Vocabulary Development in Higher Education: the case of English in Azerbaijan

Date: 8 July 2016

Venue: UAntwerpen - Stadscampus - Hof van Liere - Prinsstraat 13 - 2000 Antwerpen

Time: 3:00 PM - 5:30 PM

PhD candidate: Konul Hajiyeva

Principal investigator: Prof Kris Van de Poel

Short description: Phd defence Konul Hajiyeva - Faculty of Arts


This study investigates the level of vocabulary development of English majors at the Azerbaijan University of Languages in the initial stages of their tertiary education. It aims to contribute to the students’ academic performance by first conducting a vocabulary needs analysis and then developing a university vocabulary list (UVL) of the most frequent words forming the minimum requirement for successfully fulfilling their academic needs. The study investigates the lexical competence of EFL learners, including different components of vocabulary knowledge (receptive, controlled and free productive), enabling educators to understand the pronounced knowledge gap in vocabulary studies – characterised by the need to establish the relationship between receptive and productive mastery of vocabulary knowledge (Melka, 1997; Nation 2011b; Schmitt, 2010; Zhong & Hirsh, 2009).

Two different vocabulary tests (Schmitt et al., 2001; Laufer & Nation, 1999) measuring receptive and controlled productive dimensions of the participants’ vocabulary profile were administered to English majors at the beginning of the first and second years of their education. The longitudinal data show a lack of significant growth in receptive vocabulary knowledge, even though their productive vocabulary knowledge grew significantly and faster than their receptive vocabulary and that the gap between the two types was narrower at a lower level of language proficiency – suggesting that the greater one’s receptive vocabulary size, the narrower the gap between it and the productive vocabulary size. An increase in the ratio between the two vocabulary sizes indicates that at least some words learnt receptively enter students’ productive vocabulary.

A corpus-based lexical analysis of both the students’ subject-specific textbooks and general English textbooks and also the measurement of the lexical richness of their written examination answers (using Laufer & Nation’s (1995) Lexical Frequency Profile) focused on the frequency, range, distribution and occurrence of high-frequency, academic and low-frequency words, and specialized vocabulary in both the students’ subject-specific textbooks and their own writing. The results show that despite of the tangible growth in productive vocabulary, the students remain unable to convey or use meaning, form, associations, collocations and register accurately.

The findings suggest that the lexical threshold necessary to read and comprehend the subject-specific textbooks at the university is beyond the students’ capabilities. Therefore, there is a need to develop tailor-made course materials to cater for the specific academic needs of students.

Contact email: konul.hajiyeva@student.uantwerpen.be