Vocabulary in Social Sciences - Specialised vocabulary in secondary school/Middle School

Vocabulary and English for Specific Purposes Research - Averil Coxhead 2018

Vocabulary in Social Sciences
Specialised vocabulary in secondary school/Middle School

Social Sciences tend to include subjects such as Business Studies, Classics, Economics, Geography and History. In New Zealand, junior secondary school students take ’Social Studies’ which narrows into specialised areas in senior years such as Business Studies, Geography, History and Economics. Social Studies is now available at senior levels in some schools, which blurs distinctions somewhat when it comes to identifying specialised vocabulary in the Social Sciences. The New Zealand Ministry of Education hosts a website of learning and teaching materials for Social Studies, including the example that follows. The unit of work on Tax Education and Citizenship directs the students to explore websites and develop their own resources such as quizzes as part of a social enquiry cycle of learning. Figure 5.6 contains a sample of the taxation text, which was developed by Inland Revenue, a government department. Analysis shows that there are many high frequency words in this text. Words in the text which also occur in Nation’s frequency-based first 1,000 words of the BNC (Nation, 2006, 2013, 2016) include: tax, rates, government and unemployed. The first 1,000 BNC list covers just over 80% of the text. Items from the second 1,000 of Nation’s lists include legal, duty, borrow, income. This list covers 9.28% of the text. Items from the third 1,000 list include mortgage, inheritance, sovereignty and increment. This list covers 3.38% of the text. In total, these three high frequency word lists cover nearly 95% of the text, which means that with support, students with knowledge of the first 3,000 words should be able to cope with the vocabulary of this text. If learners do not have a vocabulary of 3,000 words, the text could be simplified by replacing low frequency words with high frequency words, but this needs to be done carefully so that learners still encounter the specialised vocabulary in context to support their learning of Social Sciences.

Figure 5.6 Example of a text on taxation from a social enquiry unit at level 5 on tax education and citizenship

Note that 4.2% of the words in this text are also in Coxhead’s (2000) AWL. Examples of these words are legal, document, area and depression.