I. S. Paul Nation: Making and Using Word Lists for Language Learning and Testing

I. S. Paul Nation: Making and Using Word Lists for Language Learning and Testing With the development of electronic-corpora and lexical analysis tools, the accessibility to make word lists from spoken and written materials has become much easier. Nation, inspired by his experience in developing the British National Corpus (BNC)/the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) lists, the largest available lists of word families, and motivated by the discrepancy between the need to develop new word lists and underdeveloped methodologies to do so, compiled this book. The book can be considered a collection of unrelenting collaborative scholarship, as Nation acknowledges that the collection of chapters resulted from years of collaboration with colleagues and students. His aim was to provide a guide for constructing well-developed word lists for teaching and learning foreign languages through consideration of relevant factors, such as the purpose for which a list is to be used, the design of the corpus from which the list will be made, the lexical unit for counting word occurrences in the corpus, and the statistic and subjective criterion applied to make and sequence words in the list. This first and detailed systematic discussion of factors and guidelines for consideration in constructing word lists has appeared at a crucial time where the majority of existing word list books are simple quick desktop references without explanation of any methodology work that could assist individuals in constructing word lists for more specific needs. The organization of the book is straightforward. The introduction begins by announcing that the targeted readers are those who have a vocabulary teaching and learning background or intend to use or make a word list. For those determined novices, Nation recommends two introductory books and also presents brief definitions of key terminology. The remaining chapters are divided into five sections with appendixes that include the full lists of proper noun tagging conventions in the BNC, closed lexical set headwords used to develop high-frequency word lists and the Essential Word List for beginners discussed by Dang and Webb in Chapter 15. Section I, a single chapter, provides an overview of the contents of the book including the usage of word lists, factors that influence word list construction, and the evolution of influential word lists from general service lists to academic and specialized word lists that are all referenced throughout the book. Nation also reiterates that the major purpose of developing a word list is to provide a receptive knowledge reference for language learning and teaching, but productive use is also discussed in the book. Section II, composed of eight chapters, posits the lexical unit of counting in making word lists as the choice that affects the quality and usefulness of a word list. Previous distinctions of what has been counted as word occurrences are first reviewed (i.e. word types, lemmas, word families) and then analyzed in terms of written/spoken modalities and productive/receptive purposes. For instance, the word family is a suitable unit of counting for receptive purposes, but the ‘level’ of word family depends on learners’ characteristics and needs. Any variation in the choice of unit of counting could lead to a change in word list construction which could affect learning. An example of this is when making lists for vocabulary testing, the more inclusive definition of word family adopted, the more likely the number of words known will be overestimated. Vocabulary size tests using ‘Level 6’ families might under represent the real level of adult native speakers but overestimate proficiency of English as a Foreign Language learners. The remaining chapters in this section weigh the pros and cons of a series of word forms used as separate word lists, including homoforms (i.e. homonyms, homographs, and homophones), polysemes, proper nouns, hyphenated words, transparent compounds, multiword units, marginal words and foreign words, acronyms, and function words. Section III covers the core stage of word list making: preparing a corpus. The quality and relevance of a corpus determine the quality and usefulness of a word list. In Chapter 10, Nation and Sorell illustrate the effect that factors, such as text types, proportion, and corpus size, can have on corpus compilation. For instance, after reviewing Biber’s (1995) and Sorell’s (2013) taxonomies of text types, they advocate a modular approach to select well-proportioned text types. In Chapter 11, Nation gives a clear guideline on how to tidy up a corpus by removing errors and unwanted items by giving tips on using AntWordProfiler software and the Find and Replace function by Notepad ++. This section is valuable in that it is not only theoretically informative for preparing a suitable corpus but also practical in that the principles and guidelines introduced are simultaneously used to critique real-word lists by evaluating the corpora used to compile them. For example, Coxhead’s (2000) Academic Word List was constructed from an equally sized sub-corpora and sub-sub corpora, which makes the list equally meaningful to students from different disciplines. Section IV is the part readers might wish to turn to first—making a word list by selecting and ordering words extracted from a prepared corpus. Nation first reviews, in Chapter 12, a variety of purposes, from general service word lists to specialized word lists, from word lists for course design to tests. Then follows a discussion about the role of a statistic and subjective approach in word list making. Range, frequency, and dispersion play a part in determining what words should be included and how to sequence them in a list, but semantic necessity also needs to be considered (Stein 2016). In the following three chapters (13–15), Nation