Vocabulary size of Japanese university students: Preliminary results from JALT sponsored research

Stuart McLean, Nicholas Hogg, & Tom Rush

JALT Research Grants


Each year, JALT awards up to three grants for a maximum of 100,000 yen each for research on language teaching in Japan. Only JALT members who have no outside funding sources to conduct research are eligible to apply. The goal of the grants is to support language teachers in their professional development and to encourage teachers to engage in classroom-based research. Grant applications are collected each summer and vetted by the JALT Research Grants Committee. Winners of the grants receive funding before the start of the following school year during which they conduct their studies, provide quarterly reports, and receive guidance from the committee. Following the completion of the research, winners are invited to give presentations on their projects at the JALT national conference and to publish a paper in the Language Teacher. Information on the grants can be found on JALT’s main website <jalt.org/researchgrants>.


This article presents preliminary results from research funded by a 2012 JALT research grant (for details, McLean, 2012). Research on the vocabulary size of Japanese students is limited. Shillaw (1995), and Barrow, Nakanishi & Nishino (1999) suggest that the vocabulary size of non-English major Japanese university students is around 2,300 words. In these studies vocabulary knowledge was assessed over a limited range of word families, with students completing self-checking familiarity surveys. However, this approach may have measured the word forms students recalled being exposed to, or their ability to discern real English words from nonsense words, rather than measuring receptive reading vocabulary knowledge.