A Case Study Of Vocabulary Learning English Language Essay

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It has been observed that children from immigrant families speak the language with a native -like accent and fluency without any problem, while their parents still have problems with speaking and listening. The length of residency is the same for both the children and adults but the level of ultimate attainment is different. The adult learners gain considerable vocabulary through participation in English courses, reading books and magazines and watching films, while their young children achieve lots of vocabulary through informal activities on the playground and outside of the formal classes at school and increase their vocabulary size effortlessly.

This experiment is a case-study of an 8-year old boy from Iran. His first language is Persian, which is historically and typologically different from English. The subject arrived in the UK at the end of September 2011 and started his academic year in October of the same year. He had not been immersed in English before arriving in the UK at all. His vocabulary knowledge enhancement was measured by an English version of the X-Lex test (Meara and Milton, 2003) and Lex 2005 Database by Dale and Fenson(1996). The subject has been tested since February monthly until July 2012. Significant vocabulary gains were revealed by the end of an academic year in a natural environment.

The findings from this article reveal that the amount of vocabulary which can be achieved through a natural environment is considerable, and is achieved faster and in greater amounts than through language classes for foreign language learners. This study may be confirmed by Milton & Meara (1995:31) who claim, "Subjects learned English as a foreign language five times faster than classes at home, around 2500 words per year". Additionally, the findings show that frequency has a significant effect on the speed of acquiring words. The first two thousand words are acquired more quickly as they are repeated and heard by the learner more frequently.

At the end of September 2011, I came to the UK as a student with my family. My son was sent to an English school knowing no English at all. I observed him from the perspective of a person who is very close to him and realised just how fast he came up with language without any difficulty. There was a flash in my mind as to whether I could measure his vocabulary size or whether I could discover the sources which he uses to learn new vocabulary in a second language. I questioned whether exposure to a new language through immersion in school classes, on the playground and in a natural environment, helps him to speak like or close to a native speaker.

Therefore I tried to find how much vocabulary uptake could be expected for my son during one academic year. It is assumed that knowing the vocabulary size of a learner is a very significant factor in predicting the language proficiency of a person, as there is a close and strong relationship between the size of the vocabulary of a learner and his skills of reading, speaking, writing and listening. I surmised that the more vocabulary he would learn, the better the chances of him being a proficient speaker.

In chapter two of this study I will show the background and the history of learning vocabulary and in the third chapter I will explain the main aims of this study. The methodology will be presented in chapter four through participants, the materials and the procedure. The data will be analysed in chapter five and will be discussed in chapter six.

Chapter 2

Literature Review

2.1. How important is the vocabulary in learning another language?

Learning a second language has a long background. It extends back at least to the time of the Romans, and possibly before (Schmitt, 2000:10). After different approaches and language teaching methodologies had emerged, basic skills were set up and the students were encouraged to study grammar. It was believed that Latin could increase the rational abilities of students; therefore they started studying Latin. The study of Latin grammar became a major target and "many grammar was written to purify English based on Latin models" (Schmitt, 2000: 11). The textbooks consisted of theoretical grammar rules and sentences for translation, and there were no allowances for speaking abilities at that time. The importance of vocabulary was not clear in different approaches with different perspectives.

Different approaches paid different amounts of attention to vocabulary. Some of them neglected it while others valued it. According to Bown et al( 1985), in the second century B.C., where Greek was studied by Roman children, vocabulary was highly valued and some of the given texts given to children provided various types of vocabulary under different topics. Some of these theories "were not grounded on any one scientific theory (Pavici, 2008: 1)", such as the Grammar Translation Method, and some of these theories were based partially on linguistics and partly on general theories of learning like Audio Lingual. Audio Lingual is derived from the effect of structural linguistic and behaviourism methods and considers learners as passive recipients of the programme (Pavicic, 2008: 1). The importance of vocabulary in the Grammar Translation Method was just met through bilingual word lists, as it was believed that the learners would follow the teaching method and learn the target language in a simple way, with less attention given to speaking and listening (Larsen-Freeman, 2000:18). While by the end of the nineteen century, methods such as the Direct Method used the second language as a means to acquire vocabulary by placing emphasis on listening and speaking. Vocabulary was presented through repetition and imitation using dialogues (Larsen-Freeman, 2000: 45). Another approach which had more focus on vocabulary rather than on grammar is Communicative Language Teaching (CLT). In this method, "language is for communication" (Larsen-Freeman, 2000: 130). Therefore the more words a person knows, the better chance they have of being a more successful learner. In addition, in oral communication, where there is negotiation of meaning between speaker and listener, vocabulary uptake increases and the growth in vocabulary size has a close relationship with success in speaking skills. However, Schmitt (2000:14) argued "CLT gives little guidance about how to handle vocabulary, other than as support vocabulary for the functional language."

According to Milton (2009:1), "much of the literature on second language acquisition as a general process, pays little attention to vocabulary learning" while recent studies present that less attention to learning vocabulary may affect the development of other aspects of language learning in teaching programmes (Milton, 2009: 3). Ellis, N. (1997) confirmed Milton's (2009) idea and argued that the other features of language proficiency such as grammar are dependent on the improvement of vocabulary.

Milton (2009) believed that there are three reasons for the lack of adequate vocabulary teaching and learning. The first one is the importance of acquiring language rules and systems in structural approaches since the product of them is obvious. Acquiring words is unsystematic and there are no clear rules and systems for learning words.

