Receptive and Productive L2 Vocabularies

Acquisition, Growth and Assessment

by Małgorzata Krzemińska-Adamek (Author)
©2018 Monographs 298 Pages


The author reviews both theory and research concerning learning foreign language lexis, and reports on a study into the dynamics of advanced learners’ L2 lexicons. The theoretical part offers a discussion of the concept of the bilingual mental lexicon, the notion of lexical competence, the interface of word knowledge and the language skills, and the current trends in vocabulary testing. The study described in the book, which adopts a unique longitudinal design, is a significant contribution to our understanding of the changes taking place in receptive and productive lexicons in time. The obtained results carry important implications for course design, instruction and testing procedures in the context of teaching English as an L2 at the advanced level.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of figures and tables
  • Introduction
  • Chapter One: Psycholinguistic Aspects of Lexical Acquisition, Storage and Processing In L1 and L2 Contexts
  • 1.1. Modelling the mental lexicon
  • 1.1.1. Word selection processes in the logogen model
  • 1.1.2. The cohort model of word recognition
  • 1.1.3. The search model of lexical access
  • 1.1.4. Productive aspects of lexical processing – a blueprint for the speaker
  • 1.2. The bilingual mental lexicon – separation or integration?
  • 1.2.1. A case for separation – The Revised Hierarchical Model
  • 1.2.2. A unitary lexicon – The Bilingual Interactive Activation Model
  • 1.2.3. Cross-language competition and language control
  • 1.3. Vocabulary acquisition in view of memory models
  • 1.3.1. The Hierarchical Network Model of semantic memory
  • 1.3.2. The Spreading-Activation Theory of Semantic Processing
  • 1.3.3. Short-term and working memory in vocabulary learning
  • 1.3.4. Factors affecting vocabulary forgetting
  • 1.4. Conclusion
  • Chapter Two: L2/FL Vocabulary Development: Focus on Receptive and Productive Learning
  • 2.1. Defining a word in the educational context
  • 2.2. Towards a conceptualisation of lexical competence
  • 2.2.1. Lexis as a component of general communicative competence
  • 2.2.2. The complex view – incorporating the receptive-productive distinction
  • 2.2.3. The limited view – describing vocabulary size and organisation
  • 2.2.4. The balanced view – acknowledging the importance of the receptive-productive dimension
  • 2.2.5. Different views of the receptive-productive vocabulary relationship in lexical competence
  • 2.3. Establishing a theoretical basis for modelling L2 lexical development
  • 2.3.1. Acquiring aspects of lexical knowledge: reception vs. production
  • 2.3.2. Lexical items – properties and learnability
  • 2.3.3. Defining the stages in the process of vocabulary acquisition
  • 2.4. The interface of vocabulary knowledge and receptive/productive language skills
  • 2.4.1. Vocabulary size, coverage and reading comprehension
  • 2.4.2. The pedagogical implications of research into vocabulary-reading relationship
  • 2.4.3. Vocabulary in written language production
  • 2.5. Vocabulary knowledge as a predictor of academic success
  • 2.6. Conclusion
  • Chapter Three: Selected Issues of Second Language Vocabulary Assessment
  • 3.1. Primary considerations in test content selection
  • 3.1.1. Units of counting in vocabulary testing
  • 3.1.2. Factors determining the choice of a unit of counting
  • 3.1.3. Word choice according to type of test
  • 3.1.4. Sampling from frequency lists and dictionaries in estimating vocabulary size
  • 3.2. A review of selected vocabulary measures
  • 3.2.1. Receptive tests of vocabulary size
  • The Vocabulary Levels Test
  • Yes/No tests
  • 3.2.2. Productive tests
  • Measures of lexical richness
  • Lexical diversity: type-token ratio measures
  • The Lexical Frequency Profile and the BNC-20 VocabProfile
  • The Lex30 – a test of word associations
  • The Vocabulary-size Test of Controlled Productive Ability
  • 3.3. The issue of validity in vocabulary testing
  • 3.3.1. Factors affecting the validity of vocabulary measures
  • 3.3.2. The validity of selected frequency-based vocabulary measures
  • The Vocabulary Levels Test
  • The Size Test of Controlled Productive Ability
  • The Lex
  • The Lexical Frequency Profile
  • 3.4. Conclusion
  • Chapter Four: Receptive and Productive Vocabulary Knowledge in a Second/Foreign Language: An Overview of Selected Research Studies
  • 4.1. Empirical studies into receptive and productive vocabulary size
  • 4.1.1. Major findings on lexicon size and the differences between receptive and productive lexical knowledge
  • 4.1.2. Explaining the causes of discrepancies between the size of receptive and productive vocabularies
  • 4.1.3. Estimating vocabulary size – current research needs
  • 4.1.4. A summary of studies into EFL/ESL learners’ vocabulary size
  • 4.2. Empirical studies into word association behaviour
  • 4.2.1. Major findings on L1 and L2 associative networks
  • 4.2.2. The limitations of word association studies and further research directions
  • 4.2.3. A summary of selected L2 word association studies
  • 4.3. Conclusion
  • Chapter Five: Investigating the Lexical Development of Advanced Learners of English: the Design of the Study
  • 5.1. Aim and research questions
  • 5.2. Method
  • 5.2.1. Participants
  • 5.2.2. Data collection instruments and procedure
  • The lexical tests
  • The English language proficiency test
  • Analysis of student compositions
  • 5.2.3. Test administration procedure
  • 5.3. Conclusion
  • Chapter Six: Investigating the Lexical Development of Advanced Learners of English: Results of the Study and Discussion
  • 6.1. Development of vocabulary knowledge in the course of the study
  • 6.1.1. Global changes in the students’ vocabulary knowledge
  • 6.1.2. Differences across types of vocabulary knowledge and vocabulary levels
  • 6.1.3. Relationships between learners’ receptive and productive vocabularies
  • 6.2. Development of lexical knowledge across language proficiency levels
  • 6.3. Relationship between vocabulary knowledge and reading and writing skills
  • 6.4. Summary of the findings
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Appendices
  • Series index

