Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Aspects of Vocabulary Knowledge in German Textbooks

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Aspects of Vocabulary Knowledge in German Textbooks

Article excerpt


The large amount of vocabulary that a second language learner must acquire in order to successfully communicate constitutes a significant challenge. Although many learners may consider that a word has been learned when they can make a simple form-meaning connection, research has shown that there is a considerable amount of additional knowledge about a word or group of words that is equally important (Schmitt, 2008). Nation (2001), for example, identified nine aspects of knowledge that together describe what it means to know a vocabulary item. The current study investigates Nation's insights in the context of contemporary textbooks of German. In particular, it reviews vocabulary activities from five commonly used introductory textbooks of German to examine the extent to which these nine aspects are emphasized.

Review of the Literature

Textbook Research

Much of the research on textbooks has emphasized the role that materials play in shaping both learning and teaching in second language classrooms.1 Tyson and Woodward (1989), for example, noted that textbooks influence up to 90% of all activities that go on in classrooms in the United States. Although this percentage varies by instructor, program, curriculum, institution, and learning context, the textbook is undoubtedly a major factor in determining what aspects of language instructors emphasize and how learners encounter these aspects in the classroom and beyond.

Harwood (2013) pointed out that textbooks may be analyzed and compared on at least three dimensions: production, consumption, and content. An analysis of textbook production involves "the processes by which textbooks are shaped, authored and distributed" (Harwood,2013,p.2).Research into consumption has considered where and by whom the textbook is used. Finally, research into textbook content has reflected on the areas of language and culture that are addressed and the extent to which they are emphasized. The current study investigated content-specifically, the presentation of vocabulary-across five different textbooks.2

Research on Vocabulary in Textbooks There has been an increase in research into the way vocabulary is presented and practiced in textbooks; several different strands of research have emerged over the last decade.3 One of the main areas of focus in previous studies has been the description of multiword units and formulaic expressions, including analyses of the range and distribution of lexical bundles in English as a foreign language (EFL) textbooks (Koprowski, 2005), examination of phraseology in EFL textbooks (Gouverneur, 2008; Meunier & Gouverneur, 2007), and analyses of the frequency and range of lexical bundles in textbooks for students of English for professional purposes (Biber, Conrad, & Cortes, 2004). Results of these studies pointed to the differences in the frequency with which lexical bundles are presented in textbooks and their frequency in other linguistic contexts.

A second area of research has focused on individual words-not multiword utterances-and their frequency in pedagogic corpora vs. other corpora. A number of studies have found that the presentation of vocabulary in textbooks is skewed toward low-frequency words (Davies & Face, 2006; Lipinski, 2010). Other research has found that even when textbooks do cover high-frequency words, they provide few opportunities for students to encounter words that are beyond the 2000-word range (Matsuoka & Hirsh, 2010; Miller, 2011).

A third area of research on textbook vocabulary has focused on the presentation and organization of new words and the types of activities by which students are helped to acquire that vocabulary. This area is relatively underrepresented compared to the other two lines of research presented above. One study by Jim^enez (2014) took into account some of the experimental research on semantic vs. thematic clustering in second language vocabulary presentation, such as Tinkham (1993, 1997) and Papathanasiou (2009), and examined the extent to which textbooks present new vocabulary according to different clustering techniques. …

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