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Words in school: A study of vocabulary learning support in the Swedish EFL classroom
Luleå University of Technology, Department of Health, Learning and Technology, Education, Language, and Teaching.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-7098-213x
2023 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Vocabulary is a central but difficult aspect of learning English. EFL students face a considerable challenge in acquiring a vocabulary sufficient for communication, which means knowing many words and having a deep and varied knowledge of them. Researchers therefore argue that students need support to succeed in this endeavor, especially in an instructional context, where time and language exposure are limited. Although vocabulary research has provided many insights as concerns the nature of vocabulary learning, little is known about vocabulary learning in school. This thesis investigates vocabulary learning support in the Swedish secondary school EFL classroom in four empirical studies. The overall purpose of the studies was to illuminate the vocabulary component in areas that structure and organize the EFL classroom. It comprises two qualitative interview studies with teachers (n = 14) and materials developers (n = 8) respectively, and two content analyses of teaching materials focusing on the target words and learning conditions provided in the reading texts and the accompanying vocabulary exercises. 

The results illuminate how vocabulary is positioned and how the vocabulary component is treated in the classroom. The findings from the interview studies show that although the teachers and the materials developers stated that vocabulary is important, they attested to not perceiving vocabulary as a prominent aspect of the EFL classroom. This was found to be a result of their understanding of vocabulary development as an incidental process. Much in the same vein, the interviewees expressed that they do not prioritize working explicitly with vocabulary in class and rely on words to be acquired when students engage in other activities. The results also show that the vocabulary component in the classroom is mainly unplanned, both in regard to both target words and vocabulary learning activities. Neither the teachers nor the materials developers reported any systematic approaches to planning vocabulary instruction. Similarly, the teaching material analyses reveal that the vocabulary component is not structured in a way that is in accordance with research-based suggestions. The thesis indicates that the Swedish EFL classroom is unlikely to provide sufficient vocabulary learning support, which, in turn, can have considerable implications for students’ learning in school. The findings are discussed in relation to central contextual factors such as communicative language teaching, the Swedish curriculum and extramural English. 

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Luleå: Luleå tekniska universitet, 2023.
Series
Doctoral thesis / Luleå University of Technology 1 jan 1997 → …, ISSN 1402-1544
Keywords [en]
English as a foreign language, vocabulary learning, teacher cognition, materials development, teaching materials
National Category
Didactics
Research subject
English and Education
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:ltu:diva-101347ISBN: 978-91-8048-371-1 (print)ISBN: 978-91-8048-372-8 (electronic)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:ltu-101347DiVA, id: diva2:1797363
Public defence
2023-12-08, A109, Luleå tekniska universitet, Luleå, 13:00 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2023-09-15 Created: 2023-09-14 Last updated: 2023-11-17Bibliographically approved
List of papers
1. Do textbooks support incidental vocabulary learning? – a corpus-based study of Swedish intermediate EFL materials
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Do textbooks support incidental vocabulary learning? – a corpus-based study of Swedish intermediate EFL materials
2022 (English)In: Education Inquiry, E-ISSN 2000-4508Article in journal (Refereed) Epub ahead of print
Abstract [en]

Learning vocabulary is a central but yet complex aspect of learning a language. Hence, researchers stress the importance of facilitating vocabulary development via a structured approach to target words and recycling. While teaching materials have the potential to provide this structure to all students in a classroom, few studies have investigated the vocabulary component of textbooks and the learning opportunities they provide. In the present study, the texts in five series of EFL materials aimed at intermediate learners in Swedish secondary school (years 7–9) were investigated, using corpus-based methods. The results indicate that the texts encompass a suitable amount of unknown vocabulary for vocabulary learning from reading and provide exposure to mid-frequency vocabulary. However, it was also found that these items are not recycled sufficiently. Rather, the materials mainly recycle lexical items that students are likely to know already. It is therefore concluded that although the materials offer input suitable for the target students, they are not structured in a way that supports vocabulary development.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Taylor & Francis, 2022
Keywords
Vocabulary development, teaching materials, EFL, recycling, mid-frequency vocabulary
National Category
Specific Languages Learning
Research subject
English and Education
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:ltu:diva-95032 (URN)10.1080/20004508.2022.2163050 (DOI)000905317500001 ()2-s2.0-85145475434 (Scopus ID)
Available from: 2022-12-28 Created: 2022-12-28 Last updated: 2023-09-14
2. “The text comes first” – Principles guiding EFL materials developers’ vocabulary content decisions
Open this publication in new window or tab >>“The text comes first” – Principles guiding EFL materials developers’ vocabulary content decisions
2023 (English)In: Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, ISSN 0031-3831, E-ISSN 1470-1170, Vol. 67, no 1, p. 154-168Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