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List of figures and tables

Fig. 1.1: The basic architecture of the logogen model

Fig. 1.2: The organisation of a blueprint for the speaker

Fig. 1.3: The Revised Hierarchical Model

Fig. 1.4: The Bilingual Interactive Activation Model

Fig. 3.1: A completed Lex30 test

Fig. 5.1: The proportion of K1 vocabulary in the six texts in the Reading Section

Fig. 5.2: The proportion of K2 vocabulary in the six texts in the Reading Section

Fig. 5.3: The proportion of K2+ vocabulary in the six texts in the Reading Section

Fig. 5.4: The proportion of academic vocabulary in the six texts in the Reading Section

Fig. 6.1: Mean scores on the three lexical tests on two administrations

Fig. 6.2: Mean scores for each section of the receptive Vocabulary Levels Test on the two administrations

Fig. 6.3: Mean scores for each section of the Size Test of Controlled Productive Ability on the two administrations

Fig. 6.4: P/R ratios on two administrations calculated for each section of the Levels Tests

Table 2.1: Aspects of knowing a word – revised

Table 2.2: Four degrees of strength of knowledge

Table 4.1: The comparison of native speakers’ and non-native speakers’ associations

Table 4.2: Quantitative and qualitative features of the mental lexicon mirrored in characteristics of word associations

Table 5.1: The levels of vocabulary in the original tests and the version of the test used in the study

Table 5.2: The distribution of the Academic Word List headwords according to frequency ← 9 | 10 →

Table 5.3: The defining vocabulary according to section in the new version of the Vocabulary Levels Test

Table 5.4: The involvement of different expert subgroups in the instrument validation procedure

Table 5.5: Average times to complete the tests/Time limits for the original tests and the versions in the present study

