Reading in a Foreign Language    ISSN 1539-0578
Volume 22, Number 1, April 2010

Grabbed early by vocabulary: Nation’s ongoing contributions to vocabulary and reading in a foreign language
Averil Coxhead

“I was grabbed early [by vocabulary] and never let go. That’s why it’s difficult to explain why I enjoy working in this area. I just love doing it,” said Paul Nation (in Coxhead, 2005, p. 46). How many people get grabbed by an area of research, teaching, and learning that continues to engage interest and cause excitement after 30 years? In this article, I look at Paul Nation’s ongoing contributions to pedagogy in vocabulary and second language reading. I will focus on key questions from Nation’s research that support learning and teaching and contribute to our understanding of the lexical nature of texts.
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Lexical threshold revisited: Lexical text coverage, learners’ vocabulary size and reading comprehension
Batia Laufer and Geke C. Ravenhorst-Kalovski

We explore the relationship between second language (L2) learners’ vocabulary size, lexical text coverage that their vocabulary provides and their reading comprehension. We also conceptualize “adequate reading comprehension” and look for the lexical threshold for such reading in terms of coverage and vocabulary size. Vocabulary size was measured by the Levels Test, lexical coverage by the newest version of Vocabulary Profile and reading comprehension by a standardized national test. Results show that small increments of vocabulary knowledge contribute to reading comprehension even though they hardly improve text coverage. We suggest two thresholds: an optimal one, which is the knowledge of 8,000 word families yielding the coverage of 98% (including proper nouns) and a minimal one, which is 4,000–5,000 word families resulting in the coverage of 95% (including proper nouns).
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Incidental vocabulary acquisition from an authentic novel: Do Things Fall Apart?
Ana Pellicer-Sánchez and Norbert Schmitt

Nation (2006) has calculated that second language (L2) learners require much more vocabulary than previously thought to be functional with language (e.g., 8,000–9,000 word families to read independently). This level is far beyond the highest graded reader, and would be difficult to explicitly teach. One way for learners to be exposed to mid-frequency vocabulary is to read authentic materials. The original A Clockwork Orange study (Saragi, Nation, & Meister, 1978) showed impressive amounts of incidental vocabulary learning with first language (L1) readers, but subsequent studies with L2 learners (using graded readers or simplified materials) showed only modest gains. This study explores the degree to which relatively advanced L2 readers can acquire spelling, word class, and recognition and recall of meaning from reading the unmodified authentic novel Things Fall Apart. After more than 10 exposures, the meaning and spelling could be recognized for 84% and 76% of the words respectively, while the meaning and word class could be recalled for 55% and 63%.
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Vocabulary learning through reading: Does an ELT course book provide good opportunities?
Warren Matsuoka and David Hirsh

This study investigates the vocabulary learning opportunities in an ELT course book designed for upper-intermediate learners. All the words appearing in the 12 chapters of the text were analyzed. The results suggest that the text would provide opportunities to deepen knowledge of the second 1,000 most frequent words in English, and would provide a context for pre-teaching of academic words met in the text for learners on an academic pathway. The results also suggest that the text would provide minimal opportunities for learners to develop vocabulary knowledge beyond high frequency and academic words. The findings suggest a need to supplement use of such texts with an extensive reading program and other forms of language rich input to promote vocabulary development.
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Fluency in reading—Thirty-five years later
William Grabe

Paul Nation’s talents and interests extend well beyond vocabulary to include research on speaking, writing, classroom learning and teaching, reading, and fluency. In keeping with Nation’s interests in fluency, extensive reading, and reading instruction, I outline current perspectives on reading fluency and its role as a key component of reading comprehension abilities. This discussion will include the rapidly increasing importance being given to reading fluency, extensive reading, and reading speed training in English as a first language (L1) contexts in the past decade. While this extraordinary growth in fluency research in English L1 contexts might not be well known to many second language (L2) practitioners, it offers many implications for L2 reading research and instruction (and Nation is one of very few L2 researchers to have been out ahead of this curve). The article will also address reasons why fluency research studies often do not demonstrate extraordinary gains in reading comprehension outcomes, pointing to the incremental nature of both fluency and reading comprehension development. Finally, the article will connect messages consistently advocated for by Nation over the past 35 years with current views on reading fluency.
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Exploring a new technique for comparing bilinguals’ L1 and L2 reading speed
Hanna S. Gauvin and Jan H. Hulstijn

Is it possible to tell whether bilinguals are able to read simple text in their two languages equally fluently? Is it thus possible to distinguish balanced bilinguals from unbalanced bilinguals with respect to reading fluency in their first language (L1) and second language (L2)? In this study, we avoided making direct comparisons between L1 and L2 reading speeds, comparing, instead, the amount of inhibition caused by a nonlinguistic, external factor (degraded text visibility). In two tasks, 32 university students read 20 target sentences in L1 Dutch and L2 English, each sentence appearing both in normal and in poorly readable font. Degraded font affected reading times substantially, more so in L2 than in L1, as predicted. However, it was not found that participants with higher L2 proficiency were less affected by degraded font in L2 reading than participants with lower L2 proficiency.
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Speed reading courses and their effect on reading authentic texts: A preliminary investigation
John Macalister

