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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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3 English Vocabulary Learning in China Today 63

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3 English Vocabulary Learning in China Today To locate the present study firmly within the larger context of English language learning in China today, this chapter presents a general picture of the English learning environment with a special focus on vocabulary learning. In the following sections, I will first briefly review the overall English language teaching (ELT) environment and the sociolinguistic status of the English language in the contemporary Chinese context. Shifting focus to vocabulary learning through formal education, I will then summarize the vocabulary goals stipulated in the national syllabi of English teaching. The chapter ends with a description of Chinese learn- ers’ experiences of vocabulary learning outside the classroom. 3.1 Learning and using English in China today Before examining the social setting of learning and using English in the contemporary Chinese society, it is worth noting that the English lan- guage per se should not be treated as a monolithic concept here. In re- cent years, the phenomenon of English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) (Seidlhofer 2001, 2005) has been increasingly acknowledged. Roughly only one out of every four users of English in the world is a native speaker (Crystal 2003), and English is becoming a contact language among speakers with different mother tongues, and “for the majority of its users, […] the vast majority of verbal exchanges in English do not involve any native speakers of the language at all” (Seidlhofer 2005: 339). Moreover, English is now the major communication language in Asia, where no country can be...

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