Vocabulary in ESP in spoken corpora, different contexts and multi-word units - Future directions and conclusion

Vocabulary and English for Specific Purposes Research - Averil Coxhead 2018

Vocabulary in ESP in spoken corpora, different contexts and multi-word units
Future directions and conclusion

Spoken corpora

Spoken corpora have so far featured far less often in corpus research (Flowerdew, 2015), let alone vocabulary in ESP research, and this gap is especially important. There are two elements of spoken research to consider: the vocabulary learners are exposed to in English and the vocabulary they produce in speaking. If we first consider the vocabulary that learners are exposed to, there are some studies in EAP in particular on vocabulary in lectures, however, in general, these corpora are not as large as the written corpus studies and include a smaller range of spoken text types. Studies such as Horst (2010) on vocabulary used in teacher talk in a general English community class, teacher talk examples in secondary school contexts (see Chapter 5), studies using the BASE and MICASE spoken corpora (see Chapter 6), Dang et al. (under review), and Biber’s (2006) work on university language for EAP show that there is some research on spoken corpora. Further research into vocabulary in a range of classroom talk is needed. For example, we know little of the vocabulary which EAP students are exposed to in their daily studies, how this lexis relates to their future courses of study in university, or how or what specialised vocabulary is used in ESP courses. Future research using spoken texts could include analysis for multi-word units by examining discipline-specific spoken corpora and identifying formulaic language in those texts.

Research in EAP so far is much more based on written corpora than on spoken corpora in EAP, for obvious funding and resources reasons. The studies in spoken corpora are mostly done on a small scale. That said, some spoken academic corpora are publicly available for researchers and teachers to work with, such as BASE (see Thompson & Nesi, 2001) and 40 lectures from MICASE (Simpson, Briggs, Ovens & Swales, 2002). Finally, general and discipline-specific research in vocabulary in ESP is in need of replication studies. For example, studies such as Ward (2009) and Hsu (2014) in Engineering could be replicated using materials used in other contexts as a corpus to find out whether the specialised vocabulary found in those studies overlaps with the vocabulary in the new context.

To take up the second point about spoken learner corpora for specialised purposes, to the best of my knowledge, there are very few studies on the spoken vocabulary produced by learners in ESP, EAP or even in general English. In the LATTE project, for example, we focused on recording tutors in their practical and theory classes rather than recording the learners and their productive use of specialised vocabulary in learning contexts. This research gap means we know little about the productive use of specialised vocabulary by learners in speaking, whereas we know something about vocabulary use in writing, through studies in learner corpora in particular. That said, more research is also needed into the productive vocabulary of ESP learners as well.

Vocabulary in ESP in different contexts

Chapters 5 to 8 of this book focus on vocabulary in different contexts: secondary school, pre-university and university studies, English for Occupational and Professional Purposes and vocabulary in the trades. There have been elements of selection in which areas to concentrate on in these chapters; it is, however, clear that while areas such as general EAP, Sciences, Health Communication, Medicine, Engineering, and Aviation have been the subject of some research, much more needs to be done. There are a range of possible further research opportunities into vocabulary in secondary school contexts. Chapter 5 reported on research on only four subject areas in schools, English Literature, Mathematics, Science and Social Sciences, and all from predominantly English as a first language contexts. A wider range of subjects would be useful for expanding our understanding of different subject areas and language across the curriculum. More research on specialised vocabulary would be useful from countries where English is a foreign language, and in a larger range of schools, including more international and bilingual schools.

It would be useful to investigate specialised vocabulary across year levels in textbooks and other texts used in classrooms. Coxhead et al. (2010), for example, investigated the vocabulary load of a series of Science textbooks used in New Zealand secondary schools. The researchers found, not surprisingly, that the vocabulary load increased from the junior to the senior texts. Unfortunately, as Nation (2016) points out, vocabulary load research needs to involve completely ’clean’ texts, which means that all vocabulary in the texts can be completely analysed by computer. That is, there would be no unrecognised or uncategorised words in the texts. The Coxhead et al. (2010) study may have overestimated the vocabulary load of the Science texts because not all of the vocabulary in the texts had been categorised using the BNC lists, as at that time, the lists only went up to 14,000 words and the researchers did not take all the vocabulary into account. For this reason, the LATTE project has ensured that all of the written and spoken corpora from the four trades have been categorised according to Nation’s 25,000 BNC/COCA lists (see Nation, 2013) and words outside those lists have also been categorised. Such work is painstaking, but more accurate.

Increased specialisation is a feature of Science education, as learners move from more general science topics in the junior school through to more specialised subjects in the senior school, for example, Biology and Chemistry. Mathematics also moves into specialisation at the senior school level, for example, Calculus and Statistics. A useful project for teachers and learners could be to map the development of technical vocabulary through from the junior school to the senior school. Furthermore, research into the actual vocabulary produced by learners in schools would be useful, following on the learner corpora focus of colleagues working in this field, such as Sylviane Granger and others at Louvain University in Belgium.

Chapter 8 focused on specialised vocabulary in the trades. There are many potential areas of research on vocabulary for this specialised field of education. It is important that more trades-based research projects in vocabulary are carried out as a way to validate findings from projects such as the LATTE project. It has become clear in the course of the LATTE project that there are major differences internationally in trades education, for example, in the Norwegian context, trades education follows a similar path to other tertiary level studies. An international project on vocabulary in the trades could help with understanding more about trades education in different education systems. The findings could be used to support learning and teaching in English and other languages.

The LATTE project has shed light on the importance of oral communication in the trades for learners and teachers. The learners, as reported in Chapter 8, emphasise the importance of paying attention and focusing on the vocabulary of the trades as essential in their learning. Literacy is a challenge for some of these learners. A longitudinal study of a range of learners in trades education would be a useful way to develop our understanding of the vocabulary of the trades as it develops through a period of time. Such a study could also follow through from trades education to the workplace to investigate specialised vocabulary in use when learners are talking with clients and industry.

Multi-word units

Research into multi-word units has tended to focus mostly on EAP, meaning that there is much more work to be done in other areas of ESP. What are the multi-word units of secondary school subjects, for example, and what role do they play in written and spoken texts? Many of the lexical bundles studies in EAP in Chapters 4 and 6 involve categorisation of these lists in terms of functions, which is helpful for learners and teachers in terms of understanding why these items may be common in texts and what role they play. Discourse studies using move analysis (Swales, 1990) are contributing more to this field, as studies such as Cortes (2013) show. Formulaic language research is beginning to pay more attention to slots or frames analysis, which presents some methodological problems that researchers such as Cheng (2012) and Greaves (2009) have paid particular attention to, for example. There is clearly scope in the field of metaphor for more research and analysis, not just in terms of identifying and categorising metaphors as in the work by Littlemore and colleagues (2010, 2011), and in different areas of specialisation as in Business and Medicine, but in terms of integration into courses of study and effective ways of learning and teaching, as in the work by Boers and colleagues (2014).