Table 5.6: Types of words used incorrectly and removed from raw texts prior to lexical richness analysis

Table 5.7: Test administration schedule

Table 6.1: Descriptive statistics for the totalled lexical test scores

Table 6.2: Results of the paired-samples t-test for the totalled lexical test scores

Table 6.3: Means and standard deviations for the three lexical tests: receptive, controlled productive and free productive

Table 6.4: Results of the paired-samples t-test for the three lexical tests: receptive, controlled productive and free productive

Table 6.5: Two-tailed Pearson correlations between the two productive lexical tests on the two administrations

Table 6.6: Results of the paired-samples t-test for the separate sections of the Levels Tests

Table 6.7: Descriptive statistics for the English proficiency test, administered in November

Table 6.8: Results of the paired-samples t-test for two administrations of the English proficiency test

Table 6.9: Two-tailed Pearson correlations between the English proficiency test and three lexical tests, on the two administrations

Table 6.10: P/R ratios for the three proficiency groups, at the two points in time

Table 6.11a: Results of the paired-samples t-test for the two administrations of the receptive VLT

Table 6.11b: Results of the paired-samples t-test for the two administrations of the productive VLT

Table 6.11c: Results of the paired-samples t-test for the two administrations of the free productive Lex30 test ← 10 | 11 →

Table 6.12: Two-tailed Pearson correlations between lexical tests and reading comprehension, as well as between lexical tests and measures of lexical richness

Table 6.13: Results of the paired-samples t-test for the three lexical tests: receptive, controlled productive and free productive

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The last thirty years of research in the area of second/foreign language vocabulary learning and teaching, which was a natural response to the lack of such studies in the 1960s and the 1970s, has advanced our understanding of the complexity of vocabulary knowledge and its acquisition. The strands of research which dominated the field have featured themes inextricably linked with the receptive and productive dimensions of lexical knowledge and competence. The issues which have received the attention of researchers included the modelling of vocabulary knowledge (e.g., Henriksen, 1999), the distinction between vocabulary knowledge and vocabulary use (e.g., Read and Chapelle, 2001; Read, 2004), the link between vocabulary knowledge and language proficiency (e.g., Laufer, 1998) and the role of word frequency in lexical learning (e.g., Nation, 2001; 2006), to enumerate only a few.

Advances in the theories of the L2 mental lexicon and L2 lexical learning would not be possible without designing new methods and instruments for vocabulary knowledge assessment. The creation of new tests of vocabulary breadth and depth, as well as tests of word associations, have led experts in the field to address the vital issues of validity and reliability in vocabulary testing, which has gradually become a separate area with copious research projects. The preoccupation with the accuracy and reliability of measurement has brought about the need to readdress and redefine the constructs which the existent vocabulary tests referred to. In this way, a chance appeared for the theory of lexical learning to be refined and legitimised on the sound grounds of language assessment.

After nearly three decades of research into lexical knowledge and the mechanisms of lexical learning, the field of applied linguistics can be said, without a shadow of a doubt, to have been enriched by vast amounts of invaluable information concerning the L2 mental lexicon. This does not mean, however, that all possible research avenues have already been fully explored. Despite an overwhelming number of empirical studies, more and more often adopting a narrow perspective on investigating vocabulary knowledge, there are still a number of lexical issues which are in dire need of revisiting. Surprisingly perhaps, the receptive-productive distinction, which is often assumed to be one of the best-researched issues in the area of vocabulary studies, and which, for this reason, was once referred to as “part of the folklore surrounding vocabulary acquisition” (Waring, 1999, Introduction, para. 1), has again begun to be recognised as a potential avenue for exploration (Schmitt, 2010). Indeed, the complexity of the ← 13 | 14 → receptive-productive dimensions of word knowledge, defined either as two poles on the same continuum (e.g., Melka, 1997) or as qualitatively different constructs (e.g., Meara, 1990), as well as the problems relating to the accuracy of vocabulary knowledge measurement, make receptive and productive L2 vocabularies an important object of empirical exploration. In the light of the above, current vocabulary research should be preoccupied with the issues already raised, yet address them with the help of up-to-date methodologies and new testing instruments.

