Developing an English vocabulary curriculum for Hong Kong schools Arthur McNeill Hong Kong Baptist University
Outline of the presentation • How the project came about • Aims of the project • Design principles • Procedures for compiling the wordlists • Some problems and issues
Native/Non-native differences in vocabulary acquisition • Native English speaking students acquire about 3000 words per year at secondary school (ending up with about 20,000 word families in adulthood) . • Hong Kong secondary pupils acquire about 300 words per year.
Vocabulary and the CGs Lexical relations: • Synonyms (e.g. happy, glad) • Antonyms (e.g. bright, dark) • Homonyms (e.g. catch a bus, catch a cold) • Collocation (e.g. make a wish, watch TV) • Lexical sets (e.g. furniture – table, chair, desk, cupboard) *please refer to CG (CDC, 2004): pp. 168-171
Vocabulary building skills recommended in CG Word formation • Affixation (e.g. unhappy, careless) • Compounding (e.g. foot+ball=football) • Conversion (e.g. cook a meal, a cook) • Derivation (e.g. excite, exciting, excited, excitement)
Quality, YES. Quantity, NO. • Curriculum guidelines stop short of identifying lexical targets. • Main concerns about inadequate vocabulary come from the tertiary sector.
The Vocabulary Curriculum Project • EMB/CUHK collaborative project to develop an English vocabulary curriculum for 12 years of compulsory education. • To set vocabulary targets for each KS. • To identify the English words to be known by students by the end of each KS
Outcomes (Phase 1) Four wordlists, each available in different formats: • Alphabetically arranged • Thematically-arranged • e-list (software which allows greater manipulation of the content)
Research Questions • How many English words should HK students know at different stages of their education? • Which words should they know?
“Knowing a word”? Working definition “Ability to recognize a word (in written or spoken text) and to know its meaning”
Sources of input? • Teachers familiar with the respective KS • Frequency data about how vocabulary is used in English: • General English • Academic English • Topics and themes listed in CGs • Vocabulary content of the approved textbooks
Frequency-based lists/corpora GSL “General” words BNC AWL “Academic” words
GSL Classic list of the most frequent 2000 words. Very widely used and respected. BNC 100 million word collection of written and spoke English. A new ‘standard’. AWL 570 words which occur frequently in academic texts across disciplines
Principles guiding final selections • Relevance to learners (now and later) • Usefulness • Combinability (collocations) • Word class distribution • Superordinates
Frequency data from GSL/BNC/AWL Word samples by frequency Teachers select words for own KS Initial (incomplete) wordlist Rejected items to be considered for next KS Project team add remainingitems Textbook corpus Topics from CGs Completed wordlist Design of the vocabulary selection procedure
Data gathering (from teachers) • 70 schools at each KS • Option of on-line task or submit hard copy for KS1 and KS2 • Secondary teachers invited to CU to attend a seminar and “workshop”
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Data analysis • Collation of the results of the teacher surveys. • Calculating a “score” for each word based on the number of times it was selected by teachers • Deciding on a cut-off point for each word score to determine whether it is representative of the teacher sample or not.
1. Basing a school curriculum on frequency data • Relating a corpus of naturally occurring L1 language to an L2 curriculum is less straightforward than it first appears. • Refer to handout for examples of BNC items which do not transfer readily to an English language curriculum for HK students.