L2 English vocabulary acquisition by senior learners

2009

Abstract  This paper responds to the need for research on two areas of interest in Second Language Acquisition: Adult Education and L2 vocabulary acquisition. As for the former, studies on Adult Education (Blacklock, 1985) are quite few and a call for more research in this area has been very recently addressed in L2 Spanish contexts (Losada Friend, Garrido Anes and Bando Domínguez, 2007). As for vocabulary acquisition, recent research (Jiménez Catalán and Terrazas, in press) has also made a call for investigating the relationship between receptive and productive vocabulary knowledge. Besides, studies focusing on the relationship between the acquisition of vocabulary and other variables such as true vs. false beginner are lacking. Furthermore, most research on vocabulary size in an L2 has been carried out with university students (except, for example, Jimenez Catalán & Moreno Espinosa, 2005-6 and Jimenez Catalán & Terrazas, in press with primary and secondary schoolchildren) and, to our knowldege, no studies with senior learners have been conducted so far. Hence, our study comes to fill the existing gaps by providing data on the acquisition of receptive and productive vocabulary by senior university learners of English at the University of the Basque Country. The main aims of the study are (i) to analyse the relationship between productive and receptive vocabulary knowledge as well as the correlation between lexical proficiency and reading comprehension and (ii) to investigate whether false beginners outperform true beginners in productive and receptive vocabulary tests. To accomplish these aims, we have gathered data from 18 senior L2 English learners. Learners were divided into two groups taking into account if they were true (n=7) or false beginners (n=11). Four tests were administered: (a) a 1,000 receptive word test (Nation, 1993), (b) the 2,000 word frequency band from the receptive version of the Vocabulary Levels Test (VLT) (Schmitt, Schmitt and Clapham, 2001), (c) a lexical availability test based on Carcedo González (1998) for L2 Spanish and (d) a reading comprehension test. The results confirm that false beginners either significantly or tendentiously outperform true beginners in all the administered tasks, supporting previous studies on a better performance by false beginners in language learning when compared to true beginners (Fukai, 2000, among others). In agreement with previous research (Jochems and Montens, 1988; Jiménez Catalán and Terrazas, in press; Lapkin and Swain, 1977), our data also demonstrate the existence of a positive correlation between receptive and productive vocabulary tests and the reading comprehension task, suggesting a relationship between vocabulary knowledge and L2 general proficiency. Similarly, the lexical availability test is found to be positively correlated with the receptive vocabulary tests, which indicates that there is a direct relationship between the passive and the active knowledge of L2 vocabulary.


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