By Jeffery Woods,2014-04-17 08:36
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    There is a close connection between vocabulary size, coverage of the vocabulary in a text, and the ease a learner will have in coping with the language of the text. The most frequent 2000 word families of English provide 80% to 95% coverage of a text depending on what kind of text it is. The 570 word families of the Academic Word List can provide an additional 4% coverage of

    newspapers and 8.5% to 10% coverage of academic text. Building on the most frequent 2000 rdwords of English, the 3 1000 most frequent words can provide around 4.3% coverage, with the coverage of each successive 1000 words continuing to drop.

    The boundary between high frequency words and low frequency words is best made after the 2000 word level, although learners with academic purposes should also include the Academic

    Word List in their high frequency words. The high frequency words deserve repeated attention from the teacher, the learners and the course book. The low frequency words do not deserve teaching time although learners should continue learning them after they have control of the high frequency words. The teacher’s focus with the low frequency words should be to provide training in the strategies for coping with and learning these words. These strategies include guessing from context, learning from word cards, using word parts, and dictionary use.

    Because of the different treatments that teachers should give to high and low frequency words, it is thus very important to know where learners are at in their vocabulary learning.

The goal of this workshop is to introduce participants to one way of finding this out the

    Vocabulary Levels Test. By the end of this workshop participants should understand why it is

    important to know learners’ present level of vocabulary knowledge, understand the design of the Vocabulary Levels Test and how to administer and score it, understand how to interpret the results, and be able to begin to plan a program based on the results of the test

Understanding the Vocabulary Levels Test

Task 1: Understanding the Vocabulary Levels Test

    Before reading this section look at the Vocabulary Levels Test, noting how many sections it has, how many words are tested in each section, and how to answer the test.

    What would be the quickest way of marking the test?

    If the test made use of the learners’ first language, what part of each block of items would be written in the learners’ first language?

    To understand how the Vocabulary Levels Test (VLT) was made, it is necessary to imagine a frequency list of the word families of English ranked from the most frequent word, the, to the

    least frequent words. This list is then divided up into levels of 1000 words. So the first level contains the 1000 most frequent word families, the second level contains the second most frequent 1000 word families and so on.


     stndrdththththththth1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 1000 1000 1000 1000 1000 1000 1000 1000 1000 1000 B B

     Academic Word List (570 word families)

B= these levels are available in bilingual versions.

    There are two versions of the monolingual VLT. Each one was made in the following way.

     ndrd1 Five levels were chosen for testing the 2 1000 word level, the 3 1000 word level, the ththst5 1000 word level, the academic word level, and the 10 1000 word level. The 1 1000

    word level was not chosen because it was not possible to provide the meanings of these

    words using more frequent words. However, the 1000 and 2000 levels are now available

    in bilingual versions for the following languages Thai, Vietnamese, Mandarin

    (simplified and traditional), Korean, Japanese, Indonesian and Tongan. There are no

    reliability statistics available for these bilingual versions. The academic word level is

    based on the Academic Word List. In the diagram above the levels which are filled in are

    the ones that were chosen for testing in the monolingual version.

    2 A representative sample of 60 words was taken from each of the five levels. Because the

    words were a representative sample, a learner’s score at each level represents the

    proportion of all the words known at that level. So, if a learner scores 15 out of 30 on the nd2 1000 level, that means that 50% or 500 out of 1000 words are known at that level.

     The 60 words at each level were grouped into blocks of six words according to part of 3


     The words in each block were then checked to make sure that they were not similar in 4

    form or related in meaning. This was done so that the distractors in each block were not

    distracting. That is, if the learners had partial knowledge of a word, they should be able to

    choose the correct answer. The aim of the VLT is to get an accurate as possible record of

    what the learners know even of the words that they have not yet fully learned. 5 Three words in each block of six were randomly chosen as the words to be tested. The

    other three in the block were the distractors.

    6 Definitions were made for the target words using words from the most frequent 1000 ndstndwords of English for the 2 1000 words, and words from the 1 1000 and 2 1000 words

    for all the remaining levels. The definitions thus made use of words that were more

    frequent than the words being tested.


    7 The two versions of the test were checked for reliability and validity (Schmitt, Schmitt

    and Clapham, 2001).

    When learners sit the VLT they should be helped to become familiar with the item type and the time allowed for the test should not be limited. When scoring the test, the scores for each level and the total score should be recorded. The scores for each level are essential for interpreting the results of the test.

