He has taught in Indonesia, Thailand, the United States, Finland, and Japan. He is Emeritus Professor in the School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.
Key concepts of his works are word frequency lists as guidelines to vocabulary acquisition, the learning burden of a word, the need to teach learning strategies to students in order to increase their autonomy in vocabulary expansion for low-frequency items, support to extensive reading of accessible texts (≥95-98% of known words), the usefulness of L2→L1 tools (dictionaries, word cards) for their clarity. After the communicative approach of the 80's, his works have been instrumental for second language courses design and current teaching methods, relying mainly on fast vocabulary acquisition of frequent words. Together with Batia Laufer, James Coady, Norbert Schmitt, Paul Meara, and Rob Waring, his position emphasises having a balance of learning opportunities including the 'four strands' approach to language courses and classes (Taylor 2004, Nation & Newton 2008), with study time devoted to about 25% each of:
- input from reading and listening,
- output through writing and speaking,
- formal language learning, i.e. grammar and vocabulary, and
- practice for fluency in all four of the basic skills.
- Coady, J. (1997), Coady; Huckin, eds., Second Language Vocabulary Acquisition, Cambridge University Press.
- Horst, M. (2010), How well does teacher talk support incidental vocabulary acquisition? (PDF), 22 (1), Reading in a Foreign Language, pp. 161–180, ISSN 1539-0578, archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-06-12
- Taylor, A. (2004), "Learning Vocabulary in Another Language I: I.S.P. Nation...", English for Specific Purposes (Review), 23 (1): 87–90, doi:10.1016/S0889-4906(02)00014-5
- Nation, I.S.P.; Newton, J. (2008), Teaching ESL/EFL Listening and Speaking (1st ed.), Routledge, ISBN 978-0415989701
- Nation & Carter, 1989. Vocabulary Acquisition.
- Nation, I.S.P. (1997), "Vocabulary size, text coverage, and word lists", in Schmitt; McCarthy, Vocabulary: Description, Acquisition and Pedagogy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 6–19, ISBN 978-0-521-58551-4
- Nation, Paul (2000), "Learning vocabulary in lexical sets: dangers and guidelines", TESOL Journal (9): 6–10.
- Nation, I.S.P. (2001), Learning Vocabulary in Another Language, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0-521-80498-1
- Nation, Paul (2006), "Vocabulary: Second Language", in Keith Brown, Encyclopedia of Language & Linguistics (2nd ed.), Oxford: Elsevier, pp. 448–454.
- Nation, Paul (2006), "Language Education - Vocabulary", in Keith Brown, Encyclopedia of Language & Linguistics (2nd ed.), Oxford: Elsevier, pp. 494–499.