Measuring the Effectiveness of a Vocabulary Programme

Introduction

As with most courses preparing students for academic study, the previously existing Higher Foundations English course at Dubai Women’s College included the key component of vocabulary. This is not surprising as vocabulary learning is essential for development in both oral and written language and as such is an essential part of any language programme. Further, high levels of vocabulary are associated with successful reading, being both “predictive and reflective of high reading achievement” (Pikulski & Templeton, 2004, p.1).

It is especially important for Foundations students to have a course focusing on vocabulary because evidence indicates that upon entry they have an inadequate level of vocabulary to meet the demands of academic study. It was decided therefore in 2003 to introduce a vocabulary programme which was based on sound principles of vocabulary teaching and learning, and which directly taught the high frequency words in a systematic manner. As Nation (2005) writes, “principled planning of vocabulary learning is more important than particular [vocabulary teaching] techniques” (p. 5). It seemed timely after five years of implementation to reflect on the effectiveness of our vocabulary teaching, which is the purpose of this article. It begins with a review of the literature surrounding these principles by examining the five issues of: incidental or deliberate learning, decontextualised or contextualized instruction, the selection and presentation of vocabulary, learning as a cumulative process, and the role of testing in learning. This is followed by an evaluation of the programme in terms of these principles by reporting on a pre- and post-test, and concludes with recommendations.

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