The second reason is the belief that limited vocabulary is sufficient to communicate. According to Ogden (1930), only 850 words are enough to teach a European language. According to Milton (2009) however, knowledge of thousands of words is necessary for even very essential communication. The comparison of percentage coverage between a person who knows 7000 words with a person who just knows 2000 is the evidence behind Milton's claims. According to Nation (2001: 144-153), knowing 6000 words and more can provide 95% coverage of a text, which is nearly complete comprehension and makes a successful reader. However, knowing 2000 means that 80% coverage of the text will be provided, which may not be enough to convey the whole meaning of the text. Although 80% seems quite a lot, it is important to consider that many of these words might be grammatical words; therefore overall text coverage will not be enough for adequate comprehension. Laufer (1992) argues that the minimum acceptable receptive knowledge to understand a text is the most frequent 3,000 word families.

The third issue takes into consideration the belief in different approaches that vocabulary teaching is a waste of time as few words are taken from teaching vocabulary explicitly and directly (Harris and Snow, 2004: 55). Ellis, R. (1994: 24) argued that much of the vocabulary learned is taken from oral input; therefore the best way to deal with vocabulary is not by teaching students in the classes but through exposure to the language in their surroundings. Milton (2009: 2) criticized these ideas and believed; "vocabulary uptake from truly incidental language exposure is usually negligible and that successfully learners acquire large volumes of vocabulary from the words explicitly taught in the classroom."

Fortunately," vocabulary has lately gained popularity in the general field of English language teaching and learning and become a guest of honour" (Coady and Huckin, 1997 cited in Erten & Tekin, 2008). Therefore, the learner's vocabulary size is now seen as an important measure of language proficiency, although it has been ignored in Second Language Acquisition (SLA) research for a long time. Recently, there has been more attention to studying vocabulary at an academic level and a few researchers have started to mention it as one of the most important parts of learning any language. Richards and Long (2007: 228 ) regarded vocabulary learning as "the core component of all the language skills", as well as Milton( 2008) who indicated that " vocabulary learning is an essential element of learning a foreign language."

2.2. How much vocabulary can be learnt at the end of an academic year in a natural environment by a learner?

One of the aims of this study is to find the number of words which the young language learner has learnt by the end of an academic year in a natural environment; hence it is very significant to find a response to these questions. Firstly, 'how many words are there in the target language which the learner is learning? ' Secondly, 'how many words does the native speaker know?' Thirdly, 'how many words are needed to do the things that a language user needs to do? ' (Schmitt & McCarthy, 1997: 5).

Each language consists of thousands of words. A word can be defined as "the smallest meaningful unit of language (Carter, 1992)". The lexical unit of any language is an abstract unit which consists of different orthographic, phonological, grammatical and semantic features of a word (Pavicic, 2008: 5). According to Nation (2001: 6), there are around 114,000 word families in Webster's Third International Dictionary. Learning these numbers of vocabulary is quite beyond the imagination, not only of second language learners, but also of most native speakers. Golden, Nation and Read (1990) estimate an adult college student knows between 3,000 words to 216,000 words, and Nation (2001: 9) suggested that educated native speakers of English know about 20,000 word families. According to Golden, Nation and Read (1990), "native speakers add an average of 1,000 word families each year of their early life", therefore the subject should learn around 1000 word families in the academic year. Our expectation is that the subject will learn the most frequently spoken words, of which there are around 2,000, after one academic year of immersion in English, as all of the words of a language are not equally used in the natural environment.

There are several other ways of deciding which words will be counted; 'token' which means the number of words in a text, 'type' which means the number of different words in a text, and ' lemmas' which consists of a head or base word and some of its inflections and reduced forms in the same part of speech (the affixes which are added just change the words grammatically) like, walk, walked, walking and walks. "However, if the affixes change the word class of a stem, the result is derivative" (Schmitt, 2000: 2) and these words are called 'word families'. These consist of the headword and its inflected forms which can change the part of speech, such as simulative, stimulation and stimulate which have different orthographic, written, shapes but are close in their meaning. It may be said that it is better to count L2 in Lemmas as most of the times; the plural of a word or past part of a verb may come with knowing the word and is part of the knowledge of that word, while it is more effectively to count L1 in word families. Milton (2009: 12) indicated that; "Native speakers can reasonably be expected to be familiar with almost all the ways of deriving and inflecting words."

There are two kinds of vocabulary knowledge which are listed; the learner's passive or receptive knowledge and the learner's active or productive knowledge (Milton, 2009: 117). Knowing students' receptive vocabulary size is very significant in some instances such as comprehension of a text or in listening tasks. On the other hand, productive vocabulary size, which is employed for speaking and writing, is important too. Most of the time, the passive knowledge of the learner is greater than his or her active knowledge since in some cases, such as pressure or embarrassment, remembering the cues of the words is difficult and the learner misses the words. Therefore, the Vocabulary Size Tests are usually developed to provide a reliable, precise and comprehensive measure of a learner's receptive vocabulary size (Schmitt, 2010: 293). The result of Webb's studies confirms and reports "receptive scores were higher than productive scores using both the sensitive and strict scoring methods" (2008: 85). Although it may be acceptable that the relationship between receptive and productive vocabulary size is likely to be different from group to group as (Laufer and Paribakht 1998 cited, Webb, 2008) argues that the gap between receptive and productive knowledge is smaller in EFL students than ESL students.

