The Impact of Explicitly Teaching Vocabulary on Students’ Vocabulary Learning


Vocabulary is the cornerstone of language learning, but it is an area that is often regarded as not being as important as other language skills such as reading, writing and grammar.

Gulf Arab students, in spite of having studied English for years at government high schools, are faced with the issue of entering foundation or bridge programs at tertiary institutions with vocabularies significantly smaller than 5,000 word families. Research by Lui and Nation (1985) shows that 95% of a text needs to be understood by the reader for contextual acquisition of unknown vocabulary to be possible, and for this reason these students then struggle to acquire vocabulary contextually from their textbooks.

At Zayed University, it was decided to put the emphasis back on vocabulary with a view to strengthening core vocabulary knowledge, and enhancing students’ independent learning skills, as well as their reading, writing and listening. In order to achieve this, self-study materials and assessments were developed by instructors in the Academic Bridge Program over the course of 2 years. This project was called the Zayed University Vocabulary Lab (ZUVL). This article reports the findings of the evaluation of ZUVL to determine the impact that explicitly teaching vocabulary had on students’ vocabulary learning.

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