Fluent reading is essential for successful comprehension. One dimension of reading fluency is reading rate, or reading speed. Because of the importance of reading fluency, fluency development activities should be incorporated into classroom practice. One activity that meets the fluency development conditions proposed by Nation (2007) is speed reading. An important question is whether reading speed gains measured in words per minute on controlled speed reading texts transfer to other types of texts. This paper reports on a preliminary, small-scale investigation of this question. The findings suggest that a speed reading course may contribute to faster reading speeds on other types of texts, but there remains a need for further experimental research into the impact of speed reading courses.
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The quality and frequency of encounters with vocabulary in an English for Academic Purposes programme
Angela Joe

This longitudinal case study tracks an adult second-language (L2) learner’s quality and quantity of encounters with 20 vocabulary items in an English for Academic Purposes course over 3 months. The learner completed pretest and posttest vocabulary knowledge interviews, submitted course materials and notes for analysis, and was observed during class lessons. The results show that frequency of encounters contributes more to vocabulary learning than contextual richness does. In addition, the case study data illustrate the highly incremental nature of L2 vocabulary acquisition in a naturalistic context.
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Is explicit vocabulary focus the reading teacher’s job?
Keith Folse

This paper reports findings from a case study of the amount of explicit vocabulary focus (EVF) that occurred in a week of classes for one group of upper intermediate students in an intensive English program (IEP). To assess EVF, instruction from a total of 25 hours of classes was analyzed to see if the number of EVF events was more connected with the course (i.e., grammar, reading, composition, communication skills, or TOEFL), the instructor, or both. Data reveal that the reading course, long assumed to be the source of most vocabulary focus, may or may not be the main source in an IEP curriculum. Data from this study demonstrate that a better predictor of EVF in any given class or course may be the instructor, and that the number of EVFs in a week of intensive instruction is surprisingly low.
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How well does teacher talk support incidental vocabulary acquisition?
Marlise Horst

Opportunities for incidental vocabulary acquisition were explored in a 121,000-word corpus of teacher talk addressed to advanced adult learners of English as a second language (ESL) in a communicatively-oriented conversation class. In contrast to previous studies that relied on short excerpts, the corpus contained all of the teacher speech the learners were exposed to during a 9-week session. Lexical frequency profiling indicated that with knowledge of 4,000 frequent words, learners would be able to understand 98% of the tokens in the input. The speech contained hundreds of words likely to have been unfamiliar to the learners, but far fewer were recycled the numbers of times research shows are needed for lasting retention. The study concludes that attending to teacher speech is an inefficient method for acquiring knowledge of the many frequent words learners need to know, especially since many words used frequently in writing are unlikely to be encountered at all.
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Learning about language and learners from computer programs
Tom Cobb

Making Nation’s text analysis software accessible via the World Wide Web has opened up an exploration of how his learning principles can best be realized in practice. This paper discusses 3 representative episodes in the ongoing exploration. The first concerns an examination of the assumptions behind modeling what texts look like to learners with different levels of lexical knowledge; the second concerns approaches to handling proper nouns in text profiling within an international context; and the third involves the future of the Academic Word List as new frequency information appears to undermine its utility. Underlying these explorations is an argument that writing computer programs is a useful way to investigate language and language learning.
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Using glossaries to increase the lexical coverage of television programs
Stuart Webb

This study examined the extent to which glossaries may affect the percentage of known words (coverage) in television programs. The transcripts of 51 episodes of 2 television programs (House and Grey’s Anatomy) were analyzed using Range (Heatley, Nation, & Coxhead, 2002) to create glossaries consisting of the low-frequency (less frequent than the 3,000 word level) word families that were encountered 10 or more times in each program. The results showed that coverage of the glossaries was 1.31% for Grey’s Anatomy and 2.26% for House. This was greater than coverage of the 3,001–4,000 most frequent word families in both programs. The cumulative coverage including the glossaries at the 3,000 word level increased to 96.00% for House and 97.20% for Grey’s Anatomy. The findings indicate that glossaries have the potential to improve comprehension of television programs.
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Words as species: An alternative approach to estimating productive vocabulary size
Paul M. Meara and Juan Carlos Olmos Alcoy

This paper addresses the issue of how we might be able to assess productive vocabulary size in second language learners. It discusses some previous attempts to develop measures of this sort, and argues that a fresh approach is needed in order to overcome some persistent problems that dog research in this area. The paper argues that there might be some similarities between assessing productive vocabularies—where many of the words known by learners do not actually appear in the material we can extract them from—and counting animals in the natural environment. If this is so, then there might be a case for adapting the capture-recapture methods developed by ecologists to measure animal populations. The paper reports a preliminary attempt to develop this analogy.
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