2.3. Which vocabularies are acquired more easily or with more difficulty?

There are different factors which affect learning vocabularies. Research shows that part of speech is one of the factors which has an influence on the word learning process. Horst and Meara (1999) suggested that nouns seem to be the easiest part of the language to retain while adverbs might be the most difficult part to retain. Verbs after nouns might be learnt easier than adjectives. In addition, the way in which the words are taught has a significant effect on remembering words. For instance, new words from songs are learnt more easily as the volume of repetition in songs makes most people happy, yet this type of repetition is impossible in class and is boring for the learners (Milton, 2008). The vocabulary which is taught through films, DVDs or comic books is learnt more effectively as the learners link the language used for those words with the images provided and this is advantageous in gaining vocabulary with ease.

The words from languages which are historically derived from the same source are more easily acquired in comparison with other languages. For instance Spanish, Italian, French, and Portuguese are cognate languages and there are a huge number of words which are cognate words and are similar in them. Whenever target languages are similar to the mother language, learning vocabularies are easier. The words like, police, park, computer, internet, television are common even in languages which are historically and typologically different from English such as Persian.

Some nouns like airplanes, bathroom, and library have physical attributes and can be seen and touched or can be presented and practiced using flash cards and activity sheets. These words are concrete words and are easier to remember and teach than abstract words like appropriate, mystery or principle which rely on intangible elements. Their meanings may not be very clear in learners' minds, therefore they are not easy to remember.

The other aspects which have negative effects on the learning burden of the words are odd appearance and non-English sound combination such as squelch, voluptuous or snivel. This makes them more difficult to teach (Rodgers, 1969). Another aspect which makes learning vocabulary more confusing is when there are words with similar form and pronunciation. Words like weather, wether, whether or cite, sight, site are more difficult to remember as their pronunciation is confusing. In addition to the above, longer words with 3 or 4 syllabus such as extemporization, discountenance, antagonistic might be more difficult to remember than short words.

2.4. Which sources does a learner use to learn another language?

Another part of this study is to discover the sources which vocabulary acquisition comes from. In order to find out about the ways in which a young learner can obtain the language, as this case study is of an 8-year old boy, we must pay close attention to the literature review of theories of young language learners of this age. According to Piaget's stages of development theory, children construct knowledge for themselves and actively participate in the learning process (Hohmann & Weikart, 1995). According to Pinter (2006: 14) children have common characteristics with their peers at similar ages. Piaget indicates those children between the ages 7 and 11 have the ability to think logically in different areas of knowledge such as Math, Science or map reading but they cannot generalize their understanding yet. Moreover, Vygotsky emphasizes the effects of the social environment and other people on the world of the child (Pinter, 2006:10). He investigated the role of culture and the social context in which the children grow up. "He believed that children learn within communities rather than strictly as individuals (Saville, 2006:112)." Another theory was mentioned by Bruner in 1976 which is about a special type of assistance and support needed by children which is provided in a systematic manner called 'Scaffolding'. He explored the ways that adults use language to describe the world for children and help them through an effective interaction. Therefore, in this case the natural environment can scaffold the subject into learning the new vocabularies and provide a real context for the words. Therefore, according to Piaget, this subject can think logically about the input received from the environment and can use it for his communication needs. His interaction with other people in the natural acquisition context can help him to obtain more words than learning in the classroom. The subject improves most of his vocabulary knowledge in English on the playground with his friends and during the school time hours from teachers and by way of interaction with other students or through other sources like the doctor's office or vocabulary uptake from cartoons on TV channels.

2.5. Which strategies does a learner use to learn the vocabularies of a second language?

Due to the fact that the vocabulary of any language includes a wide range of lexical forms, at first the learner probably supposes that the system of the second language is almost similar to his first language, until he discovers that it is not (Ringbom, 1987: 135). Sometimes learners try to find equivalences in L2, but they may not be successful all the time as some lexical units in L2 are not the accurate equivalents in L1. In some cases they cannot find any equivalents at all (Swan, 1997). The learner tries to find some strategies to apply in order to learn the second language. Different learners use various strategies such as meta cognitive strategy, where the learner is responsible for the structure of their own learning, cognitive strategy by using mnemonic strategy that helps them to remember a word, performance strategy which means practicing something for a public performance or affective strategy by improving self-confidence in different language tasks through self-talk (Cohen, 1998). It seems that effective learners use a wide variety of strategies than less effective learners (Naiman et al., 1978). Cohen (1998) questioned whether all of these strategies were helpful for all language learners or whether less effective language learners would not benefit from being taught the strategies. Do bad strategies have a negative impact on learning or performance?

Studying the strategies used by the learners is functional for language pedagogy as it can explain individual differences in second language learning (Ellis, 1994:558).

Pavicic (2008: 157) in Appendix B, used a vocabulary learning strategy questionnaire for elementary schools. He believed that children could learn a foreign language in different ways. This questionnaire is designed to find out how the learners learn other language vocabularies. Different strategies are mentioned in this questionnaire such as; writing down the words, repeating them loudly or mentally, picking up words from films and TV programmes, making a mental image of a word's written form to remember, imaging the context in which a word could be used in order to remember it, listening to songs to understand the words or picking up words from the internet or magazines in the foreign language.

