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KEY QUESTIONS IN DEVELOPING A SECOND LANGUAGE VOCABULARY COMPONENT ELISHEVA BARKON OCTOBER 16, 2012


Importance of vocabulary  The best measure of proficiency  The best predictor of reading

comprehension


Key questions Three key questions in the development of a vocabulary component in the context of a second language course: How many words do language learners need to know? Which words do learners need to know? How are these words best taught?


How many words do second language learners need? A large vocabulary is necessary to function in English: 8000–9000 word families for reading, 5000–7000 families for oral discourse. Schmitt (2008)


Word families Each word family includes several individual word forms, including the root form (stimulate), its inflections (stimulated, stimulating, stimulates), and regular derivations (stimulation, stimulative). Schmitt (2008)


Word families and individual words Each word family has several members. 6,000 word families equals about 28,000 individual words. This vocabulary size enables listening. 8,000 families equals about 35,0000 words. This vocabulary size enables wide reading. Schmitt (2008)


Types per family Nation’s (2006) BNC lists show that the most frequent 1000 word families average about six members (types per family), decreasing to about three members per family at the 9000 frequency level. Schmitt (2008)


The upshot The upshot is that learners must learn a very large number of lexical items to be able to operate in English, especially considering that the above figures do not take into account the multitude of phrasal lexical items, which have been shown to be extremely widespread in language use. Schmitt (2008 )


Vocabulary knowledge and reading abilities Substantial evidence suggests that vocabulary knowledge is closely related to reading abilities. Grabe and Stoller (2011:137)


Reading comprehension and vocabulary recognition Equally persuasive is the evidence that if students are to understand a wide range of texts with adequate comprehension, they need to recognize at least 95 percent of the words they might encounter in these texts, and greater comprehension generally occurs when a reader recognizes 98-99 percent of the words in a given text. Grabe and Stoller (2011:137)


Text coverage and vocabulary size The number of words needed for 95 per cent coverage of most texts seems to lie somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 words; 98-99 percent of word coverage of most texts probably requires a recognition vocabulary of about 36,000-40,000 words. Grabe and Stoller (2011:137)


Vocabulary size A realistic goal for more advanced L2 reading is an L2 recognition vocabulary above 10,000 words. Grabe and Stoller (2011:137)


Text coverage and comprehension It was calculated that 98% text coverage (1 unknown word in 50) would be needed for most learners to gain adequate comprehension. This figure fits with Carver’s (1994) findings with native speakers: When the material being read is relatively easy, then close to 0% of the words will be unknown, ... when the material is relatively hard then around 2% or more of the words will be unknown, ... and when the difficulty level of the material is approximately equal to the ability level of the individual, then around 1% of the words will be unknown. (p. 432) As Carver indicates, even 98% coverage does not make comprehension easy. Nation (2006)


Key questions How many words do language learners need to know? Which words do learners need to know?

How are these words best taught?


High frequency vocabulary  The most frequent word families in

English are essential for any real language use.  Those word families will give learners most mileage.  These should be taught explicitly, by whatever means necessary.

Nation (2005), Schmitt (PPP)


Frequency Why frequency and not intuition? Intuition is not reliable. To determine the most frequent word families it is advisable to refer to frequency lists compiled from language corpora (databases). To ensure that high frequency words are taught use textbooks written with the aid of frequency data from corpora. Schmitt (PPP)


Low frequency vocabulary Low frequency vocabulary offers minimal utility. Low frequency vocabulary is not worth class time. Teach strategies to deal with this vocabulary autonomously. Nation (2005)


Strategies include:  Guessing from context  Learning from word cards

 Using word parts  Using a dictionary

Nation (2005)


High / low frequency vocabulary What exactly is low frequency vocabulary? One answer might be everything outside high frequency. 2,000 word families = high frequency What about everything else? Schmitt (PPP)


High, mid and low frequency Schmitt suggests to divide vocabulary into high frequency, mid frequency and low frequency. 3,000 = high frequency vocabulary 3,000-9,000 = mid frequency vocabulary 9,000 + =low frequency Schmitt (PPP)


How are words best taught?  High frequency vocabulary should be

taught explicitly  Low frequency vocabulary should be

learned independently through strategies  Mid frequency vocabulary???

(Schmitt PPP)


Estimate of lexical knowledge Average estimates for passive recognition:  4 point Bagrut 2000  5 point Bagrut 3000-4000  134 exemption level 7000-8000 Laufer (UTELI 2011)


Lexical Coverage  

  

Exemption: 6k-8k Advanced 2: 4k-5k Advanced 1: 3k-4k Basic: 2k Pre-basic 2: <2k Pre-basic 1:<2k

Laufer (UTELI 2011)


Key Questions