Academic journal article International Education Studies

Reasons for Vocabulary Attrition: Revisiting the State of the Art

Academic journal article International Education Studies

Reasons for Vocabulary Attrition: Revisiting the State of the Art

Article excerpt


This paper reports on a one year, mixed-methods longitudinal case study investigating the neglected area of the perceived reasons why participants forget vocabulary knowledge. The participants were 43 fourth year male Saudi EFL majors at King Abdulaziz University KAU, Saudi Arabia. Quantitative and qualitative data including self-reported questionnaires and retrospective semi-structured interviews offered evidence to support the findings of this study. The reasons associated with lexical attrition centered on lack of practice, instructional and environmental context and nature of the word.

Keywords: reasons, vocabulary attrition, mixed-methods, EFL majors, pedagogy

1. Introduction

1.1 Statement of the Problem

A remarkable amount of research has been carried out in the field of language teaching and learning. However, one might pose the question of how much of the language skills acquired are maintained over longer periods of time when exposure to this knowledge is confined to the classroom. Closely related to the field of language teaching and acquisition research is research into language attrition, a phenomenon that has been a topic of investigation for the last three decades (Bardovi-Harlig & Stringer, 2010; Flores, 2010). Its beginnings can be dated to May 1980, when the University of Pennsylvania hosted the first conference ever on the theme. Most of the contributors to the conference called for systematic empirical research into language attrition which had at that time been overlooked. Further fundamental concerns have been raised by attrition researchers (e.g., Bardovi-Harlig & Stringer, 2010; Weltens & Cohen, 1989; Weltens & Grendel, 1993) concerning the variety of factors suggested as influences on the emergence of first, second and foreign language attrition in general and of vocabulary in particular. A number of variables have already been discussed in the attrition literature including personal or individual factors such as age (Berman & Olshtain, 1983; Cohen, 1989; Tomiyama, 2000) where severe attrition at the lexical level occurred in younger L2/FL learners; initial proficiency (Alharthi, 2012; Bahrick, 1984; Weltens, 1989) where the amount of attrition in vocabulary appeared to be independent of the peak attainment) although see Alharthi (2014a) for contrary results; and motivation and attitude (Gardner, Lalonde, Moorcroft, & Evers, 1987) whose findings failed to show significant correlations between motivation and/or attitude and tests of lexical production. A last group of variable is related to differences in individuals' claimed vocabulary learning strategies (VLS) where a reduced amount of English in rote learning led to more attrition in word knowledge by Saudi EFL graduate learners (Alharthi, 2014b).

1.2 Intrinsic Difficulty of Lexical Items and Attrition

At the same time, it has been suggested that there are a number of factors influence the learning of a lexical item and make the acquisition of vocabulary difficult. Potentially, these factors are classified as intra-lexical traits, i.e. internal features related to the word's form and meaning. That is, vocabulary may be difficult due to various factors, such as pronounce ability, grammatical class, similarity to known words, and concreteness or image ability of meaning (Nation, 1982). As long as there is a difficulty in learning a given word, it is reasonable to expect that a greater decline in vocabulary or forgetting of that word occurs. According to Laufer (1997) the internal factors that may impact the word difficulty and learning burden include pronunciation, form, morphology, syntactic patterns, semantic patterns and collocations. Additionally, Milton (2009) summarized intra-lexical factors that may have a facilitating or a difficulty-inducing effect on word learning including orthographic patterns, cognateness, concreteness and abstractness, word length and part of speech. …

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