2.6. Vocabulary gain from formal classes VS. a natural acquisition context

The relationship between the amount of taught and the amount of learned vocabulary is problematic. It seems that the expectation of the learner with regard to vocabulary uptake in classes is completely different to what happens in reality. Teachers introduce, explain and practice words during hundreds hours of tuition class to gain fluency in the foreign language. The conclusion is disappointing, as the learners who manage to obtain the majority of vocabulary taught in the class, actually achieve little through language classes. Milton & Meara suggest "The vocabulary uptake from normal classroom contact can be measured at about three or four lexical items per classroom hour" (1998: 74). Milton and Vassiliu (2000) argue that there is considerable individual variation; therefore good learners may learn more vocabulary in classes.

One type of approach that has been used to investigate lexical learning skills in children is the naturalistic study. "The benefit of using a naturalistic approach is that researchers are able to investigate learning over time, mimicking the natural learning situation faced by children" (Windfuhr et al.2002: 416). Lightbown and Spada (1993:69) argued that those who are exposed to the language in a natural environment and learn the language in this context effectively are more successful than other learners who learn the language in the classroom.

2.7. Who is better at language learning; younger or older?

Studies that have evaluated natural language acquisition have often compared younger and older children's performance directly. In adults, the rate of acquisition is affected by similarities between the first and second languages (Slavoff & Johnson, 1995: 3). Another study shows that adults and older children are initially fast at acquiring the grammar of a language but are finally surpassed by younger learners (Long, 1990).

Learners acquire a second language through a similar route but at a different rate. Ellis (1994) indicates that routines of acquisition like pattern development, fixed sequence of syntactic structure and morphological forms is similar in adults and children, but the speed is different. According to some studies of second language learning (Johnson & Newport: 1998:5), adults seem to begin moving toward second language proficiency more quickly in phonology and syntax; however this advantage appears to be short-lived (Johnson & Newport, 1989:5). "When duration and amount of exposure are kept constant, in the early stages of syntactic and morphological development older children are faster than younger children, but there are no advantages for oral fluency "(Munoz, 2006).

Children have advantages when acquiring phonology and are excellent in pronunciation in first and second language acquisition (Johnson & Newport, 1989). This might be used to support the existence of a sensitive period for acquiring language (Slavoff & Johnson, 1995: 3). In naturalistic environments; early learners are likely to achieve higher L2 proficiency than adult learners (Munoz, 2006). In fact, the advantages of language learning in adults remain only for an initial period of time, and after less than 12 months younger learners surpass adults (Snow & Hoefnagel-Höhlen, 1978). According to Krashen, ( Krashen et al., 1979) learners who start late, seem to have a short-term advantage over early learners with regard to rate of acquisition which is faster in late starters. However, early learners have a long-term advantage in naturalistic settings. Studies such as Johnson & Newport (1989:36) indicate that during childhood, first or second language learners have a unique capacity for language acquisition. Therefore, if learners want to learn any language fully, whether first or second language, it might be more effective to acquire it during child- hood. The undeniable fact is that young learners are superior in acquiring phonology and better at imitation. This can be seen in children from immigrant families who can speak the language of their new community with native -like fluency (Lightbown & Spada, 1993:43). Collective works about language learners in older learners and younger learners indicate that it might be acceptable that young children could be better second language learners than adults and reach higher levels of final proficiency in a second language.

2.8. Explicit or Implicit learning

The difference between explicit and implicit learning can be demonstrated by the following example. When children start acquiring their first language, they automatically acquire the structure of their first language through the natural, meaningful communication which happens around them. If they are asked to explain their knowledge of the language, they cannot. For instance, if you ask a child about the structure and the form of a plural in their language, they probably do not know. However, if you ask them: " If you have one toy and your friend gives you another toy, how many toys have you got?" they should be able to reply, "Two toys", since they hear and use it during their everyday use of their language. This is the meaning of implicit learning. L1 grammar is acquired from usage and exposure, with sufficient input rather than explicit rules. Despite this acquisition, second language in adults is explicit as they require additional resources of explicit learning (Ellis, 2006). The distinction between implicit acquisition and explicit learning was defined by Krashen (1982). He indicated that adult second language learners who are learning language through methods like the Grammar Translation Method, can explain and know the structure of the language more effectively than native speakers, as they are learning the language explicitly. "Explicit learning is input processing with the conscious intention to find out whether the input information contains regularities and, if so, to work out the concepts and rules with which these regularities can be captured. Implicit learning is input processing without such an intention, taking place unconsciously" (Hulstijn, 2005: 131).

Researchers have been interested in the role of explicit information in SLA for the last 30 years, and they claim that the performance of the learners who received explicit information is better because "it promotes noticing of forms in the input, and learners are thus better able to process these forms than if they are left to their own devices" (Fernandez, 2008: 278). There are rational reasons to pay attention to explicit and implicit learning in second language acquisition research, since explicit knowledge does not become implicit knowledge (Paradis, 1994) . In all the studies about explicit and implicit knowledge "explicit knowledge was operationalized as the learner's explanation of specific linguistic feature, whereas implicit knowledge was determined by examining the learner's use of these features in oral or written language" ( Ellis, 2005:145).

As long as linguists concentrate on universal success in first language acquisition and difficulties and differential success in the case of the second language, which is more of a conscious operation, it is logical to place matters of implicit and explicit learning in second language acquisition research. Not only are linguists interested in this issue, but also curriculum planners, material designers, teachers, and learners, all of whom would benefit from knowing more about the advantages and disadvantages of implicit or explicit learning. It is admirable for teachers to notice the individual differences in implicit and explicit learning according to their students' aptitude, intelligence and working memory. Both of these factors have a lot of influence on implicit learning which is based on incidental learning (Hulstijn, 2005). Fluency is another trait which must be developed independently. In fact, exposures to the L2 and cognitive factors have an effect on fluency development (Derwing et al., 2009).