and colleagues choose three cases representing different scenarios of word list making: (i) critiquing existing, long-time tested and validated BNC/COCA word lists; (ii) evaluating a corpus-comparison approach to making an academic word list and specialized word list; and (iii) reporting the development of the Essential Word List for beginners. Readers should not mistakenly assume that this book is a manual which you can follow step by step to make or evaluate a word list from scratch, but instead it is a well-referenced and clearly written reference that helps one to clarify criterion and critique a framework at each stage of word list creation and use. Section V concludes the book with a summary of how to put the book into practice. It covers uses in: course design, language teaching and learning, graded reading programs, the vocabulary load of texts, and vocabulary tests. For instance, in discussing short-term vocabulary teaching and learning goals for course design, Nation advocates making lists at a suitable length. To achieve this, he illustrates two approaches in deciding the appropriate size of a word list: (i) use sub-lists of gradually increasing size or; (ii) determine the total number of words in a master list and make each sub-list contain an equal number of words. The book also points readers to gaps in literature, a feature junior academics interested in vocabulary studies will find interesting. For instance, Nation points out, in Chapter 12, that there have been ‘no published studies on the construction of word lists for graded readers’ (p. 117) which is an ideal form of meaning-focused input for incidental vocabulary learning. Moreover, his observation is not only confined to word lists, as he calls upon future research on the diversified nature of graded reader schemes in spite of Nation and Wang’s (1999) venture two decades ago. Besides, Nation further introduces word lists organized by both frequency and semantic necessity. In fact, word lists organized under themes/topics by noted publishers are pedagogically meaningful, for example Pearson 3,000+ Words for Writing (http://3000wfw.pearson.com.hk) which is a word list for everyday topics; however, some of these word lists, for example the ones used for the Oxford Bookworms Graded Reader Library, are not made available to the public. To the best of our knowledge, as the first book exclusively dedicated to word list study, this volume closely examines factors that affect corpora and list creation. However, there are, perhaps, a few areas where the book might have been stronger. First, the purpose of word lists seems scattered throughout Chapters 1, 12, and 16, which could confuse readers. For instance, in Chapter 12, the discussion of word lists for graded readers, the criterion of choosing, and preparing a corpus could have been moved to Section III. Second, the judgment of various word list types could be extended to a teaching and learning context. Besides examining frequency, for example, the investigation of a curriculum word list can be compared with a word list for the corresponding test (Jin Li and Li 2016). Third, with new media of learning materials available, the sources of word lists could be expanded to modalities other than reading. An example of this is using songs to make word lists (Tegge 2017). Fourth, the book does not consider making and using word lists for other languages, especially non-alphabetic languages. Is it feasible to apply the same criterion of making or evaluating an English word list into other languages such as Mandarin Chinese? A case in point is the Chinese Proficiency Vocabulary Guideline (National Chinese Proficiency Test Committee 1992). According to Nation, its 8,000 word list of two levels should be too overwhelming for any attainable goal in a course, and the list is a mixture of individual words and multiword expressions which may also go against separating multiword units from a list. To conclude with Nation’s opinion ‘Word lists are a bit like a black hole that seems to absorb hours and hours of work for little obvious improvement’ (p. 131), the book serves as an invitation for further investigations into word list making in terms of corpus improvement, word selection and ordering. With the solid and comprehensive review and reflection of the existing studies, Nation has lit a fire for future studies. There is still much work to be done. References Biber D. 1995 . Dimensions of Register Variation: A Cross-Linguistic Comparison . Cambridge University Press . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Coxhead A. 2000 . ‘ A new academic word list ,’ TESOL Quarterly 34 : 213 – 38 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Jin T. , Li Y. , Li B. . 2016 . ‘ Vocabulary coverage of reading tests: gaps between teaching and testing ,’ Tesol Quarterly 50 : 955 – 64 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Nation I. S. P. , Wang K. . 1999 . ‘ Graded readers and vocabulary ,’ Reading in a Foreign Language 12 : 355 – 80 . National Chinese Proficiency Test Committee . 1992 . Chinese Proficiency Test Vocabulary Guideline . Beijing Language and Culture University Press . Sorell C. J. 2013 . ‘A study of issues and techniques for creating core vocabulary lists for English as an international language,’ Unpublished Ph.D. thesis, Victoria University of Wellington. Stein G. 2016 . ‘ Some thoughts on the issue of core vocabularies: A response to Vaclav Brezina and Dana Gablasova: ‘Is there a core general vocabulary?’ Introducing the new general service list ,’ Applied Linguistics 38 : 759 – 63 . Tegge F. 2017 . ‘ The lexical coverage of popular songs in English language teaching ,’ System 67 : 87 – 98 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS © Oxford University Press 2017 This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices) http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Applied Linguistics Oxford University Press

