Academic journal article Education Research International

A Study on the Relationship between English Reading Comprehension and English Vocabulary Knowledge

Academic journal article Education Research International

A Study on the Relationship between English Reading Comprehension and English Vocabulary Knowledge

Article excerpt

Academic Editor:Yi-Shun Wang

Department of English Instruction, University of Taipei, Taipei 100, Taiwan

Received 15 July 2014; Revised 18 December 2014; Accepted 26 December 2014

This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

1. Motivation

As words are an integral part of a language, vocabulary knowledge has been widely considered one of fundamental contributors to the comprehension of a text. Indeed, it has long been held that vocabulary knowledge is one of the most significant predictors of text difficulty. As Chall [1] once put it, "Once a vocabulary measure is included in a prediction formula, sentence structure does not add very much to the prediction" (p. 157). The crucial role of vocabulary knowledge in reading comprehension has also been empirically evidenced in many studies (e.g., [2-4]). Take Wu and Hu's [4] study for example. Among many variables investigated in their study, vocabulary knowledge was found to have a significant and positive correlation with reading achievement and play a key role in reading comprehension. As such, adequate vocabulary knowledge appears to be one of the prerequisites for successful reading comprehension.

Likewise in Taiwan, where English is a foreign language (EFL), the importance of adequate English vocabulary knowledge to reading comprehension has also been recognized over the years. University students, after receiving six years of formal English training in their high schools, are expected to be able to read English textbooks related to their field of study without much difficulty. Unfortunately, many of them, as reported by several researchers (e.g. [5]), still have great difficulty reading English textbooks. Specifically, Huang [5] found that a lack of adequate vocabulary knowledge is one of the major culprits causing Taiwanese college students' difficulties in comprehending English textbooks. Their deficiencies in this regard were also evidenced in many other studies (e.g., [6, 7]). Given the importance of vocabulary knowledge to reading comprehension but the evidenced inadequacy of Taiwanese college students' vocabulary knowledge, it is not unreasonable to have found that in recent years Taiwanese learners' performance in reading comprehension, as measured by Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC), has fallen far behind other EFL countries in Asia, such as China and South Korea, and ESL (English as a Second Language) countries, such as the Philippines [8].

In response to the Taiwanese learners' declining reading performance in worldwide large scale proficiency tests and the empirically evidenced inadequacy of their vocabulary knowledge, the present study was called for in an attempt to take a close look at the relationship between reading comprehension and vocabulary knowledge among college students in Taiwan. As vocabulary knowledge has been perceived as a multidimensional construct [9, 10], the current study specifically is aimed at finding out the overall and relative contribution of vocabulary knowledge's various subcomponents to explaining the variance of Taiwanese learners' reading comprehension performance. It was hoped that the results of the present study could guide English language instructors and teaching material designers toward pedagogically sound practices with respect to vocabulary learning and reading comprehension.

2. Literature Review

Vocabulary knowledge has received a lot of attention in the field of reading research (e.g., [2, 9-13]). Just as Alderson [11] noted, "reading research has consistently found a word knowledge factor on which vocabulary knowledge loads highly" (p. 99). For instance, in a study on text simplification, Strother and Ulijn [14] compared reading comprehension scores between original texts and texts that had been simplified in a syntactical rather than lexical way. …

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