Interpreting the VLT

    We have seen how the VLT was made and how it can be scored. We will now look at what these scores mean.

    What is an adequate score on any particular level? When can we say that a learner knows enough of the words at a certain level and can now focus on the next level? Answering these questions is a matter of judgement. To make this judgement it is necessary to look at the score for each level in terms of the total words known and not known at that level.

Task 2: Interpreting Vocabulary Levels Test results

     ndthAnswer these questions three times for the 2 1000 level, the 5 1000 level and the AWL


1 If a learner scores 15 out of 30 at this level,

    a. How many words in total are known at this level?

    b. How many are not known?

    c. Would you be happy with this degree of knowledge at this level?

2 If a learner scores 21 out of 30 at this level,

    a. How many words in total are known at this level?

    b. How many are not known?

    c. Would you be happy with this degree of knowledge at this level?

3 If a learner scores 24 out of 30 at this level,

    a. How many words in total are known at this level?

    b. How many are not known?

    c. Would you be happy with this degree of knowledge at this level?

4 If a learner scores 27 out of 30 at this level,

    a. How many words in total are known at this level?

    b. How many are not known?

    c. Would you be happy with this degree of knowledge at this level?


Here are the answers for the 2000 word level. Do the other levels.

    1a 500, 1b 500, 1c No. Too many unknown words

    2a 700, 2b 300, 2c No. Too many at this high frequency level.

    3a 800, 3b 200, 3c No. Too many at this high frequency level.

    4a 900, 4b 100, 4c Yes. Not too many to pick up while working on the next level.

Applying the results

    The learners should gain a satisfactory score on the 1000 level before they work on the words at the 2000 level or other vocabulary. If the learners will study in English in upper secondary school, university, or a technical institute, they should study the vocabulary in the Academic Word List, after they gain a satisfactory score at the 2000 level.

Techniques and procedures for high frequency vocabulary


    Reading of graded readers (Oxford Bookworms, Longman Fiction, Macmillan Rangers,

    Heinemann Guided Readers, Penguin Readers etc)

    Listening to stories, student talks

    Pair and group activities such as split information activities, opinion based tasks, where

    the wanted vocabulary has been put in the written input to the activity


     Intensive reading

    Using vocabulary learning strategies as for low frequency words

    Individualised vocabulary exercises such as matching activities, collocation exercises,

    and guided cloze

    Teaching of new vocabulary related to texts, topics, themes, and tasks

    Peer vocabulary teaching activities

    Activities like semantic mapping, associational grids, collocation activities and fluency

    tasks to develop ready access to known vocabulary

Strategies for low frequency vocabulary

1 Guessing from context using textual clues

    2 Learning 2L-1L word pairs out of context from vocabulary cards and using mnemonic

    techniques such as the keyword technique to help this


3 Using the most frequent prefixes and perhaps roots to help remember vocabulary. The

    meaning of the word part is incorporated in the definition of the word e.g. an expedition

    goes out to look at new lands

    4 Using a dictionary

Task 3: Applying VLT results

    What programme of vocabulary expansion would you advise for each of the following learners who sat the Vocabulary Levels Test? What questions would you ask the learners before you made a decision about the programme? What level most needs attention?

    2000 3000 5000 AWL 10,000 Total

    T 13 13 0 0 0 26

    R 22 15 7 7 3 54

    P 25 17 12 22 3 79

    E 30 30 25 5 8 98

    W 30 29 27 27 13 126

    Z 30 30 30 29 23 142

    For an example let us look at R. 22 at the 2000 level means that 733 are known and 267 not known. Maybe a bit more work at this level, perhaps graded reading, would be useful. After that if R wants to do academic study, she should be working on the vocabulary of the AWL.

Further reading

    Beglar, D. and Hunt, A. (1999) Revising and validating the 2000 word level and the university word level vocabulary test. Language Testing 16, 2: 131-162.

Nation, I.S.P. (2001) Learning Vocabulary in Another Language. Cambridge: Cambridge

    University Press.

Nation, I.S.P.(ed.) (1986) Vocabulary Lists E.L.I. Occasional Publication No.12, Victoria

    University of Wellington Student Notes Centre

    Schmitt, N., Schmitt, D. and Clapham, C. (2001) Developing and exploring the behaviour of two new versions of the Vocabulary Levels Test. Language Testing 18, 1: 55-88.

     C:\WINNT\Profiles\nationp\Personal\tujvocdl\Guide to levels test.wpd


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