Analyzing Vocabulary Acquisition in Esol Students Literature Review Chapter

Excerpt from Literature Review Chapter :

Vocabulary Acquisition in ESOL Students

English as foreign/second language (EFL/ESL) classrooms widely neglected the area of vocabulary, until lately. Grammar lessons are founded on a collection of rules having coherent structure, expected to be remembered or followed by students. However, the same doesn't hold true when it comes to vocabulary (Jeff, 2010). In the past few years, this area of English learning has gained importance as a necessary component to be learned by ESL students. It is believed by many to be just as crucial as reading, speaking, writing, and listening (Jeff, 2010). Work of different researchers state that knowledge of vocabulary aids language use, which in turn helps expand vocabulary knowledge, while knowledge about the world leads to increased language use and vocabulary knowledge (p. 6). The above contextualized outlook towards vocabulary learning will aid students in expanding their vocabulary by means of authentic communication (Jeff, 2010).

Of all languages, English is believed to possess the most extensive vocabulary (Min, 2013). Literate native English speakers typically know around 70,000 words or 20,000-word families. Meanwhile, literate non-native English speakers possess not even a quarter of native English speakers' vocabulary. They have to work on their knowledge of vocabulary for gaining success in their English-medium academic endeavors. A strong vocabulary foundation is crucial at all stages of ESL learners' English language development, irrespective of the extent of individual learners' pronunciation and grammar skills. Effective communication is not possible, if one doesn't possess sufficient knowledge of vocabulary. Vocabulary skills development eventually leads to richer speaking, listening, writing and reading skills (Min, 2013). Studies emphasize the fact that systematic learning of new words is essential for word retention as well as facilitation of later production by the learner (Min, 2013; Nation, 2009).

Literature Review

Strategies for Vocabulary Learning have been explored from two key perspectives, namely, cognitive psychological and L2 (language two) Acquisition (Adel, 2015). Researchers define learning strategy as particular actions that learners take for making their learning easier, more enjoyable, more effective, faster, more transferable, and more self-directed (Adel, 2015). Studies on vocabulary acquisition/learning haven't garnered much attention before the early eighties. A majority of applied linguists ignored the learning of vocabulary; this fact has been criticized, and its negligence explained, by researchers in their Second Language Acquisition (SLA) study (Adel, 2015). No clear vocabulary acquisition theories existed until the latter part of the 70's (Adel, 2015). Other vocabulary learning researchers agree that further investigation is required in this field, which has garnered the attention of numerous SLA research scholars for the past thirty years (Adel, 2015).

English Language Learners (ELLs) grasp vocabulary differently when compared to native speakers of the language (Adel, 2015). A recent research revealed that the average native English speaker learns 1,000 words a year prior to reaching college, after which he/she begins learning about 2,000 words annually (Peregoy & Boyle, 2013). Meanwhile, vocabulary studying time has to be doubled for ELLs, particularly in the academic context (Adel, 2015). Additionally, a majority of recent studies on vocabulary teaching concentrate on the need to bombard ELLs with new words via written and oral resources from various curricular contexts (Peregoy & Boyle, 2013). Hence, for capturing the functional, universal meaning of novel vocabulary, one must expose language learners explicitly to vocabulary knowledge. For example, it is asserted that ELLs require a minimum of 5-16 times exposure for mastering novel terms. Far from curricular instruction in vocabulary learning, ELLs devote several hours per week to communicating in, or studying, the language, thus getting exposed to colossal amounts of vocabulary daily (Adel, 2015). Similar to acquisition of first language, SLA is gradually maintained through ELLs' learning environment. But, incidentally, ELLs typically develop their vocabulary base via conversation (i.e., social relations with fluent English speakers both within and outside of school) (Peregoy & Boyle, 2013). While doing so, ELLs have to choose a suitable strategy for acquiring a better insight into new texts learnt or read by them. Therefore, it becomes imperative to understand the strategies and methods followed by ELLs when studying vocabulary. Another important point is: discovering which strategies lead to greater success. The aforementioned questions are crucial in any study aimed at identifying strategies for vocabulary learning. Numerous strategies have been introduced in English (or any language) learning research. For example, Boyle and Peregoy (2013) introduced the following strategies for ELLs and their instructors, to be utilized
Parts of this Document are Hidden
Click Here to View Entire Document
up to self-assessment stage: TPR (Total Physical Response), Webtools for vocabulary learning, Word Cards, Read-Alouds, Beginners' list group-label, and Word Wall Dictionary. But, such strategies might or might not be used with ELLs during the initial stages. Furthermore, it has been stated by Schmitt that ELLs typically employ diverse strategies of vocabulary learning (Schmitt, 2010). As each learner is characterized by his/her own unique vocabulary learning style, some strategies seem to be practical solutions for learning novel words. Certainly, researchers, for instance, stressed the fact that a majority of learners' favor mental or cognitive strategies over learning new terms, understanding their basic meaning, and categorizing/grouping them.

