Why is identifying specialised vocabulary important for ESP?
Approaches to identifying specialised vocabulary for ESP
Identifying and categorising academic and disciplinary vocabulary for ESP is important for a range of researchers, learners, teachers and dictionary and materials designers. For researchers, identifying specialised vocabulary in ESP is important because there are many outstanding questions in this field of research. For example, one research question which has been approached in several ways is ’When does general vocabulary stop and specialised vocabulary begin?’ (see Hwang & Nation, 1995; Coxhead & Hirsh, 2007 for examples). Word list developers need to be aware of these technical meanings of everyday words so that selection principles can be followed as closely as possible (for more, go to Chapter 3). This research needs to be based on solid principles of selection, guided by the context for learning and the proficiency level of the learners. For dictionary and materials designers, identifying specialised vocabulary is important for deciding what lexical items are included in resources and what kind of attention they are given. A good example of the possible impact of a study of specialised vocabulary is the AWL (Coxhead, 2000, 2016a). This list is widely used in textbook series, dictionaries and paper-based and online materials design.
For learners and teachers, identifying this vocabulary is vital for setting goals for learning and for programmes of study, as well as checking a learner’s progress and helping make tomorrow’s vocabulary learning easier (see Nation, 2013). Organising vocabulary learning is important for language learning, so finding out what learners know before they start a course of study can help determine what their vocabulary needs are. These needs might be different depending on the amount of background knowledge in the subject a learner already has and their proficiency in English.
There is quite a range of terminology in the research on specialised vocabulary. Here are some examples. Some researchers use the term technical, as in (Chung & Nation, 2003, 2004) who measured the strength of the relationship between the word and the specialised subject area (for more on this research, see the following). Semi-technical vocabulary is a term used by Farrell (1990) to describe words which are not technical (specific to a discipline) or non-technical (everyday). Fraser (2007, 2009) uses the term cryptotechnical in Pharmacology rather than semi-technical (see Chapter 6). More recently, Watson-Todd (2017) has used the term opaque vocabulary, which means words that learners might struggle with in their learning because the general meaning is not the same as the technical meaning (see Chapter 6 for more on this study in Engineering). In this book, specialised vocabulary is used as an umbrella term for vocabulary which relates in some way to its particular discipline, whether the word is high, mid or low frequency (Nation, 2016).