The need for more qualitative research in vocabulary and ESP - Future directions and conclusion

Vocabulary and English for Specific Purposes Research - Averil Coxhead 2018

The need for more qualitative research in vocabulary and ESP
Future directions and conclusion

The majority of research into vocabulary and ESP reported in this book comes from quantitative research involving corpora. Some qualitative approaches have been built in to word list research, for example through consultation with context or language experts. Peters and Fernández (2013) used qualitative approaches to find out more about what vocabulary Spanish speakers of English as a second language in an Architecture course actually looked up in their dictionaries. In this section, we will look at how qualitative approaches might be taken into account in vocabulary and ESP and what they might bring to the field.

First of all, qualitative approaches, such as interviews, questionnaires, and observations can bring to light issues in research which can help guide quantitative research and potentially help learning and teaching communities in unexpected ways. For example, in the course of gathering corpus-based data for the Coxhead, Stevens and Tinkle (2010) study of vocabulary in textbooks at secondary level, it became clear that librarians in schools and teacher-education librarians at tertiary institutions needed help with deciding which books and resources were used by teachers and learners in schools. Therefore, the researchers decided to draw on several sources for more information, including interviews with teachers of different subject areas in schools, participation in an online forum for English Literature teachers, and a survey (Coxhead, 2011d, 2012a). We found that textbooks were not necessarily the main source of reading for classes in secondary schools, except for in the Sciences, as Parkinson (2013) notes. In the course of interviewing Science teachers and publishers, a clear picture emerged of the most used textbooks in New Zealand. The inquiry-based curriculum in New Zealand meant that teachers and learners in English Literature, for example, could be working with different texts in the classroom and that texts in this field could range from poems, plays, novels, advertising hoardings, websites and visual images with little text. This information on textbooks and resources helped form the corpora used for the secondary school studies reported in Coxhead and White (2012), Coxhead et al. (2010), and Coxhead (2012b). A result of the online group part of the study was a fairly comprehensive list of texts used in New Zealand schools at junior and senior levels. This list has now been sent back to the community as a resource for researchers, teachers and librarians in schools.

Qualitative data can shed new light on quantitative studies and directions for research. For example, little research in vocabulary in ESP draws on more than just corpus data. New research into spoken academic vocabulary (Dang, Coxhead & Webb, in press) drew on survey data on high frequency vocabulary from language teachers, corpus data and vocabulary testing results of learners in Vietnam to design a word list that takes learner proficiency and teacher concerns into account. This means that learners at different levels of proficiency and with general or academic goals and their teachers can decide where to start using the word list. It also means that further research can evaluate this research approach and perhaps adapt it for research into language learners in different contexts or with learners with different first language backgrounds.

Taking the cultural contexts of learners and teachers into account can lead to new qualitative approaches in research methodologies in vocabulary and ESP. Chapter 8 on vocabulary in the trades discussed the adoption of a Pacific research framework called Talanoa (Vailoleti, 2006; Coxhead, Parkinson & Tu’amoheloa, under review). The Talanoa framework was adopted for part of the part of the LATTE project which involved the translation of specialised word lists into Tongan. Coxhead et al. (under review) worked with researchers, teachers, and students from Tonga or New Zealand-born Tongans to check translations of specialised trades-based word lists in English (for example, Coxhead et al., 2016 in Carpentry) into Tongan and investigating the usefulness of word lists built on New Zealand trades materials in different contexts. Thanks to the skills and contacts of Falakiko Tu’amoheloa this Talanoa methodology is based on the development and ongoing relationship between the participants and the researchers, built from communication face-to-face and on time together. This meant spending time and sharing meals with participants, and discussing everyday topics such as family and friends. This contact often resulted in introductions to others in the Tongan trades and education communities in Wellington and Tonga. Using a Pasifika approach in this context not only makes sense, but is culturally and linguistically appropriate (Coxhead et al., under review). The Talanoa framework has also helped with gathering ideas on what might be useful ways to present the findings of the study to the participants, how we might develop and evaluate materials based on the trades vocabulary research and confirming that more research into multiword unit analysis of the corpora is sorely needed. Such work is important, since, to adapt a phrase from Maxwell (2013), nobody is a native speaker of Carpentry.