To sum up, it seems that planned incidental learning is more effective than learning without any awareness. Nagy, Herman & Anderson (1985) believe at least 2,250 new words are learnt from contexts in planned incidental learning each year. Their study is about language learning without intention and awareness of what has been learned in a natural environment, and aims to investigate how successful the learner will be in acquiring the language implicitly. It is very significant to find the relationship between implicit learning and other cognitive factors which a young learner employs to communicate successfully in an environment. According to Krashen (1985) acquisition and learning are different. When a young language learner acquires language in a natural environment; it is assumed that the learner learns the language while engaging in communication.

The assessor has to clarify whether the vocabulary uptake in the participant is implicit or explicit. It is assumed that learning the first language is wholly implicit; however it seems the participant in this study is learning new vocabulary explicitly as he can remember the sources and the places where he has heard them first. It shows that vocabulary uptake can be explicit, although children learn grammar implicitly in the environment. Some studies such as Williams (2005) indicate that the true meaning of a word could be achieved implicitly or explicitly. Williams argues that when the learner encounters a new word for the first time, he may guess the meaning or set a rough meaning with the help of a teacher or dictionary. However, when he encounters the word for the second time he might explicitly recall his preceding hypothesis meaning.

2.9. Bilingual users of English

There are lots of children who acquire their parents' native language and who later learn another language. Numerous children acquire more than one language at the same time during their childhood because they grow up in families who are bilingual, or they grow up in a bilingual society.

Different studies give different definitions for English bilingual children. McKay indicates that bilingual users are the individuals who use English as a second language (2002). Jenkins argues that bilingual users of English are the persons who use English for more limited and formal purposes. She indicates that native speakers of English who can speak other languages are not included in this group as they use English for all of their needs (2000). The children who learn two languages before the age of three in a natural environment acquire two language systems as a single system and then separate them ( Volterra& Taeschner, 1978). Therefore, people who use one language for telling stories or for their personal needs and use another language for their communication needs are called bilingual. In addition, those who use one language at home and one language at school or on the street, or those who speak one language to their mother and another one to their father are called bilingual ( Cohen, 1999: 157). For instance, a girl who has an English mother who speaks English to her all the time and a French father who uses French almost all of the time with her is definitely bilingual. Some bilingual people are passive bilingual, as after they start going to school and find friends, they use one of the languages more. Therefore, they have the ability to understand another language but they are not able to speak or use that language freely or easily.

Many families prefer to have bilingual children as they believe "bilingualism brings about the advantages to children that have an effect on their future development" ( Allman, 2005:58).

In this research, I have endeavoured to do more research about young, bilingual language learners. I have tested two bilingual children whose native languages are Iranian and French and I will compare their vocabulary size with a monolingual child. I have studied the vocabulary size of a 7-year old boy whose parents are from Iran. However, he has been brought up in the UK and goes to a British school. I have also investigated the vocabulary size of an 8-year old boy whose parents are French but who has been going to British school for 2 years and has had ample opportunity to interact with a wide group of English speakers at school and in the playground as there are no other French people in his residence.

Different studies show that the vocabulary size of bilinguals is lower than monolinguals and that they perform at lower levels (Ben Zeev, 1977b; Doyle, Champagne, & Segalowitz, 1978 cited in Allman, 2005:58). In addition, different grammar tasks matched by the bilinguals took longer than the performance of monolingual children (Gathercole,2002b). According to (Allman, 2005:67), the reason for low demonstration of bilingual speakers in comparison with monolingual speakers in English is not obvious. However, Ben Zeev (1997b) argues that it is related to the frequency of the words which bilingual speakers are exposed to in each of the languages.

2.10. Review of the related studies

Language can be used for vocabulary uptake. Different studies show various estimations of words obtained per day by learners. Some of them are over estimated such as Diller (1978) who claims that secondary school children can learn 20,000 words a year (around 60 words a day) and others are under estimated, such as Diack (1975) who changed these figures to three to five words per day. There is a huge difference between vocabulary uptake in a class and vocabulary uptake in naturalistic environment. Milton& Meara (1995:31) claims, "subjects learned English as a foreign language five times faster than classes at home, around 2500 words per year". As Cameron (2001: 75) indicates,' A realistic target for children learning a foreign language might be around 500 words a year.' This number is completely under estimated in comparison with vocabulary uptake which is asserted by other studies. Milton and Meara (1998:74) assert that vocabulary uptake from normal class contact can be calculated at around three of four words per classroom hour. This seems like an underestimation as Vassiliu (2001) shows that a good learner can learn up to 1000 words per year.

In India and Indonesia, after 5 years of regular lesson, children reach 1000 or 2000 words in English (Nation, 1990). Another study done by Staehr ( 2008: 150) argues that in spite of a minimum of 570 hours of instruction in language classes during seven years, the majority of the learners in these classes had not acquired the most frequent 2000 word families in English. This study shows that the amount of vocabulary gained through language learning classes during 7 years is much less than stated in Nagy and Anderson (1984) who suggest 3000 new words are learnt by children each year.

Collective works elaborate on young language learners who arrive at school knowing almost no English word at all. A study by Cummins (1981 cited Golden et. 1990: 1) analysed "the result of vocabulary tests of 1210 foreign-born English Second Language students in the Toronto school system in relation to their age on arrival and length of residence in Canada". The result of this study showed that the child who had immigrated at the age of six or later took five to seven years to achieve estimated scores which were the same as those of native-born students at their grade level.

