English writing example 5

First read the instructions for students. Then assess the level of this text by ticking the descriptor boxes below.

There are more important factors than word lists to learning a language

Recent developments regarding vocabulary learning increasingly focus on lists such as the AWL, thereby diverting their course from a contextual learning to a more non-contextual one. On the one hand, these developments are understandable, as the attention curve can be regarded as a dynamic process: an oscillation that is constantly shifting throughout the years in search of the perfect way to acquire a language. On the other hand, several questions arise whether these lists should be the main focus in learning and teaching, as research shows quite a contrary point of view, regarding word lists as inefficient tools from a didactic perspective. As the focus shifts more and more towards this approach, it is necessary to point to out the intrinsic drawbacks of word lists as the major tool in language learning. Therefore, notwithstanding current developments, frequency-based word lists are an arbitrary tool to facilitate vocabulary expansion, as they are too small and one-sided to increase literary comprehension, whereas grammar and the amount of exposure to lexical units are far more vital to gain a deeper understanding of texts.
 
First of all, developers of frequency-based word lists claim that their lists help to develop vocabulary, as they point out uncommon words that are nevertheless important (Cobb). This approach contains an inherent fallacy, as it has been proved that non-contextual learning such as this is quite inefficient. (Schmitt 329) The learner has to sit down and stare at a list of words that do not make any sense, as no context is provided. Subsequently, the focus will shift to quite a passive engagement with these lexical items, making it inefficient. An alternative that has proved much faster and inefficient is glossing (Schmitt 351),  which contains the following important prerequisites for vocabulary acquisition. Firstly, a text is present to private meaning and context for the words that are unknown. Secondly, an active reader points out the words that require more attention, but continues reading, creating a stream of conscious involvement with minimal interruption. Last of all, the learner will be capable of looking up the meaning in the context in which they were found (Schmitt 351). By applying this relatively easy principle, vocabulary will expand rapidly and academic word knowledge will increase without the need for a rather arbitrary word list.
 
A second important point in defense of the importance of word lists is spun around the notion that the words occur only a few times per million words. Rare as they are, it would take considerable exposure to many texts to infer a word from its context, which has moreover been proved to be a rather ineffective way of learning a word. (Cobb) However, if a word only occurs a few times every million words, it implies that nearly 100% of the text contains words that are not on the list. Research shows that a knowledge of 98% of the text is adequate to grasp its meaning. Therefore it is unnecessary to go through a list of words like the AWL, as those words will not contribute to a greater understanding of academic texts.
 
A third point that is brought forward to bring sense to word lists is the idea that 570 words will significantly increase ones general understanding of the text (Cobb). This statement however is easily countered by the evidence that 2000 word families account for 80% of the vocabulary in a text, but this number dramatically increases as the curve flattens out, with 5000 word families accounting for 90% of the text, (Cobb) and 9000 for about 98% (Schmitt 329). Therefore, those 570 words will only add a small percentage to the vocabulary that is required to grasp the meaning of an entire text. Moreover, another important fact is that a graduated native student already has a word knowledge of about 15000 to 20000, making it even less convincing that a list like AWL will significantly contribute to the learner’s vocabulary.
 
Another important item to discuss is whether word knowledge is the main determinant of ones proficiency at a language. It seems that lists like AWL present themselves as some kind of ultimate guide to a better understanding of academic texts, but find it difficult to admit that there are drawbacks to them. It has been shown that a profound knowledge of vocabulary is only one component of language skills (Nation et al.). Moreover, it is not justified to simply assume that vocabulary knowledge brings forward an intrinsic increase to language skills performance. There are many components that determine linguistic fluency development, like idioms, set expressions, representativeness, frequency, and range of information (Nation et al.). Other factors that have been pointed out to enhance vocabulary acquisition include active involvement, exemplified by activities such as discussing meaning, applying words in relevant contexts, and exercising output. Long term memorization requires a learning object to be reprocessed five to twenty times in short seminars (Schmitt 350).
 
In conclusion, it can be recognized from several scientific sources that there are many methods for a learner of a second language to be engaged in acquiring it. With the influence of word lists such as the AWL on the rise, it is time to rethink the concepts that really shape the vocabulary of students. Although it has proved to be a convenient tool, it is important to remember that it is very limited in its additional value to the language. Contextual learning and active involvement are indisputably more significant factors in language acquisition than the passive and arbitrary lists that are offered and presented by some as the ultimate guide.

