2014 Christopher Brumfit Award winner talks to Cambridge Extra

Foto H  van ZeelandBlog post written by Hilde van Zeeland, winner of the 2014 Christopher Brumfit Award

Most L2 vocabulary research has focused on learners’ knowledge of written, rather than spoken, words. In my thesis, I identified and addressed two gaps in the field: 1) how many spoken (versus written) words L2 learners know, i.e. their vocabulary knowledge in listening, and 2) how successful learners are at learning new words from spoken input, i.e. their vocabulary knowledge from listening.

The first two studies from my thesis (one published, one under review) focused on vocabulary knowledge in listening. Little is known about how many words learners know when they hear them in their spoken form, and in particular, if knowledge found on written tests (e.g. the VLT, VST, and the Yes/No test) is also available to learners when they listen to continuous speech. I compared learners’ knowledge of isolated written words with their knowledge of spoken words in isolation as well as in sentence contexts. When learners saw/heard words in isolation, they showed slightly better knowledge of written than spoken vocabulary. Interestingly, regarding spoken vocabulary, learners often failed to recognise words in continuous speech that they did demonstrate knowledge of when they heard them in isolation. This indicates that results from tests with isolated word forms (whether written or spoken) might overestimate the knowledge learners actually have at their disposal while listening. For pedagogical purposes, this means we should be careful with selecting listening materials based on results from such vocabulary tests (e.g. by means of lexical coverage calculations).

The third and fourth study (both published) focused on vocabulary knowledge from listening. The third study assessed L1 and L2 listeners’ success in inferencing word meanings from context, and explored the effect of three variables that have been found to affect inferencing success in reading: background knowledge, clue type, and vocabulary knowledge. Results showed that these variables had the same effect in listening. This suggests that, regardless of the input modality, it is advisable to control for these variables when carrying out lexical inferencing tasks, especially where their aim is to learn new vocabulary. The fourth study measured L2 listeners’ incidental vocabulary acquisition. It explored their learning of words’ meaning, form and grammatical function. Although learners acquired some knowledge types quicker than others, they did not build durable knowledge of any of them, even after having heard the target words 15 times. This indicates that spoken input alone is not very effective for vocabulary learning, and that some sort of input enhancement might be appropriate.

Together, these studies emphasise the importance of further examining the construct of spoken vocabulary knowledge, as well as the acquisition of it. However, although the vocabulary-listening domain is growing, it remains an under-researched area. I hope these studies will further encourage researchers to explore spoken vocabulary knowledge – both in and from listening.

Congratulations to Hilde on winning this prestigious award.

You can discover more about the Christopher Brumfit PhD/Ed.D. Thesis Award 2015 here. 

30th November 2015 – Deadline for receipt of summary and abstract and official proof of thesis acceptance

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