One core aspect of learning a language is developing vocabulary, an endeavor that requires a structured and principled focus in the classroom. As the EFL textbook has a central position in the language learning classroom, it should have an important role to play in structuring vocabulary development. Yet, what guides decisions concerning the vocabulary content in textbooks has not been thoroughly studied. This paper presents an interview study with eight Swedish materials developers of frequently used EFL teaching materials aimed at school years 7–9. The results show that the materials developers focus primarily on providing engaging texts and base the vocabulary content on end users’ opinions and their own intuition. The study also indicates that word lists are construed as a tool primarily for reading comprehension rather than for vocabulary learning. The study concludes that vocabulary research findings appear to have a limited impact on decisions about vocabulary content.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Taylor & Francis, 2023
Keywords
English as a foreign language, materials development, textbooks, vocabulary development, vocabulary instruction
National Category
Didactics
Research subject
English and Education
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:ltu:diva-87846 (URN)10.1080/00313831.2021.1990122 (DOI)000715588900001 ()2-s2.0-85118656014 (Scopus ID)
Note

Validerad;2023;Nivå 2;2023-01-18 (johcin)

Available from: 2021-11-09 Created: 2021-11-09 Last updated: 2023-09-14Bibliographically approved
3. “Words are picked up along the way”: Swedish EFL teachers’ conceptualizations of vocabulary knowledge and learning
Open this publication in new window or tab >>“Words are picked up along the way”: Swedish EFL teachers’ conceptualizations of vocabulary knowledge and learning
2022 (English)In: Language Awareness, ISSN 0965-8416, E-ISSN 1747-7565, Vol. 31, no 4, p. 393-409Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Vocabulary is a core feature of language proficiency, requiring explicit attention in the language classroom. As teachers’ conceptualizations influence their teaching, their understanding of vocabulary deserves closer attention. Yet, few teacher cognition studies focus on vocabulary, and even fewer on non-native teachers’ conceptualizations of vocabulary. This paper presents an interview study with Swedish EFL teachers at secondary school level. Fourteen teachers were interviewed about their beliefs and practices in relation to vocabulary development in the classroom. The study shows that despite a general understanding of the importance of vocabulary in language learning among the teachers, vocabulary was not seen as a learning objective in its own right. Closely connected to this understanding, the teachers showed a great reliance on incidental vocabulary learning, where words were understood as “picked up along the way” while doing other things, such as reading and playing games. It was also found that although the teachers showed an awareness of the many aspects involved in word knowledge, they mentioned few methods to work with them. The study suggests a need for a more explicit focus on vocabulary instruction in the language learning classroom.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Taylor & Francis, 2022
Keywords
English as a foreign language, teacher cognition, vocabulary development, vocabulary learning, vocabulary teaching
National Category
Didactics
Research subject
English and Education
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:ltu:diva-83265 (URN)10.1080/09658416.2021.1893326 (DOI)000629217900001 ()2-s2.0-85102710350 (Scopus ID)
Note

Validerad;2022;Nivå 2;2022-12-02 (joosat);

Licens full text: This is an Open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons attribution-nonCommercial-noDerivatives License (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) 

Available from: 2021-03-15 Created: 2021-03-15 Last updated: 2023-09-14Bibliographically approved
4. ‘Solve the crossword’: an analysis of task design in EFL materials from a vocabulary perspective
Open this publication in new window or tab >>‘Solve the crossword’: an analysis of task design in EFL materials from a vocabulary perspective
2023 (English)In: Language learning journal, ISSN 0957-1736, E-ISSN 1753-2167Article in journal (Refereed) Epub ahead of print
Abstract [en]

Learning vocabulary is a central and time-consuming endeavour for a language learner and it has thus been suggested that the foreign language classroom has to supply explicit support for students’ vocabulary development. A major source of explicit word focus is vocabulary exercises in teaching materials and students’ learning can be facilitated if they are designed in a way that is conducive to learning. Few studies have so far sought to establish what learning opportunities tasks in materials provide. The present study reports an analysis of the vocabulary exercises in three series of Swedish intermediate EFL materials, focusing on target vocabulary and learning conditions. The target vocabulary was analysed in terms of frequency distribution in general English and the learning conditions provided were studied using a modified version of the Involvement Load Hypothesis. The results indicate that learning is facilitated through extensive retrieval opportunities in the material. However, it was also found that the exercises seldom require students to use the target vocabulary and that it comprises primarily high-frequency words, that is, words that the learners are likely to already know. It is therefore concluded that a more systematic approach to vocabulary has to be adopted by materials developers to ensure that word-focused tasks contribute significantly to students’ learning.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Taylor & Francis, 2023
Keywords
EFL, vocabulary, teaching materials, ILH, frequency, tasks
National Category
Didactics
Research subject
English and Education
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:ltu:diva-96330 (URN)10.1080/09571736.2023.2193833 (DOI)2-s2.0-85151668218 (Scopus ID)
Available from: 2023-04-06 Created: 2023-04-06 Last updated: 2023-10-11

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