The present project, inspired by the abovementioned need to readdress the issues already established in vocabulary learning theory and research, is an attempt at reconciling old and new theories concerning the receptive-productive distinction. More specifically, it aims to present the current state of knowledge on the processes of vocabulary learning and use, as well as on the factors which affect these processes. Predominantly, however, the purpose of the present project is to investigate the developmental patterns of receptive and productive vocabulary knowledge in a study aimed at tracing long-term changes in the lexical knowledge of advanced learners of English as a foreign language.

The first two chapters of the book set forth the theoretical background to the discussion concerning vocabulary knowledge and vocabulary learning in a second/foreign language. More specifically, Chapter One presents a number of psycholinguistic theories and models of the L1 and L2 mental lexicon, concentrating on lexical acquisition, organisation and access. Exclusively with respect to the second language, the chapter explains the issues relating to the integration/separation of the two languages in the bilingual lexicon and the mechanisms of language control. Finally, the process of learning vocabulary is described in the light of semantic, short-term and working memory models. Chapter Two discusses selected problems concerning receptive and productive vocabulary in the context of second/foreign language learning. In particular, the complex nature of lexical competence is addressed and described with reference to the broader construct of communicative competence. Next, the chapter outlines the stages of lexical learning from the perspective of word classes, word learnability and the influence of the learning environment. Finally, the interface of vocabulary and the language skills is focused on, and the concept of academic vocabulary is presented.

Chapter Three concentrates on selected issues of vocabulary testing. It begins with a definition of a unit of counting in vocabulary measurement and a description of the different procedures of sampling lexical items for assessment purposes. The chapter then reviews a number of receptive and productive lexical tests, which have been widely discussed in the literature of the subject and used in a range of research projects in the last few years. Finally, the chapter addresses the ← 14 | 15 → problem of establishing the validity of vocabulary tests. Major factors influencing the validity of lexical tests are discussed, and selected measurement instruments are described in detail with respect to the degree of validity they exhibit.

The main focus of Chapter Four is to present an overview of empirical studies within two areas of vocabulary research. The first of these encompasses projects whose main aim was to define the difference between the receptive and productive vocabulary sizes of learners of English as a second/foreign language. The chapter brings forth the most important findings yielded by these studies, and goes on to outline the causes of the reported discrepancies between different figures of vocabulary size. Secondly, Chapter Four reviews comparative research into L1 and L2 word association behaviour, whose aim was to elucidate the organisational and developmental characteristics of second language lexicons.

The remaining two chapters report on the research project aimed at exploring the dynamics of the development of three types of lexical knowledge, i.e., receptive, controlled productive and free productive in advanced learners of English as a foreign language. Chapter Five provides a thorough description of the design of the study. The chapter begins with presenting the aims and research questions and continues with a discussion of the methodological issues pertaining to the participants, data collection instruments and the procedure of the study. Chapter Six, in turn, presents the findings obtained on analysing the results of the series of lexical tests and other lexical measures employed in the study. The chapter ends with a summary of the findings and their critical evaluation.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2019 (April)
Bilingual lexicon Foreign language vocabulary Lexical competence Vocabulary size Aspects of lexical knowledge Vocabulary testing
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2018. 298 pp., 13 b/w ill., 26 b/w tables.

Biographical notes

Małgorzata Krzemińska-Adamek (Author)

Małgorzata Krzemińska-Adamek is an Assistant Professor at Marie Curie-Skłodowska University in Lublin, Poland, where she teaches courses in second language acquisition and teaching English as a foreign language. Her interests include vocabulary acquisition and language testing. She is also a teacher trainer and ELT materials writer.


Title: Receptive and Productive L2 Vocabularies