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Dynamic Vocabulary Development in a Foreign Language

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Yongyan Zheng

The Dynamic Systems Theory perspective offers new lenses to probe into long-term foreign language development. This book reports on findings of a longitudinal multiple-case study on the vocabulary development of eight university-level Chinese learners of English. Framed within the Dynamic Systems framework, the study assumes a holistic perspective towards vocabulary knowledge and aims to project a comprehensive picture of vocabulary development in a typical foreign language learning setting such as the Chinese context. To this end, a wide array of quantitative measurements and qualitative methods was employed. In-depth examination was given to both psycholinguistic and sociocultural processes involved in the complex and dynamic development of vocabulary knowledge. Efforts were also made to establish meaningful links between the learners’ cognitive, mental, pedagogical and social contexts. Although the focus is on vocabulary development, what is discussed in the book is applicable to a wide range of topics in foreign language learning and development.

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1 Introduction 13

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1 Introduction The book reports on a longitudinal study that aims to track the second language (L2) vocabulary development of a group of Chinese- speaking learners who were learning English as a Foreign Language (EFL) in China. The study was motivated by my personal experience as an EFL learner in China and later as an EFL teacher in a tertiary institution. I have become increasingly aware of the sheer importance of vocabulary building in the course of mastering the language, how to effectively develop one’s overall vocabulary knowledge in the long run usually amounts to the most perplexing question to average EFL learners. The somewhat mysterious process of vocabulary learning and development in a second/foreign language spurred my initial in- terest in this field, and ultimately motivated me to conduct an in-depth investigation to see how this particular group of learners developed, or failed to develop, their vocabulary knowledge in the contemporary Chinese context. In the following section, I will first provide a broad research background against which the present study was conducted, and then the aims and significance of the study. The organization of this book will be introduced in the end. 1.1 L2 vocabulary acquisition research L2 vocabulary acquisition research has moved from being a neglected field of inquiry in the field of Second Language Acquisition (SLA) to a position of some prominence (Meara 2002). This is evidenced by a number of book-length treatments on this subject published during the past decade or so (e.g., Coady/Huckin 1997; Gu...

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