Academic journal article International Journal of English Studies

Receptive Vocabulary Measures for EFL Costa Rican High School Students

Academic journal article International Journal of English Studies

Receptive Vocabulary Measures for EFL Costa Rican High School Students

Article excerpt

1.introduction

Although native tongue vocabulary appears to develop effortlessly and quickly in beginning stages, second language vocabulary learning requires much more careful attention. Research shows that students' vocabulary size is linked directly to their ability to complete different tasks: from basic oral communication to reading novels in the target language. These and several other features of vocabulary lend paramount importance to vocabulary studies. Given that vocabulary knowledge serves as a cornerstone for L2 acquisition and that it has a direct impact on students' learning of the second language, it is one of the key elements for language teachers and researchers tracking students' language progress. Meara (2009) insists on the significance of acknowledging the differences between native and non-native speakers concerning vocabulary acquisition, degree of knowledge and use. How then should teachers and foreign language learners deal with vocabulary acquisition? Schmitt (2000) speaks both of the need for instruction in basic vocabulary and in developing vocabulary-learning strategies to aid students in strengthening this learning process. Pigada and Schmitt (2006) argue in favor of extensive reading as an effective way to acquire vocabulary. They add that reading can enhance vocabulary acquisition in terms of spelling, meaning and grammar. Nation (2006) mentions that whereas the 2,000 high-frequency words should be assigned classroom time to be learned, the situation is different for low-frequency words, for which he recommends that instructors spend time teaching strategies such as guessing words from context, using flash cards, memory or a dictionary for students to learn these words outside the classroom. Nation emphasizes the importance of repetition in the learning process and insists that "learners not only need to gradually meet the most frequent 9,000 word families, but they have to meet them often enough to have a chance of learning them" (2014: 2). Clearly, many different options exist and learners may come up with their own effective ways of learning vocabulary, but why actually is vocabulary so important?

Despite a recent increase in studies dealing with vocabulary gain and use (see Laufer, 1989, 1992; Milton, 2010; Nation, 1983, 1990, 2001, 2006; Read, 1988, 2007; among others), this area of second language acquisition has traditionally received limited attention in research. In recent decades, progress has been made on different fronts lending vocabulary a more prominent role. Referential scholars point to the role of vocabulary as a keystone in second language (L2) learning. For example, for Read (2000: 1), "words are the basic building blocks of language, the units of meaning from which larger structures such as sentences, paragraphs and whole texts are formed". Aitchison (2012: 53) highlights the importance of vocabulary: "[w]ords...are precision instruments which should be used with care and accuracy". Nation (2001) ascribes a great deal of importance to high-frequency words, and insists that they play such an essential role in learners' language that both instructors and learners alike should invest time in them. For Nation (2001: 16), the "frequency, coverage and range" of these words validates dedicating time to them inside and outside of the classroom. Although the term vocabulary has been used above as a broad term encompassing passive and active vocabulary regardless of its depth or breadth, this study will concentrate only on the analysis of receptive vocabulary measures. For that purpose, the notion presented by Heaton (1990: 79) regarding passive or receptive vocabulary as that which "you expect your students to recognize" should be kept in mind for the remainder of this paper.

Concerning vocabulary measures, Nation and Webb (2011: 245) point to how "[m]easures of lexical richness should allow us to distinguish between the language of more and less proficient learners". …

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