Vocabulary and English for Specific Purposes Research - Averil Coxhead 2018
The need for more testing research in vocabulary and ESP
Future directions and conclusion
Testing in vocabulary for ESP needs considerable research effort. Some professional areas of expertise have lexical elements built into them, such as Aviation and Medicine, and the Vocabulary Levels Test (Schmitt, Schmitt & Clapham, 2001) contains a section on Coxhead’s (2000) AWL. This test has been used extensively by teachers and researchers worldwide. The productive version of the Vocabulary Levels Test (Laufer & Nation, 1999) contains a section based on Xue and Nation’s University Word List (1984). Another example of a productive test which includes more formal vocabulary comes from Fountain and Nation (2000) with their dictation tests which control for lexical level. There are very few other examples of vocabulary for specific purposes tests readily available, which could be because many EAP or ESP programmes use in-house tests.
Read (2015) reviews two research approaches from Corson (1997) for investigating the testing of productive academic vocabulary knowledge for diagnostic purposes before gaining entrance into university studies. The first approach involves interviewing participants and eliciting examples of language using pairs of words (for example, product-multiply; product/market). Another study which used interviews to tap into learner’s knowledge of vocabulary as a follow-up to testing vocabulary size is by Gyllstad, Vilkait and Schmitt (2015). Using academic vocabulary, according to Corson (1997), can be problematic for learners who are inexperienced with academic contexts, and they can choose to use high frequency vocabulary instead; meaning they might opt for an inaccurate or inappropriate word choice. The second approach outlined by Corson (1997) involves an analysis of written and spoken language from students to identify the percentage of Graeco-Latin vocabulary in the texts, because academic vocabulary has a large percentage of words from Greek and Latin origins. Coxhead (2000) identifies over 80% of the AWL words as Graeco-Latin, for example. Corson’s (1997) concern about this particular element of academic vocabulary is that learners from lower socio-economic backgrounds would not have encountered or used these kinds of words in their everyday lives as much as learners from high socio-economic backgrounds. Corson (1985) referred to these words as a ’lexical bar’.
Vocabulary tests are also needed to assess learners’ knowledge of specialised vocabulary before or after a course of study. They can also be used to research technical vocabulary size in a first or second language and how it develops over time. Receptive and productive tests of multi-word units and metaphor are also possible avenues of research.