There are few, if any, empirical studies to date to show the vocabulary size of a young language learner during one year in a natural environment. Therefore, the present study is an attempt to investigate the role of the natural environment in learning a second language.

Chapter 3


3.1. Main Research Questions

The current study was guided by three main research questions and this chapter is going to deal with the aims and expectations of this research. The research questions of this study are:

1: How much vocabulary has a young learner learned by the end of an academic year?

The assessor would like to know how many words can be learned by a learner during an academic year precisely. She will take different tests monthly to achieve her target.

2: Which sources do these words come from? Are all the words learned during school hours or can the learner get his vocabulary from other sources too?

The assessor is looking for different sources which the participant uses to learn new words. She believes the participant receives most of his English exposure through immersion in school classes, on the playground with his friends and during school time hours from the teachers and interaction with other students. She believes that he improves his vocabulary knowledge though other sources too, like the doctor's office, TV programmes or cartoons and the comic books that the assessor reads for him at night.

3: Which strategies does the learner use to learn and remember new vocabulary and sentences faster?

As a young learner, the assessor finds that the participant comes up with language quickly and without many of the problems which adults encounter. Therefore, the assessor is looking for the strategies which the participant uses and compares them with previous research suggestions.

3.2. Secondary Research Questions

In summary, the current study is an investigation of vocabulary gain through a naturalistic environment and the factors which help a young language learner to become a successful bilingual speaker with a native-like accent during a short period of time (an academic year). Additionally, the assessor will analyze the different factors which contribute to vocabulary acquisition, in other words the assessor will attempt to find out:

How important is the frequency and repetition of a word in learning that word?

According to the participants' statement, it seems that the words which are repeated most in the classroom and in the playground are very likely to be learned.

What is the effect of word difficulty factors such as part of speech, length and cognateness in learning a word?

The assessor presumes that some kinds of words, which are included in the X-Lex Test, will never be learnt by the participant as some of them are very unusual or they are not frequent.

What is the relationship between the first and second language in learning a word?

As Persian, which is the first language of the learner, is historically and typologically different from English, the assessor believes that it is likely to have an effect on learning English as a second language in comparison with the other Romance languages like: Spanish, French, Italian or Romanian, which are very close to English.

How many words does an Iranian young learner who was born and grows up in the UK know?

The assessor decides to take tests from a friends' son who is 8 years old and whose parents are originally from Iran. His father and his mother are Iranian and grew up in Iran but they migrated to the UK 10 years ago and this boy, who is called Parsa, was born in the UK and has been in the school in the UK for five years and is in year three now. He started school in the Nursery year which is followed by reception year and year one and two in the UK education system. While his parents speak Persian at home, he has been immersed in a natural English environment for five years at school. Therefore, he has grown up in an English-speaking environment and English is spoken by him most of the time, while his parents try to speak Persian to him. It has been recommended that they speak Persian to him as they do not want him to forget his native language.

3.3. Expectations

It is predicted that the subject should learn around 1000 word families in the academic year. Perhaps the assessors' expectations are set too high? However they are based on related studies such as Golden, Nation and Read (1990), which believe that native speakers will add roughly 1000 word families a year to their vocabulary size. Our expectation from this research is that after one academic year a learner can learn around the first two thousands most frequent word in a natural environment where he is immersed in English.

The assessor believes that as the participant spends most of his time at school or on the playground, the greatest source for improvement of his second language will be the playground with his friends, during school time hours from his teachers, and interaction with other students as the participant continues to speak Persian, his native language, at home.

In some cases, it has been seen that the participant improves his vocabulary knowledge though other sources too, like the doctor's office, TV programmes or cartoons. The participant asks the meaning of some words while watching cartoons or films and the assessor finds that he uses them at another time but in the same situation and in the correct place.

One of the most important questions in this research is which strategies learners use to understand the unknown words they encounter while reading. According to Pavicic (2008: 76)," there is a growing interest in research on vocabulary learning strategies." Ellis (1995) believes that vocabulary strategic instruction for learners in vocabulary learning is likely to be beneficial, while Graves suggests that, because students actually do most of their learning of new words independently, it makes sense to encourage them "to adopt personal plans to expand their vocabularies over time" (1987: 177).

The participant is too young to use the mnemonic techniques which high-school students use to acquire a foreign language. Levin et al. (1979: 587) reported that about half of the high-school Spanish students in their control group used "strategies involving cognates, phoneme correspondences, and some other mnemonic tricks".

The assessor asks the participant about the strategies which he uses to learn new vocabulary. The participant replies that he tries to remember the same situation in one conversation and use it in another situation. In fact, the assessor finds that he copies a group of words in a situation and uses them in another one. This suggests that he can use more frequent lexical items which are more useful and easier to remember when the opportunity arises throughout his communications.

The participant says that whenever he asks about the meaning of a word and his teacher gives him the synonym or definition of that word, if it is easier, he will try to remember that word and use it in the same situation. He pays little attention to the physical or grammatical features of words and just pays attention to finding a link between new words and the words which he already knows and to putting them in order to make a new sentence.

