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Assist your students by knowing their vocabulary size and participate in JALT-funded research

Writer(s): 
Stuart McLean, Temple University Japan, Student

 

For many years various language teaching approaches have ignored the importance of vocabulary (Meara, 1980; Zimmerman, 1997). However, the appropriately entitled Vocabulary acquisition: A neglected aspect of language learning by Paul Meara (1980) helped start vocabulary on the long road towards the central role that it presently enjoys in most quarters within SLA research. Here in Japan, vocabulary has received more attention in the classroom thanks to ongoing practical research by the likes of Paul Nation among others. However, considering these points and that mindful pedagogy requires teachers to assess students’ needs (Brown, 2007) it is strange that so few university lecturers have only the slightest idea of their students’ vocabulary size. As a result of this and the amazing lack of reliable published literature on the subject, we (Thomas Rush, Nicholas Hogg, and I) decided to apply for one of the three annual JALT research grants to assist university lecturers in Japan make informed estimates of their students’ vocabulary size. To do this, the average vocabulary size of various class types will be established and the relation between vocabulary size and tests scores will be determined. Table 1 shows the class types for which average vocabulary sizes will be established.

Table 1: Japanese university student populations which are being investigated.

 

Hensachi

1st years

2nd years

3rd years

4th years

English majors

>60

10 classes

10 classes

10 classes

10 classes

45-59

10 classes

10 classes

10 classes

10 classes

<45

10 classes

10 classes

10 classes

10 classes

Humanities majors

>60

10 classes

10 classes

 

 

45-59

10 classes

10 classes

 

 

<45

10 classes

10 classes

 

 

Science majors

>60

10 classes

10 classes

 

 

45-59

10 classes

10 classes

 

 

<45

10 classes

10 classes

 

 

*Hensachi is a score assigned to all university departments established by averaging students’ national ability test scores.

Within each of the student groupings, it is hoped that ten classes, all from different departments, will sit the test and if possible, each department will be from different universities. Along with establishing average vocabulary scores for each of the above groups, correlations between vocabulary size and individual hensachi scores, TOEIC scores, and TOEFL scores will be investigated.

Nation & Beglar’s (2007) Vocabulary Size Test (VST), which was Rasche validated by Beglar in 2010, will be the testing instrument used to measure students’ vocabulary. Sections representing the first 8000 words will be used, resulting in the test taking 40 minutes to complete. There are paper-based and online versions of the same test. If assisting teachers wish to use the paper version of the test, tests will be sent with a stamped self-addressed envelope. Once tests are completed, returned, and marked by us, assisting teachers will be informed of their individual students’ VST scores. At no time will student names, university names, or department names be used in the research. If assisting teachers choose the self-marking online version of the test we will send the web address for the online test and a class specific password. Students sit the online test and assisting teachers are emailed individual students’ VST scores. Two points should be made clear; teachers do not have to know their department or departments’ hensachi (this will be checked by us), and classes of all sizes are welcome to participate in this research. In addition, if you wish to use this test as part of your own research, this is of no issue and we can assist you in giving posttests.

There is one problem however: we, the research members, do not teach 260 university classes between us. As a result, your assistance is earnestly sought. We are looking for instructors to give the 40-minute VST to their students. This research runs until June 2013, however, we are looking to finish as early as possible so the earlier we hear from willing teachers the better. If you are able to assist us in this research or have any questions or feedback regarding this research, please contact Stuart McLean <vocabsizeresearch@gmail.com>.

 

References

Beglar, D. (2010). A Rasch based validation of the Vocabulary Size Test. Language Testing, 27(1), 101-118.

Brown, H. D. (2007). Principles of language learning and teaching (5th ed.). New York: Longman.

Meara, P. (1980). Vocabulary acquisition: A neglected aspect of language learning. In V. Kinsella (Ed.), Surveys 1: Eight State-of-the-Art Articles on Key Areas in Language Teaching (pp. 100-126). Cambridge: Cambridge UP.

Nation, I. S. P., & Beglar, D. (2007). A vocabulary size test. The Language Teacher, 31(7), 9–13.

Zimmerman, C. B. (1997). Historical trends in second language vocabulary instruction. In J. Coady and T. Huckin, (Eds.), Second language vocabulary acquisition (pp. 5-19). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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