning new words. Overall, the
majority of students found it efficient to learn English
vocabulary by using this fishbone diagram, with
48%. Meanwhile, the proportion of students who
considered this method inefficient is very low, just by
one-twelfth that of students find it efficient, with 4%.
In learning English, especially remembering
vocabulary, there are countless methods for students
to learn. However, the application of the method to
achieve success or improve the range of vocabulary is
not simple. The result shows that when high school
students apply the fishbone diagram method in
remembering vocabulary, it will help them memorize
a large amount of vocabulary and enhance or broaden
their range of vocabulary. Moreover, this method will
assist students in learning word family especially
synonym, antonyms, and collocations, addressing the
difficulties that students face while learning English
The primary goal of this project is to introduce a
helpful method to high school students, particularly
11th graders, for learning English in general and
memorizing vocabulary in particular. The survey was
carried out at 2 separated high schools in Ho Chi
Minh City, and a sample of nearly 200 respondents
was used. In this study, all items being used were
adopted from previous research. The following
information in this chapter refers to: first, the main
findings from the survey; second, the explanations for
the results we have; third, the limitations we have not
conducted in this research and fourth, giving some
suggestions for other researchers to carry out other
studies related to different aspects of learning English
as well as ways in teaching English.
The initial reason this method should be applied
in learning vocabulary, especially word family, is the
Advances in Social Science, Education and Humanities Research, volume 621
visual structure of a fishbone graphic (picture).
Specifically, the root word is written at the head of
fish, and the variants of that word are written at the
rib bones. When students use this framework, they
can address their issues in the word family. In
addition, the fishbone is very systematic, clear and
simple to use in remembering vocabulary. To clarify,
the systematicity, clearness and simplicity in using
this method are presented in the structure of this
fishbone (the head fish with the main word and the
rib bones with the variants). In the process of learning
English, particularly vocabulary, using visuals is the
most appropriate and fastest way for students to
memorize the new words instead of making a list of
many words and then remembering. Most
importantly, as we can see, this method may
gradually become a popular one in acknowledging
English vocabulary instead of traditional methods.
Hence, with these advantages, the fishbone diagram
brings a lot of effectiveness for students in
memorizing new words, word family and boosting
their lexical range.
The conducted study showed the massive number
of students having difficulties in learning English
vocabulary and the introduction and effectiveness of
the fishbone diagram method in memorizing
vocabulary knowledge especially word family to the
11th graders in two specific high schools. We hope
that this method will be applied popularly and
gradually become a useful method for students to
learn English vocabulary in the future.
In the process of carrying out this research, the
researchers dealt with many difficulties. These
drawbacks should be taken into consideration when
further research is conducted. These are some of our
recommendations. Firstly, the samples of the study
should be chosen widely in many high schools in Ho
Chi Minh City or in many cities around Viet Nam.
Secondly, the fishbone diagram ought to be applied
in some other aspects of English instead of just as the
vocabulary knowledge in our study.
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[16] A reality television program named “Học sao
cho tt - Tiếng Anh! T tin lên nào!”, VTV7,
Vietnam. DOI:
Advances in Social Science, Education and Humanities Research, volume 621
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  • Cong Truong
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Truong Cong Bang, Factors influencing the learning English of Vietnamese students, in: The Journal of Language Science and Culture, 2007, Vol.1, No.2.
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  • J Decarrico
DeCarrico, J., Teaching English as a Second Language or Foreign Language, in: Heinle & Heinle Press, Boston, 2001.
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  • Jeremy Hammer
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