Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

A Study of Vocabulary Knowledge and Reading Comprehension on EFL Chinese Learners

Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

A Study of Vocabulary Knowledge and Reading Comprehension on EFL Chinese Learners

Article excerpt


Vocabulary knowledge is an important aspect of second language (L2) vocabulary acquisition, and it is widely accepted as a fundamental component of L2 proficiency. A clear tendency in the field of L2 vocabulary acquisition study is that vocabulary knowledge is no longer viewed as a one-dimensional construct rather than as a multi-dimension alone. Many various but complementary vocabulary knowledge frameworks have been proposed, in which breadth and depth of vocabulary knowledge occupy a primary and central position. Based on a number of previous researches and studies, in this passage, the author designed a series of tests to some Chinese university students to investigate the correlational relationship among vocabulary breadth, depth and reading comprehension. The major research findings of the study indicate that there exists a moderate, positive correlation relationship among vocabulary breadth, vocabulary depth and reading comprehension.

Key words:Vocabulary knowledge; Vocabulary breadth; Vocabulary depth; Reading comprehension


We all know that vocabulary is one of the three elements of a language; it plays an important role in language study. Vocabulary is the core of English teaching and learning. British linguist Wilkins (1972) pointed out that without grammar, little can be conveyed; without vocabulary, nothing can be conveyed. Similarly, Lewis (1993) claimed that Language consists of grammaticalized lexis, not lexicalized grammar. In the process of second language acquisition, the expansion of vocabulary knowledge is regarded as one of the fundamental goals. The four traditionally basic language skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening are all based upon the foreign language learners' vocabulary knowledge (Barrow, Nakanishi, & Ishino, 1999).

As is well-known, vocabulary is basic in reading. Breadth and depth of vocabulary knowledge are seen as two dimensions occupying a primary and central position in vocabulary knowledge framework. Breadth of vocabulary knowledge has been taken to refer to the quantity or number of words which learners know at a particular level of language proficiency. Most studies that form the breadth research perspective had attempted to quantify the number of words average native speakers know (Goulden, Nation, & Read, 1990); the number of words non-native speakers need to know (Hazenberg & Hulstijn, 1996); the number of English words the Chinese college students have known (Zhou & Wen, 2000). Depth of vocabulary knowledge refers to the quality of one's knowledge about a word, and it relates to the question of how well one knows a word. Only a few studies had explored into the depth of individual word knowledge. Schmitt and Meara's (1997) study had examined how these two forms of word knowledge, grammatical suffix knowledge and word associations change over time both productively and receptively. Liu (2001) presented a cross-sectional quantitative research on L2 vocabulary depth across Chinese EFL learners of four different proficiency levels.

However, in terms of the empirical study of vocabulary acquisition, much attention has been paid to the study of vocabulary breath or its measurement or acquisition in reading comprehension. Laufer (1992) had done several studies, which indicate relatively high correlations, ranging from .50 to .75 between the two factors. Meara (1996) stated that learners with big vocabularies are more proficient in a wide range of language skills than learners with smaller vocabularies, and there is some evidence to support the view that vocabulary skills make a significant contribution to almost all aspects of L2 proficiency. However, so far there have been a rather limited number of empirical studies of the relationship between vocabulary depth and reading comprehension. Qian (2004) is regarded as one of the most representatives conducting empirical study of such relationship in the second language context; nevertheless, Qian had conducted his studies mainly under the context of TOEFL. …

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