Vocabulary Acquisition Process

Two divergent perspectives exist with regard to second language vocabulary acquisition: explicit and implicit learning. The latter theory on vocabulary learning maintains that subconscious acquisition of vocabulary during reading proves more effective when compared to learning words by way of intentional vocabulary exercises, as the conscious focus of the learner will be on the content being read, rather than on what must be learned (Min, 2013). Nevertheless, several research works have convincingly proven that reading extensively doesn't suffice when it comes to improving one's knowledge of vocabulary (Min, 2013; Nation 2009). While sole reliance on reading to develop vocabulary might cultivate in learners the ability of recognizing many words, it probably won't advance one's ability of productively using words (Min, 2013; Nation, 2008). Learning of vocabulary via extensive reading proves most effective in case of advanced proficiency second-language learners, as readers need to know how and when they must make use of contextual clues, while also being aware of affixes and word families for word analysis. Second-language vocabulary acquisition style varies with learner. Moreover, inference from context while reading will not guarantee retention in the long run (Min, 2013). A majority of educators and researchers are now agreeing that increasingly long-term, secure learning results from increasingly profound processing in vocabulary learning (Min, 2013; Nation, 2008). Efficient strategies for learning must be employed for vocabulary expansion and effective English language learning (Min, 2013).

Theoretical Concepts

Vocabulary development is highly vital for succeeding in graduate or undergraduate courses. Vocabulary learning is a continuous process requiring practice and devotion of time. Nakata (2006) asserts that acquisition of vocabulary entails constant repetition, for effective grasp (p. 19). It isn't like grammar, which can be easily memorized. It requires discipline on the learner's part, and devotion of time every day, for discovering, understanding and retaining unfamiliar words. This practice will ensure that a higher frequency of words is retained for a longer term in the learner's memory. According to different researchers, ELLs must encounter a particular word several times in appropriate, authentic reading, writing, and speaking contexts (Jeff, 2010). Development of lessons that enable the learner to come across novel words numerous times, thereby ensuring these words are retained in his/her memory in the long run, may be a time-consuming task. Composing word-lists out of a lesson may decrease work load, while ensuring the learner stumbles upon the words many times through listening, speaking, and reading.

Learning of novel vocabulary from context also aids learners in understanding the proper usage of terms, and prevents them from making erroneous sentences out of dictionary definitions. Learning unfamiliar words from word lists differs significantly from understanding them in a story's or sentence's context. Researchers write that learning novel terms from context is just one of the methods learners may employ, and that they must use meta-cognitive thinking and learn novel terms within whichever context they appear in (Jeff, 2010). For aiding learners in familiarizing themselves with key terms from a lesson's context, educators must give emphasis to low context terms, thus necessitating another distinction: low frequency and high frequency terms. High frequency terms are described by researchers as those that crop up rather frequently in written or spoken language (e.g., a, the, woman, man, etc.) Such words crop up so often in everyday interactions that, if a learner successfully understands them, he/she can speak in and write comprehensible English. Meanwhile, Nation describes low frequency terms as those that are seen more frequently in academic studies, courses and texts, but less frequently in everyday speech (e.g., index, modify, formulate, etc.) (Jeff, 2010). The aforementioned distinction aids teachers in their attempt to understand, which words are familiar to students and which aren't. However, the teaching/learning of low frequency terms is still challenging. Developing vocabulary lists out of curricular textbooks, followed by presenting them through context during lessons ought to aid students in retaining and applying new vocabulary. Moreover, ELLs learn new words better, if they find them useful and can apply them more…

Sources Used in Documents:


Adel M. Alharbi. (2015). Building Vocabulary for Language Learning: Approach for ESL Learners to Study New Vocabulary. Journal of International Students. ISSN: 2162-3104 Print / ISSN: 2166-3750 Online Volume 5, Issue 4, pp. 501-511

August, D., & Shanahan, T. (Eds.). (2006). Developing literacy in second-language learners: Report of the National Literacy Panel on Language-Minority Children and Youth Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics. (1992). Myths and misconceptions about second language learning. ERIC Digest. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved May 22, 2007, from

Francis, D. J., Rivera, M., Lesaux, N., Keiffer, M., & Rivera, H. (2006). Practical guidelines for the education of English language learners: Research-based recommendations for instruction and academic interventions. Portsmouth, NH: Center on Instruction. Retrieved February 21, 2007, from Interventions.pdf

Cite This Literature Review Chapter:

"Analyzing Vocabulary Acquisition In Esol Students" (2016, February 28) Retrieved November 29, 2020, from

"Analyzing Vocabulary Acquisition In Esol Students" 28 February 2016. Web.29 November. 2020. <>

"Analyzing Vocabulary Acquisition In Esol Students", 28 February 2016, Accessed.29 November. 2020,