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Dynamic Vocabulary Development in a Foreign Language


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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5 Macro-level Vocabulary Development 95


5 Macro-level Vocabulary Development This chapter reports findings on the macro-level vocabulary develop- ment of the four first-year participants (Cheryl, Nicky, Zara, and Linda) and the four third-year participants (Sharon, Muriel, Gloria, and Helen) during one academic year. Four aspects will be addressed in subsequence: the receptive vocabulary size, the controlled produc- tive vocabulary size, the relationship between the receptive and pro- ductive vocabularies, and the lexical richness in free productive vo- cabulary use. The chapter concludes with an overall discussion of the findings and a brief summary. For the sake of clarity, the first-year participants will be described first within each subsection, and then the attention will be directed to the third-year participants, followed by a comparison and contrast of the two cohorts. 5.1 Receptive vocabulary size 5.1.1 Overall Vocabulary Levels Test (VLT) scores The participants’ receptive vocabulary size was measured by the VLT. Table 5.1 presents the individual scores and the mean scores of the two cohorts. Fig. 5.1 and 5.2 illustrate the developmental curves. First-year participants: The first-year participants had made great improvement in their VLT scores (from 121.25 to 133. 75, a 10% increase). They seemed to have undergone a remarkable expan- sion in their receptive vocabulary size during the first year of their university studies. In particular, the first-year student, Cheryl, pos- sessed a receptive vocabulary size no smaller than that of the third- year participants; her vocabulary size upon matriculation even emu- lated the starting point of the third-year participants. This result is probably...

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