The assessor finds out that the strategies used by learners to learn some words are subsequently reported with an emphasis on inference too, as the participant sometimes finds out the meaning of some words indirectly from what he already knows as the cognate words. Some of the words such as system, park, lobby, press, normal, style, chart, pump, risk, apartment, final, sauce, have the same meaning in his native language too. To sum up, it could also be noted that the participant often uses multiple sources and strategies while learning a word.

Chapter 4


4.1. Education and the age at which young learners start school in Iran

Iran is located in the Middle East and has population of around 70,000,000. It is 1,648,000 sq. km in size and Persian is the most widely spoken language in this country. Children start going to primary school, which is called Dabestan, at the age of 6 for a period of 6 years. According to the law, attendance at primary school is compulsory for all children. Children are usually in classes with one teacher who is responsible for all of the course work. Education is free of charge but there are private schools which are allowed to charge fees for tuition. English as a foreign language is taught from the age of 12, and the students start Arabic at the same time. They try to learn Arabic as it is the language in which their holy book, the Quran, is written and they pray in Arabic as well. The English books which are designed for the children in Iran are not interesting at all and the teachers in different schools use various approaches to teach English to the students. They often have to use extra English books which are more suitable and which provide the students with more meaningful tasks in real communicative conditions. Teachers know that if they want to achieve the objectives of the lesson then the tasks in the course books should be fitting to the students individual needs and interests. However, the English books are not of good quality and the students argue that they can learn English on the internet or by watching films more effectively than through their school books. Since the children learn English passively through other sources in Iran, it could be said that there are not enough facilities to learn language there.

4.2. Summary of the experiment

The subject is tested using two types of tests. There are no pre-tests. Tests are given to the participant to measure his vocabulary size growth during an academic year. He will be given monthly tests on the words he knows, having been immersed in the natural environment for that month. The aim of this study is to collect information to evaluate his vocabulary increase from month to month. He will be given the same tests each month to estimate the breadth of his vocabulary. The results of the tests aim to measure his progress in vocabulary uptake after one academic year in the natural environment. During these tests, his assessor asks him where and when he has heard a particular word and asks him to give an example in a sentence. In order to add more qualitative data analysis, the assessor records all of the information in a notebook for future use.

4.3. The participant

The participant is an 8-year old boy from Iran and his name is Amir. His first language is Persian, which is historically and typologically different from English. The subject had not been immersed in English before arriving in the UK at all. The subject arrived in the UK at the end of September 2011 and began immersion into English in October of the same year. When he entered school, he did not have any interest in learning English in general. At the time of his entrance to school, he had only spent a very short time learning English at home with his mother and in some classes in English institutes. However, at the start time of this study, had no knowledge of English other than a couple of basic greeting words. Since no pre-test was given to him, his vocabulary knowledge before starting the experiment is not obvious and it is unknown how much vocabulary was obtained through previous English classes which he attended in Iran. However, it is very likely that, as he never used English during the years he lived in Iran, the vocabulary he had been taught has been forgotten.

The tests are given monthly, however the time of the tests are chosen by the participant. In fact when the assessor asked him, "would you like to take a test today or not?", if he was not ready, the assessor took the test in better conditions. The assessor believes that the results of the tests are unreliable unless the participant is ready and that if the participant is not motivated it may be difficult to acquire accurate results.

4.4. Materials

There are different kinds of Vocabulary Size Tests which are designed for different ages. The participant's vocabulary size in English was evaluated using two kinds of tests. The tests which were used for this young language learner were: firstly; three English versions of tests by Meara and Milton (2003) (see Appendices 1,2,3: 62-64 ). The Meara and Milton test is a Vocabulary Breadth Test and is called the X-Lex Vocabulary Test. Three separate versions of the test were used in order to gauge whether the tests were consistent or not. These tests included 100 real English words, plus 20 words which were invented but which looked like real words. The first 20 random words, which were placed in the first column, were related to the 1,000 most frequently-used words in English. The second column included words from the second thousand most frequently-used words, and the other three columns contained selected words from the third, fourth and fifth thousand most frequently-used words in English. The participant was awarded 50 points for each real word which was answered correctly. However the participant lost 250 points for each tick for an invented word in the last column. This negative score was chosen for each incorrect answer in order to adjust the score and prevent answers which were given by chance and could have caused overestimation of the score for the participant.

As the participant in this test is a young language learner who has not yet mastered reading, the assessor read the words in each column and asked him to say whether he knew the words and, if so, to give a synonym of that word in Persian. The date of each test was noted on the paper. Professor James Milton (Swansea University) advised the assessor to disregard the words in the last column and not to ask the participant these words. Therefore, the assessor adds up the number of correct answers from100 words and then multiplies the correct answer by 50 to estimate the vocabulary size of the participant.

Secondly; as our case study is 8 years old and started learning English 5 months ago, having completed 2 tests the assessor found that some of the words presented in columns 4 or 5 of the English X-Lex test were really difficult for the participant. As a result, the assessor planned to design another test for a young language learner. Professor James Milton introduced software called MacArthur Communicative Development Inventories, where in English Lexical Norms; the word frequency program was presented (Dale& Fenson, 1996). In Lexical development Norms for English, there is the possibility to display all words alphabetically, in word groups, or according to their frequency. If the user selects order by frequency, then he can select a month by which to arrange the test.

According to the table of proportion of children reported understanding or producing words, the assessor designed another Vocabulary Size Test called the Lex 2005 Database. The words in this test are selected according to comprehension percentages in M16. Additionally, it is divided into 5 columns, with different percentages from 5-20% to 80-90% (see Appendix 4: 65). The words are chosen from various word groups such as animals, food and drink, toys, body parts and clothes. The words in this test are separated into 20 words per. column, with 100 words in total.

