Classroom-based approaches - Approaches to identifying specialised vocabulary for ESP

Vocabulary and English for Specific Purposes Research - Averil Coxhead 2018

Classroom-based approaches
Approaches to identifying specialised vocabulary for ESP

There is a range of different ways in which technical vocabulary for ESP could be identified using classroom-based approaches. Case study analyses of teachers and learner decision making (Coxhead, 2007, 2011a, 2012b) illustrate one such approach. An analysis of learners’ written texts, reading texts and follow-up interviews with learners and teachers in a study by Coxhead (2011b) found that university EAP students had strong views on whether a word was worth learning and using in their writing. Students made decisions on academic vocabulary depending on factors such as: the connection between the target word and the topic of the text; the strength of knowledge of that word; whether university lecturers might appreciate and give good grades for using technical words well; confidence, risk taking and self-belief; and whether a particular word fitted the context and purpose of the writing. Personal beliefs on which words to learn and why in an academic setting were important.

Teachers draw on their experience in the classroom to help decide how to select vocabulary to focus on with their learners (Coxhead, 2011a). In the quote that follows, an English Literature teacher sums up her approach to deciding which words to focus on:

Some words are words that every year students seem to struggle with, some are critical to understanding the main idea in the text, some are relevant to language features being identified and, most importantly, some are key English terms that students must be familiar with in assessment conditions.

Glossaries in textbooks can be a source of specialised vocabulary for teachers. In highly collaborative contexts, colleagues and heads of departments may decide which specialised words should be the focus of attention in class (Coxhead, 2011a).

Observations of teachers and learners in class can shed light on how specialised vocabulary is treated in classrooms. Basturkmen and Shackleford (2015) observed, recorded and transcribed eight hours of first-year accountancy lectures at a university in New Zealand. The researchers focused on language-related episodes (LREs) and found that the lecturer initiated more LREs than the students in the accountancy lectures. A total of 76 out of 164 (46%) episodes focused on vocabulary — the highest proportion of LREs in the data set. Lecturers tended to be more pre-emptive in their LREs than reactive — thinking ahead to what might be problematic for their learners in terms of vocabulary. Folse (2010) observed a group of upper intermediate students in a pre-university intensive English program in the USA and looked for episodes of explicit vocabulary focus. He found that there were nearly five vocabulary-focused episodes per class meeting, which added up to around 24 vocabulary-focused episodes per day. In his analysis, Folse (2010) found that that this fairly small number of lexical episodes were not very rich. They tended to be carried out in speech without much visual support, such as writing up a word on the classroom board. Ardasheva and Tretter (2017) used interviews and observations in their study of science-specific vocabulary in secondary schools to shed light on their study of lexis in a Physics textbook (see Chapter 5 for more on this research). Such studies using qualitative methods are invaluable because they can shed light on actual instances of specialised vocabulary in use by both learners and teachers.