I. S. Paul Nation: Making and Using Word Lists for Language Learning and Testing

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Publisher
Oxford University Press
Copyright
© Oxford University Press 2017
ISSN
0142-6001
eISSN
1477-450X
D.O.I.
10.1093/applin/amx052
Publisher site
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Abstract

With the development of electronic-corpora and lexical analysis tools, the accessibility to make word lists from spoken and written materials has become much easier. Nation, inspired by his experience in developing the British National Corpus (BNC)/the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) lists, the largest available lists of word families, and motivated by the discrepancy between the need to develop new word lists and underdeveloped methodologies to do so, compiled this book. The book can be considered a collection of unrelenting collaborative scholarship, as Nation acknowledges that the collection of chapters resulted from years of collaboration with colleagues and students. His aim was to provide a guide for constructing well-developed word lists for teaching and learning foreign languages through consideration of relevant factors, such as the purpose for which a list is to be used, the design of the corpus from which the list will be made, the lexical unit for counting word occurrences in the corpus, and the statistic and subjective criterion applied to make and sequence words in the list. This first and detailed systematic discussion of factors and guidelines for consideration in constructing word lists has appeared at a crucial time where the majority of existing word list books are simple quick desktop references without explanation of any methodology work that could assist individuals in constructing word lists for more specific needs. The organization of the book is straightforward. The introduction begins by announcing that the targeted readers are those who have a vocabulary teaching and learning background or intend to use or make a word list. For those determined novices, Nation recommends two introductory books and also presents brief definitions of key terminology. The remaining chapters are divided into five sections with appendixes that include the full lists of proper noun tagging conventions in the BNC, closed lexical set headwords used to develop high-frequency word lists and the Essential Word List for beginners discussed by Dang and Webb in Chapter 15. Section I, a single chapter, provides an overview of the contents of the book including the usage of word lists, factors that influence word list construction, and the evolution of influential word lists from general service lists to academic and specialized word lists that are all referenced throughout the book. Nation also reiterates that the major purpose of developing a word list is to provide a receptive knowledge reference for language learning and teaching, but productive use is also discussed in the book. Section II, composed of eight chapters, posits the lexical unit of counting in making word lists as the choice that affects the quality and usefulness of a word list. Previous distinctions of what has been counted as word occurrences are first reviewed (i.e. word types, lemmas, word families) and then analyzed in terms of written/spoken modalities and productive/receptive purposes. For instance, the word family is a suitable unit of counting for receptive purposes, but the ‘level’ of word family depends on learners’ characteristics and needs. Any variation in the choice of unit of counting could lead to a change in word list construction which could affect learning. An example of this is when making lists for vocabulary testing, the more inclusive definition of word family adopted, the more likely the number of words known will be overestimated. Vocabulary size tests using ‘Level 6’ families might under represent the real level of adult native speakers but overestimate proficiency of English as a Foreign Language learners. The remaining chapters in this section weigh the pros and cons of a series of word forms used as separate word lists, including homoforms (i.e. homonyms, homographs, and homophones), polysemes, proper nouns, hyphenated words, transparent compounds, multiword units, marginal words and foreign words, acronyms, and function words. Section III covers the core stage of word list making: preparing a corpus. The quality and relevance of a corpus determine the quality and usefulness of a word list. In Chapter 10, Nation and Sorell illustrate the effect that factors, such as text types, proportion, and corpus size, can have on corpus compilation. For instance, after reviewing Biber’s (1995) and Sorell’s (2013) taxonomies of text types, they advocate a modular approach to select well-proportioned text types. In Chapter 11, Nation gives a clear guideline on how to tidy up a corpus by removing errors and unwanted items by giving tips on using AntWordProfiler software and the Find and Replace function by Notepad ++. This section is valuable in that it is not only theoretically informative for preparing a suitable corpus but also practical in that the principles and guidelines introduced are simultaneously used to critique real-word lists by evaluating the corpora used to compile them. For example, Coxhead’s (2000) Academic Word List was constructed from an equally sized sub-corpora and sub-sub corpora, which makes the list equally meaningful to students from different disciplines. Section IV is the part readers might wish to turn to first—making a word list by selecting and ordering words extracted from a prepared corpus. Nation first reviews, in Chapter 12, a variety of purposes, from general service word lists to specialized word lists, from word lists for course design to tests. Then follows a discussion about the role of a statistic and subjective approach in word list making. Range, frequency, and dispersion play a part in determining what words should be included and how to sequence them in a list, but semantic necessity also