4.5. Procedure

The subject was tested between February and July. He was tested monthly at home by his assessor, who is his mother, and the same tests were given to the participant on each occasion. Firstly, the assessor reads each word and asks the subject to give the meaning of that word. As the subject is a young language learner, the assessor accepts the provision of synonyms for these words and if the participant gives the meaning of related words within the word family, the assessor counts them as a correct answer. For instance, for the word of inform, the participant gives the meaning of the information or when faced with origin, the participant gives the meaning of original.

During the test, the assessor asks about the source from which the words have been learned. In the first tests, the participant did not give his assessor any idea about his learning sources and just gave the meanings of some words. Sometimes when he feels that he has heard the word somewhere, he asks the assessor to give an example of a sentence in which the word is used. After hearing the example he can give the meaning of the words easily. On occasion he insists on his assessor giving him the meaning of some words that he does not know. However the assessor does not want to tell him and sometimes has to tell him that she does not know the words herself. The participant was told that the number of correct answers is not important and it is just research to measure the exact and correct answers. However, as a young child, he looks at the number of correct answers as a game and he feels upset when he sees that the assessor does not tick a word. The number of correct answers is calculated after the participant has finished each test and is recorded on the test with the date.

After three months, in May, the assessor found that the subject started to bring the vocabulary into productive use. When she reads each word and asks the participant to give her the meaning of it, the participant uses the word in a sentence. The sentences are completely correct in syntax and semantics. It shows that the participant knows the meaning of the words in longer structures or as formulaic expressions (Wray, 2000).

The participant listens to each word and is allowed as much time as necessary to give the meaning or synonym of the word. To avoid exhaustion, or whenever the assessor feels that the participant is tired or distracted, she offers the participant the opportunity to take as many breaks as he wishes.

4.6. Control participants

To control the relationship between the first and second languages in learning vocabulary, one native and two bilingual boys are evaluated on the same versions of X-Lex tests. One of them is Parsa, who is an 8-year old boy at the time of testing. He was born in the UK to Iranian parents and has been in British school for 5 years. The results of his test are shown in Table 2. He was selected as the control participant as his native language is Persian.

The other control participant is a boy from Canada whose first language is French. His name is Thersandre and he is an 8-year old boy and is in the same class in school as the participant. He arrived in the UK last year and began immersion into English one year before the participant. As he speaks French at home, he receives most of his English exposure through immersion during school hours and on the playground, in the same conditions as the participant. He was chosen for this test as his native language is French which is a Romance language and similar to English, and the study offers a view into the relationship between the first and second languages when learning a word.

The other boy is Morgan, who is 9 years old and is a native English boy. He is in year 4 at school and is one year older than the participant. He goes to Welsh school, however his main language is English and he speaks English at home. According to Golden, Nation and Read (1990: 341) "the second language learners did not bridge the gap between their vocabulary size and that of the native speakers that existed when they entered the school system". This is the rationale behind choosing him as a control participant; to find out about the size and nature of the gap between a native and a second language learner. In addition to Golden, Nation and Read (1990), Cenoz and Genesee indicated that "bilinguals, in and outside the school, are usually evaluated against monolingual competence in their non-native languages" (1998:18). Therefore the assessor believes that it can be interesting to have a British student, who is of a similar age, taking the same tests and seeing how much vocabulary he already has.

Chapter 5


In this chapter, every effort has been made to analysis the data achieved from the two tests which have been carried out by the assessor.

5.1. Basic analysis of X-Lex tests

The basic results of this study are reported in Table 1 below. The table shows the number of words that the participant knows multiplied by a score of 50 which is awarded for each real word. These are the words from three versions of X-Lex tests whose meaning is known by the participant. The results of the X-Lex tests after 6 months show that the test results are very consistent. They show that around 500 lemmatised words per. month are learnt by the learner. The table shows that Amir has no difficulty in acquiring the first 2000 most frequently-used words during an academic year. He is able to acquire them as long as he is immersed in English in a natural environment.

Table 1. Number of Amir's correct responses at three versions of X-Lex test during 6 months








Version 1







Version 2







Version 3














Chart 1: the chart below gives the information about the mean numbers of known words during one academic year.

Chart 2: the chart below gives the information about the results of known words during one academic year in different versions of X-Lex tests

To sum up, according to the above charts, the participant acquires around 500 lemmatised words each month. The trend is enormously fast at first, as at the end of the study in May he has got 2000 words which are very close to the native speakers at the same age. The trend tails off in June and July and is near 2500. The chart illustrates by the end of the academic year of 8 and 9 months, the participant nearly knows half of the words in the test which are 5000. He knows most of the most frequency words and this is enough to be very fluent in daily speech.

5.1.1. Basic analysis of Parsa, Morgan and Thersandre's results

The number of words which Parsa knows in the three versions of X-Lex tests is represented in Table 2 and is very consistent and very close to Morgan, who is a native speaker. The number of words which Parsa knows shows that the length of stay in a natural environment has an effect on vocabulary uptake and that, as a young language learner stays in the natural environment more, they can learn more words. Thersandre, who is the other bilingual participant in this study, knows the least amount of words in this group. The reason for this may be because the frequency of the words which bilingual speakers are exposed to is lower than monolingual speakers.

Table 2. Number of Parsa's and Thersandre's correct responses in three versions of X-Lex test