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Strategic Vocabulary!

Learners to Academic Success with
the AWL
Maggie Heeney
Renison University College
October 13, 2012
TESL Canada Conference, Kamloops, B.C.
Some Guiding Questions
How much vocabulary do second
language learners need to read and
write with proficiency?
What words do students need to know?
How do second language learners
acquire vocabulary?
What strategies facilitate vocabulary
“No matter how well the student learns
grammar, no matter how successfully
the sounds of L2 are mastered, without
words to express a wider range of
meanings, communication in an L2 just
cannot happen in any meaningful way”
Lack of vocabulary challenges most ESL
undergraduates and affects both
reading and writing ability (Gould,
Nation & Read, 1990)
What is a word?
Lexeme or a meaningful unit of
language found as a headword in a
Lemmas are words with inflections… no
change in part of speech…..adapts,
adapting, adapted
Derivations or word families… the other
parts of speech…..adaptation,
What does it mean to “know”
a word?
Deep vocabulary knowledge (Laufer,
orthography, pronunciation and spelling
the root word, its inflections and derivations
word meanings from core to peripheral
including connotations and pragmatics
the word’s lexical relationship to other words in
the form of synonyms, antonyms or hyponyms
(Red – Scarlet)
collocations and idioms are especially important
Functional Reading Lexicon
Minimum number of recognized words for reading
comprehension requires a “threshold vocabulary” of 3000
word families (4800 lexical items) Laufer, 1989)
L1 strategies transfer; 80% comprehension
4000 base words are needed for minimal 90-95%
comprehension of non-specific text (Nation ,1990;
Laufer, 1997)
10,000 words needed to understand 95% of non-
specialist text at university level (Hazenberg & Hulstijn,
14,000 – 17,000 receptive word families in NS
undergraduate lexicon and graduates could have lexicon
of 20,000 word families (Zechmeister et al., 1993)
What words do learners need
to know?
General Service List - GSL (West, 1953)
2000 most common words used in the English
language (Basic reading)
University Word List (UWL) (Xue & Nation,
Excludes the GSL and has 808 words in 11 levels
Academic Word List – (AWL)(Coxhead, 1998)
Excludes the GSL and has 570 lexemes or headwords
(3000 words) in 10 levels that most commonly occur in
academic readings
The AWL is divided into sublists:

Some ideas of how to use the AWL: Make sure it is in context
AWL Examples
assessable, assessed, assesses, assessing,
assessment, assessments, reassess, reassessed,
reassessing, reassessment, un-assessed
assigned, assigning, assignment, assignments,
assigns, reassign, reassigned, reassigning,
reassigns, unassigned
assistance, assistant, assistants, assisted,
assisting, assists, unassisted
How do students learn?
The mental lexicon can’t be seen.
Learning is incremental as all parts of a
word can’t be learned simultaneously
(Schmitt, 2000).
Receptive knowledge happens before
productive (Nation, 2001).
Vocabulary Acquisition:
Intentional or Incidental?

Hulstijn, (2001) asks,

Should students learn words by rote

memorization or does this hinder language

Should students pick up new words by seeing

new vocabulary in context and by picking up
words by reading and listening extensively?
Vocabulary Learning and
Direct Instruction
Hulstijn calls for rich, deep information
processing or elaboration in vocabulary
learning, the deliberate rehearsal and
practice of the information, and the
retention or automatization of
information, which includes the use of
the knowledge.
How do we teach this?
The i-minus one theory (Hulstijn, 2001)
Aim for mastery and not mass
Words need to be “noticed” and
practiced through a series of strategies
Direct vocabulary instruction is essential
Vocabulary Strategies
Form or determination strategies
Rehearsal of memory-related strategies
Consolidation strategies
Social strategies
Metacognitive strategies (Schmitt,
The Study
In an EAP university reading to write 10-week credit
course of 25 students.
Research questions
How do students perceive direct vocabulary
instruction of the AWL word list as faciliting
academic reading and writing?
How does contextual richness contribute to
vocabulary acquisition?
Methods and Data Collection
• Classroom observations of teaching
• Student and teacher interviews
• Student questionnaires
The Class
Vocabulary instruction imperative as a
preparation for writing
Reading on branding: - “Create a buzz
for yourself on Facebook”
AWL: Establish, construct, create
Brands target consumers with three
benefits based on guaranteeing
quality products, distinguishing product
uniqueness and satisfying customers.
“People who do well with the vocabulary, do
better with their essays. It is very
important to practice the vocabulary.”

Student generated sentences:

Mainstream medicine and complementary

medicine offer patients great remedies because
of their integrative nature.

To maintain a healthy lifestyle, people have to

persist in having an exercise regimen of at
least twice a week.
Building the Vocabulary
Verb Noun Adjective
Immunize immunization adverse
Vaccinate vaccination negative
Inoculate Inoculation

Word parts: -ize, ate; tion, im, in

Parts of speech
Collocations: Adverse reaction; adverse effect
be immunized against a disease
“The good thing about the vocabulary you
have learned is that you can carry it

Even though Genetically Modified

products enhance taste, augment yields
and increase resistance to disease, they
create a threat to human health,
government health and human ethics.
What the students had to say
New vocabulary helped me develop
content of essays.
I use academic words now such as
obtain instead of get.
Vocabulary strategies for paraphrasing
helped make my writing more
I now choose academic words (in
Student comments
Vocabulary strategies are the most
important as they really pay off in writing.
I can’t be proficient in English without
using these techniques. Every step counts.
Vocabulary building strategies helped me
the most, and then by reading more, I can
build more vocabularies that are related to
the topic.
Vocabulary acquisition through reading must be
supported by direct instruction that is
Explicit or enhanced instruction is necessary to
get ESL students to the 10,000 word family level
Explicit or enhanced learning will make contextual
learning more effective when students are writing
across disciplines
Activity types and practice can deepen the
process (rich, elaborate processing and rehearsal,
Input -1) (Hulstijn, 2001).
Future research
Due to the limitations on this research
based on student perception, teacher
beliefs, and observation further
research needs to be done.
Investigate the frequency of AWL
vocabulary in student essays post-direct
Coxhead, A. (2000). A new academic word list. TESOL Quarterly, 34(2),
Gould, R., Nation, P. & Read, J. (1990). How large can a receptive
vocabulary be? Applied Linguistics,11, 341-363.
Hulstijn, J. (2001). Intentional and incidental second-language vocabulary
learning: A reappraisal of elaboration, rehearsal and automaticity. In
P. Robinson (Ed.). Cognition and Second Language Instruction.
(pp.258-286). New York: Cambridge University Press.
Laufer, B. (1997). The lexical plight in second language reading: Words
you don’t know, words you think you know and words you can’t guess.
Canadian Modern Language Review, 50 (4), 20-33.
Nation, I. S.P. (2001). Learning vocabulary in another language.
Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.
Schmitt, N. (2000) Vocabulary in language teaching. Cambridge,
UK: Cambridge University Press.
Williams, J. (2005). Learning English for academic purposes. St.
Laurent, Québec: Longman.
Thank you