Academic journal article English Language Teaching

Strategies Used by Saudi EFL Students to Determine the Meaning of English Words

Academic journal article English Language Teaching

Strategies Used by Saudi EFL Students to Determine the Meaning of English Words

Article excerpt


This study investigated the strategies which first-year Saudi university EFL students used to derive the meaning of unfamiliar words while reading English texts. Using cluster sampling method, participants chosen to be included in the study consisted of six male and six female classes (120 male and 120 female students) of the preparatory year deanship students at King Saud University, 2009-2010. Following the administration of a vocabulary test as the instrument, descriptive statistics and ANOVA tests were used to analyze the collected data. Results revealed that the students were weak in using the right strategies in guessing the meaning of unknown vocabulary. The use of a combination of two or more strategies was found to result in a better correct guessing rate, but few students tended to use this technique. The results support the importance of practical training in when and how to use various strategies: students need to be given regular practice in order to learn how to use them most effectively. Highlighting the main strategies which students use to correctly derive the meaning of words, the findings indicate EFL teachers should train their students in the use of a variety of strategies for guessing the meaning of unfamiliar words.

Keywords: EFL, vocabulary, learning strategies, vocabulary learning strategies

1. Introduction

Vocabulary learning is essential to the development of language skills; and in order to acquire the language skills, teachers need to help students with developing their vocabulary knowledge (Mart, 2012).

Word learning/teaching is a complicated process. It requires giving learners a variety of opportunities to connect new words to related words, analyze word structure, understand multiple meanings, and use words actively in authentic ways. Teaching vocabulary is one of the most important challenges that teachers face as the mastery of a basic vocabulary (both active and passive) is very important to students of any language. Vocabulary knowledge has the most important influence on reading comprehension (Bromley, 2007; Allington, 2006; and Nation, 1993). Psychometric studies suggest that vocabulary is a central factor in reading ability (Scott, 2001) and vocabulary knowledge plays a critical role in people's lives and future possibilities (Beck, Mackeon & Kucan, 2002). The interaction between vocabulary knowledge and background knowledge activates reading comprehension (Bernhardt & Kamil, 1995). Edwards states that (2009) students will see how the new item (a new word) works grammatically and the context will help make the item more memorable and aid retention.

There is a strong relationship between reading comprehension and vocabulary knowledge. They state that "no text comprehension is possible, either in one's native language or in a foreign language, without understanding the text's vocabulary" (Laufer, 1997: 20). Good and fluent readers recognize and understand many words, and they read more quickly and easily than those with smaller vocabularies (Allington, 2006). Vocabulary skills are good predictors of academic success. Learners need to have an in-depth understanding of the meaning of words to communicate effectively, as well as to make sense of what they read (Leikin & Deacon, 2007). Furthermore, the major hurdle for ESL/EFL learners is the lack of sufficient vocabulary in English, in addition to the lack of appropriate reading strategies (Haynes & Baker, 1993).

The vocabulary size is important for ESL/EFL learners. Unless they have knowledge of at least 3,000 of the most frequently used words, they cannot achieve fluency of access (Nation, 1993; Ridgway, 1997).

Both the methods of teaching vocabulary and the strategies students use in deriving the meaning of unfamiliar words affect their vocabulary building process. In the past, the focus was on memorization of a certain number of words every day by repetition inside and outside the classroom. …

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