Why focus on curriculum, classroom tasks, materials design and testing in specialised vocabulary and ESP research? - Vocabulary research and ESP

Vocabulary and English for Specific Purposes Research - Averil Coxhead 2018

Why focus on curriculum, classroom tasks, materials design and testing in specialised vocabulary and ESP research?
Vocabulary research and ESP

L. Flowerdew (2015b, p. 104) makes an important point about a gap in research in teaching and learning with specialised vocabulary when she writes, ’There are few EAP-oriented studies that go beyond simple frequency counts and also consider learnability and teachability’. Learners and teachers can spend a great deal of time in classes together, and they need to know what approaches to classroom tasks will help with retention of vocabulary knowledge.

Knowing what aspects of word knowledge are important for learners and what elements of materials design can help rather than hinder learning are also points for learning specialised vocabulary. These areas are important with both specialised vocabulary as single words or as part of multi-word units (Coxhead, 2008; Meunier & Granger, 2008).

Figure 9.1 An example of a vocabulary-related episode from Basturkmen and Shackelford (2015, p. 92)

Nation (2016) points out that while word lists can help with course design, their influence has yet to be ascertained, because little research has focused on their role and effectiveness in course development, design and assessment. Chapters 4 to 8 focused on specialised vocabulary in a range of contexts. This research is predominantly aimed towards teaching and learning in some way. For example, word list research is often couched as being important because lists can help learners and teachers decide which words to focus on. Research into specialised vocabulary, lexical bundles and collocations is being integrated more into textbooks and dictionaries, and more for learners with intermediate and advanced levels of English proficiency (Gouverneur, 2008). Learner corpora research has formed the basis of selection of lexis to include in learner dictionaries such as the Louvain English for Academic Purposes Dictionary (see Granger & Paquot, 2010) and the Macmillan English Dictionary for Advanced Learners. See Granger (1998) for more on learner corpora and materials design, dictionaries, textbooks, and online materials.

Specialised vocabulary is an important part of all language skills in ESP. For example, academic essay writing is a major form of assessment in undergraduate studies (Moore & Morton, 2005), and it requires engagement with academic concepts, lexis, and texts. Depending on the subject area, as we have seen in Chapters 2 and 3, specialised vocabulary can make up substantial amounts of a text. Research by Basturkmen and Shackleford (2015) (see Chapter 6) showed how two Accountancy lecturers drew attention to vocabulary during classes. On average, the lectures included 20 vocabulary-related episodes each hour. A total of 46% of the LREs in the data set were vocabulary based. An example of a vocabulary-related episode can be seen in Figure 9.1. In this example, the lecturer explains what ’delayed payment to trades payable’ means, using a short definition and an example. If specialised vocabulary was not important in Accounting, this lecturer would not spend valuable class time focusing on it.

Testing is a key element of specialised vocabulary. Douglas (2013) states that tests in ESP are based on three key understandings of the field:

First, that language use varies with context, second, that specific purpose language is precise, and third that there is an interaction between specific purpose language and specific purpose knowledge.

(p. 368)

There is a clear connection between the need to identify the vocabulary of particular fields of ESP endeavour, developing courses and materials which take the results of such studies into account, and testing learners’ knowledge of that language at the end of language courses. If specialised vocabulary is included in course planning but not included in assessment, then the message to learners is that in the end, this vocabulary is not important. If we are serious about specialised vocabulary, then we need to be serious about testing how well learners are learning it, or if they are not learning it, why not?