needs to be considered (Stein 2016). In the following three chapters (13–15), Nation and colleagues choose three cases representing different scenarios of word list making: (i) critiquing existing, long-time tested and validated BNC/COCA word lists; (ii) evaluating a corpus-comparison approach to making an academic word list and specialized word list; and (iii) reporting the development of the Essential Word List for beginners. Readers should not mistakenly assume that this book is a manual which you can follow step by step to make or evaluate a word list from scratch, but instead it is a well-referenced and clearly written reference that helps one to clarify criterion and critique a framework at each stage of word list creation and use. Section V concludes the book with a summary of how to put the book into practice. It covers uses in: course design, language teaching and learning, graded reading programs, the vocabulary load of texts, and vocabulary tests. For instance, in discussing short-term vocabulary teaching and learning goals for course design, Nation advocates making lists at a suitable length. To achieve this, he illustrates two approaches in deciding the appropriate size of a word list: (i) use sub-lists of gradually increasing size or; (ii) determine the total number of words in a master list and make each sub-list contain an equal number of words. The book also points readers to gaps in literature, a feature junior academics interested in vocabulary studies will find interesting. For instance, Nation points out, in Chapter 12, that there have been ‘no published studies on the construction of word lists for graded readers’ (p. 117) which is an ideal form of meaning-focused input for incidental vocabulary learning. Moreover, his observation is not only confined to word lists, as he calls upon future research on the diversified nature of graded reader schemes in spite of Nation and Wang’s (1999) venture two decades ago. Besides, Nation further introduces word lists organized by both frequency and semantic necessity. In fact, word lists organized under themes/topics by noted publishers are pedagogically meaningful, for example Pearson 3,000+ Words for Writing (http://3000wfw.pearson.com.hk) which is a word list for everyday topics; however, some of these word lists, for example the ones used for the Oxford Bookworms Graded Reader Library, are not made available to the public. To the best of our knowledge, as the first book exclusively dedicated to word list study, this volume closely examines factors that affect corpora and list creation. However, there are, perhaps, a few areas where the book might have been stronger. First, the purpose of word lists seems scattered throughout Chapters 1, 12, and 16, which could confuse readers. For instance, in Chapter 12, the discussion of word lists for graded readers, the criterion of choosing, and preparing a corpus could have been moved to Section III. Second, the judgment of various word list types could be extended to a teaching and learning context. Besides examining frequency, for example, the investigation of a curriculum word list can be compared with a word list for the corresponding test (Jin Li and Li 2016). Third, with new media of learning materials available, the sources of word lists could be expanded to modalities other than reading. An example of this is using songs to make word lists (Tegge 2017). Fourth, the book does not consider making and using word lists for other languages, especially non-alphabetic languages. Is it feasible to apply the same criterion of making or evaluating an English word list into other languages such as Mandarin Chinese? A case in point is the Chinese Proficiency Vocabulary Guideline (National Chinese Proficiency Test Committee 1992). According to Nation, its 8,000 word list of two levels should be too overwhelming for any attainable goal in a course, and the list is a mixture of individual words and multiword expressions which may also go against separating multiword units from a list. To conclude with Nation’s opinion ‘Word lists are a bit like a black hole that seems to absorb hours and hours of work for little obvious improvement’ (p. 131), the book serves as an invitation for further investigations into word list making in terms of corpus improvement, word selection and ordering. With the solid and comprehensive review and reflection of the existing studies, Nation has lit a fire for future studies. There is still much work to be done. References Biber D. 1995 . Dimensions of Register Variation: A Cross-Linguistic Comparison . Cambridge University Press . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Coxhead A. 2000 . ‘ A new academic word list ,’ TESOL Quarterly 34 : 213 – 38 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Jin T. , Li Y. , Li B. . 2016 . ‘ Vocabulary coverage of reading tests: gaps between teaching and testing ,’ Tesol Quarterly 50 : 955 – 64 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Nation I. S. P. , Wang K. . 1999 . ‘ Graded readers and vocabulary ,’ Reading in a Foreign Language 12 : 355 – 80 . National Chinese Proficiency Test Committee . 1992 . Chinese Proficiency Test Vocabulary Guideline . Beijing Language and Culture University Press . Sorell C. J. 2013 . ‘A study of issues and techniques for creating core vocabulary lists for English as an international language,’ Unpublished Ph.D. thesis, Victoria University of Wellington. Stein G. 2016 . ‘ Some thoughts on the issue of core vocabularies: A response to Vaclav Brezina and Dana Gablasova: ‘Is there a core general vocabulary?’ Introducing the new general service list ,’ Applied Linguistics 38 : 759 – 63 . Tegge F. 2017 . ‘ The lexical coverage of popular songs in English language teaching ,’ System 67 : 87 – 98 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS © Oxford University Press 2017 This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)

Journal

Applied LinguisticsOxford University Press

Published: Aug 1, 2018

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