Academic journal article English Language Teaching

Vocabulary Levels and Size of Malaysian Undergraduates

Academic journal article English Language Teaching

Vocabulary Levels and Size of Malaysian Undergraduates

Article excerpt

Abstract

Vocabulary is a fundamental requirement of language acquisition, and its competence enables independent reading and effective language acquisition. Effective language use requires adequate level of vocabulary knowledge; therefore, efforts must be made to identify students' vocabulary base for greater efficiency and competency in the language. Students with limited vocabulary size may fail to comprehend the contents of the reading materials and their learning may be impaired. This study had aimed to address this concern and sets out to examine the vocabulary knowledge, i.e. in terms of vocabulary level and size of undergraduates at a private university in Malaysia, where English is the medium of instruction. 120 first year undergraduates from three academic programs, who participated in this study, sat for the Nation and Laufer's (1999), Version A of Productive Vocabulary Levels Test, which is recommended and used for diagnostic purposes. The findings show that almost none of the students have acquired the vocabulary required at UWL, and most of them managed to acquire only a 2000 word level at Level A. At UWL, a larger proportion fell on the lower scale, implicating that their vocabulary knowledge is insufficient to cope with the reading text and possibly with the studies at the university.

Keywords: Malaysian undergraduates, threshold level, vocabulary knowledge, vocabulary level, vocabulary size

1. Introduction

Vocabulary is a fundamental requirement of language acquisition, and its competence enables independent reading and effective language acquisition. Grammar and structure does not necessarily gauge one's language competency because language is mainly lexical in nature, i.e. "Lexis the core of the language" (Lewis, 1993). Effective reading skills are an important component of all language studies and inadequate vocabulary base would affect comprehension of the reading text. In other words, effective language use requires adequate level of vocabulary knowledge and efforts must be made to identify students' vocabulary base for greater efficiency and competency in the language. Although central to learning a second language is vocabulary knowledge, Asgari and Mustapha (2011; 2012) found that Malaysian undergraduates' vocabulary knowledge appear to be limited, and this has led to difficulties in the learning of English as a second language. They asserted that students need to be taught to apply appropriate strategies to enable vocabulary development in English language.

In Malaysia, English is the second official language and is thus taught as English as a second language (ESL) at all levels in schools. Being proficient in the language is constantly stressed, and it was echoed by the Prime Minister, Dato' Sri Najib Razak in his 2015 budget speech that English language proficiency is seen as one of the key drivers in developing the country's human capital and entrepreneurship (News Straits Times, 2014). He asserted that being proficient in English language enhances graduate employability and self-confidence. A study by the Economist Intelligence Unit conducted in 2012 shows a positive relationship between employability and English language proficiency (Hamzah, 2014). Consequently, both public and private institutes of higher learning are now required to observe higher English entry requirements, based on the standardized Malaysian University English Test (MUET), for admissions into universities (Borneo Post, 2014; Higher Education Ministry Survey, 2008 as cited in Azizan & Mun, 2013). Various measures have thus been introduced to enhance English language proficiency among Malaysians because the general proficiency level appears to be declining (Hamzah, 2014; Azizan & Mun, 2011).

Several researchers (Hazenberg & Hulstijn, 1996; Laufer, 1997; Lewis, 1993, 1997 & 2002; Meara, 1993; Nation, 1983, 1990 & 2001; Nation & Waring, 1997; Nguyen & Nation, 2011) have studied various aspects of vocabulary knowledge and some (Nation, 1983, 1990; Meara, 1993, Kurgat, 2014) have identified the necessary vocabulary size for effective use of the English language. …

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