The Linguist

The Linguist 61,3 - June/July 2022

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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FEATURES OCRR, the National Centre for Excellence in Language Pedagogy said "we can show children they can 'crack' a language with a booster pack of 'super vocabulary'. Research shows knowing about 1,700 of the most frequent 2,000 means you can probably understand between 72-92% of what you see or hear." However, the research does not endorse this idea. Frequent vocabulary does not have superpowers to replace all other words needed for communication. Learners in the UK are not uniquely unable, but they are the victims of a curriculum that is, probably, uniquely minimal in its vocabulary content. They currently take and pass GCSE French with 500-800 words in the foreign language, which means that even after five years of study they are at A1 level, or even pre-A1, the lowest level there is. They are trapped at that level by their small vocabulary size. So what does research suggest the MFL vocabulary should look like? If the goal of GCSE is B1 level then that probably means a teaching input of about 6,000 words, enabling the average learner to reach the 3,000 words needed for performance at this level. This would also give good learners plenty of opportunity to progress faster. This is routinely, and successfully, taught in curriculums outside the UK. The curriculum needs to endorse the teaching of a large body of infrequent vocabulary, drawn from a wide range of themes and topics. Thematic paucity – a very narrow range of themes and topics – is associated with learner demotivation, low vocabulary uptake and poor overall language progress. Cornelia Tschichold's study of French textbooks for GCSE, for example, found them to be highly repetitious, with whole years passing with very little new vocabulary to lift the tedium of the same topics and the same vocabulary repeated again and again. 11 There was insufficient vocabulary to reach B1 level, the intended outcome of the course. In contrast, teaching a wide range of themes and topics, and promoting a wide range of less frequent vocabulary, leads to higher motivation, higher vocabulary uptake and better language progress overall. 12 Notes 1 Ofsted (2021) Curriculum Research Review for Languages (OCRR); 2 Milton, J and Hopwood, O (2022) Vocabulary in the Foreign Language Curriculum: Principles for effective instruction, Basingstoke, Palgrave 3 Schmitt, N (2008) 'Instructed Second Language Vocabulary Learning'. In Language Teaching Research, 12(3), 329-363 4 Stæhr, L S (2008) 'Vocabulary Size and the Skills of Listening, Reading and Writing'. In Language Learning Journal, 36(2), 139-152 5 Alderson, J C (2005) Diagnosing Foreign Language Proficiency: The interface between learning and assessment. London, Continuum 6 Vassiliu, P (2001) 'Lexical Input and Uptake in the Low Level EFL Classroom'. Unpublished PhD dissertation; University of Wales Swansea 7 DfE 2021 8 Milton, J (2011) 'The Role of Classroom and Informal Vocabulary Input in Growing a Foreign Language Lexicon'. In Journal of Applied Linguistics, 26, 59-80 9 Hu, M and Nation, P (2000) 'Unknown Vocabulary Density and Reading Comprehension'. In Reading in a Foreign Language, 13, 1 10 Nation, P (2006) 'How Large a Vocabulary is Needed for Reading and Listening?' In The Canadian Modern Language Review, 63, 59-82 11 Tschichold, C (2012) 'French Vocabulary in Encore Tricolore: Do learners have a chance?' In Language Learning Journal, 40, 1, 7-19 12 Op. cit. Milton and Hopwood © SHUTTERSTOCK

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