Using word list research to analyse TED Talks for EAP
Vocabulary research and ESP
Byrd and Coxhead (2010, p. 56) state, ’Students who are preparing for academic study need to read academic texts rather than focusing extensively on stories or other literary types’. Having noted that TED Talks were often used by EAP teachers preparing learners for their university studies, Coxhead and Walls (2012) investigated the vocabulary load and the vocabulary profile of these readily available online talks to see whether TED Talks were useful preparation for EAP, from a lexical perspective. The corpus of TED Talks for this study was small, at just over 40,000 running words in total from six areas of talks: Business, Design, Entertainment, Global Issues, Science and Technology. One of the questions in the study was whether TED Talks were more similar to academic written texts or spoken texts in their vocabulary load. The Coxhead and Walls (2012) study showed that learners need to know about 4,000 word families plus proper nouns to reach 95% coverage of the TED Talks corpus. TED Talks reached 98% coverage at around 8,000—9,000 word families plus proper nouns.
A second part of the Coxhead and Walls (2012) study was to find the coverage of word lists over the TED Talks corpus. Using the RANGE Programme (Heatley, Nation & Coxhead, 2002) for analysis, and West’s (1953) GSL, Coxhead’s (2000) AWL, and Coxhead and Hirsh’s (2007) pilot Science list for EAP, Coxhead and Walls (2012) found that these word lists and proper nouns covered 92.54% of the TED Talks corpus. Coxhead’s (2000) AWL covered almost 4% of the corpus (a common figure for the AWL and academic spoken texts), and examples in the corpus from this word list include design, image, images, computer, percent and technology. The EAP Science List (Coxhead & Hirsh, 2007) covered only 0.79% of the TED Talks corpus. The TED Talks corpus contained specialised and current vocabulary (e.g. crowdsource, cymatics) and everyday spoken language (e.g. guys and amazing). These combined findings by Coxhead and Walls (2012) suggested that TED Talks have more in common from a vocabulary perspective with written than spoken academic texts, and that TED Talks would be similar to academic lectures in terms of their academic vocabulary load. Learners with vocabulary sizes of 4,000 word families would possibly find TED Talks easier to cope with than learners who have smaller vocabulary sizes.