(Source: EMBED project, © University of Groningen) 

 

-
rng
rng -
range
acc
acc -
accuracy
coh
coh -
coherence
arg
arg -
argument
C2
- C2
CEF C2 level
rng - C2
Shows great flexibility in formulating ideas in differing linguistic forms to convey finer shades of meaning precisely, to give emphasis and to eliminate ambiguity. Also has a good command of idiomatic expressions and colloquialisms.
acc - C2
Maintains consistent and highly accurate grammatical control of even the most complex language forms. Errors are rare and concern rarely used forms.
coh - C2
Can create coherent and cohesive texts making full and appropriate use of a variety of organizational patterns and a wide range of connectors and other cohesive devices.
arg - C2
Can produce clear, smoothly flowing, complex reports, articles and essays which present a case or give critical appreciation of proposals or literary works. Can provide an appropriate and effective logical structure which helps the reader to find significant points.
C1
- C1
CEF C1 level
rng - C1
Has a good command of a broad range of language allowing him/her to select a formulation to express him-/herself clearly in an appropriate style on a wide range of general, academic, professional or leisure topics without having to restrict what he/she wants to say. The flexibility in style and tone is somewhat limited.
acc - C1
Consistently maintains a high degree of grammatical accuracy; occasional errors in grammar, collocations and idioms.
coh - C1
Can produce clear, smoothly flowing, well-structured text, showing controlled use of organizational patterns, connectors and cohesive devices.
arg - C1
Can write clear, detailed, well-structured expositions of complex subjects, underlining the relevant salient issues. Can expand and support point of view with subsidiary points, reasons and relevant examples.
B2.2
- B2.2
CEF B2.2 level
rng - B2.2
applies to both B2.1 and B2.2 : Has a sufficient range of language to be able to give clear descriptions, express viewpoints on  most general topics, using some complex sentence forms to do so. Language lacks, however, expressiveness and idiomaticity, and use of more complex forms is still stereotypic.
acc - B2.2
applies to both B2.1 and B2.2: Shows a relatively high degree of grammatical control. Does not make errors which cause misunderstandings.
coh - B2.2
applies to both B2.1 and B2.2: Can use a limited number of cohesive devices to link his/her sentences into clear, coherent text, though there may be some "jumpiness" in a longer text.
arg - B2.2
Can write an essay or report that develops an argument systematically with appropriate highlighting of significant points and relevant supporting detail. Can evaluate different ideas or solutions to a problem.
B2.1
- B2.1
CEF B2.1 level
rng - B2.1
applies to both B2.1 and B2.2 : Has a sufficient range of language to be able to give clear descriptions, express viewpoints on  most general topics, using some complex sentence forms to do so. Language lacks, however, expressiveness and idiomaticity, and use of more complex forms is still stereotypic.
acc - B2.1
applies to both B2.1 and B2.2: Shows a relatively high degree of grammatical control. Does not make errors which cause misunderstandings.
coh - B2.1
applies to both B2.1 and B2.2: Can use a limited number of cohesive devices to link his/her sentences into clear, coherent text, though there may be some "jumpiness" in a longer text.
arg - B2.1
Can write an essay or report which develops an argument, giving reasons in support o or against a particular point of view and explaining the advantages and disadvantages of various options. Can synthesize information and arguments from a number of sources.
B1.2
- B1.2
CEF B1.2 level
rng - B1.2
applies to both B1.1 and B1.2: Has enough language to get by, with sufficient vocabulary to express him/herself with some circumlocutions on topics such as family, hobbies and interests, work, travel, and current events.
acc - B1.2
applies to both B1.1 and B1.2: Uses reasonably accurately a repertoire of frequently used "routines" and patterns associated with more common situations. Occasionally makes errors that the reader usually can interpret correctly on the basis of the context.
coh - B1.2
applies to both B1.1 and B1.2: Can link a series of shorter discrete elements into a connected, linear text.
arg - B1.2
Can write short, simple essays on topics of interest. Can summarize, report and give his/her opinion about accumulated factual information on a familiar routine and non-routine matters, within his field with some confidence.
B1.1
- B1.1
CEF B1.1 level
rng - B1.1
applies to both B1.1 and B1.2: Has enough language to get by, with sufficient vocabulary to express him/herself with some circumlocutions on topics such as family, hobbies and interests, work, travel, and current events.
acc - B1.1
applies to both B1.1 and B1.2: Uses reasonably accurately a repertoire of frequently used "routines" and patterns associated with more common situations. Occasionally makes errors that the reader usually can interpret correctly on the basis of the context.
coh - B1.1
applies to both B1.1 and B1.2: Can link a series of shorter discrete elements into a connected, linear text.
arg - B1.1
Can write very brief reports to a standard conventionalized format, which pass on routine factual information and state reasons for action.