Assessing Vocabulary

John Read, University of Auckland, New Zealand
Presentation Date: 
February 19, 2014

Learners of second languages are very conscious that one of the key problems they face in becoming proficient users of the language is how to acquire an adequate knowledge of vocabulary. Thus, teachers need to be able to monitor their students’ vocabulary development and set realistic targets for learning the words that they need to know. At one level, this may simply mean giving regular progress tests on the vocabulary presented in the textbook or specified by the curriculum. But vocabulary tests can serve a variety of purposes in a language teaching program, such as placing students in the appropriate class, diagnosing difficulties with reading and other skills, and assessing the adequacy of the learners’ vocabulary knowledge for particular functional uses, especially when they need the second language for employment or higher education.

A key construct here is vocabulary size, and in this webinar we will look at how it can be defined and measured, considering several test formats that have been designed for this purpose. Vocabulary size tests typically focus on knowledge of word meanings (the so-called “breadth” dimension), but learners also need to add “depth” to their understanding of how particular words are used. Measures of depth are less well established but we will discuss various ways of conceptualizing this dimension, as well as some practical tools. This will include some consideration of how to assess knowledge of collocations and other multi-word lexical units, which is an area of rapid growth in second language vocabulary studies at present.