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October 2019 - Year 21 - Issue 5

ISSN 1755-9715

An Investigation of Vocabulary Learning Among ESL Pupils: A Case Study



“Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; show him how to catch fish, and you feed him for a lifetime”

           Concise Oxford Dictionary of Quotations


Language is the ‘how to’, the tool that enables communication. Language is expressed through texts which are formed fundamentally by words. According to Nation’s taxonomy of Vocabulary Learning Strategies (VLS), there are three general classes namely planning, sourcing and processing. Noticing, is the first step in the process of establishing knowledge to communicate. Word recognition is prior to linguistic digestion. For example,

                Table 1.1 Two sentences picked from the text from a paragraph

  1. “A group of students _____ an _____ to _____ the _____ of      on _____ rates.”
  2. “A group of students conducts an experiment to determine the effect of temperature on reaction rates.”

Note: Used in presentation : Are Lexical Sets History? Insights from Vocabulary Research by Herdon, 2018

In sentence 1), word recognition skills are difficult to be applied to understand what the sentence is about due to the lack of words. Hence, vocabulary knowledge and the size of vocabulary knowledge determines our comprehension that further promotes communication. Sentence 2) allows readers to recognise words that they have learned, analysing either contextually and to derive meaning from the group of words. Vocabulary growth, increasing size of vocabulary, also plays a vital role of communication. The more words we know, the more understanding we gain. For example, knowing different shades of red gives one the ability to understand more than knowing only the colour red. According to Nation (2011), in his book Learning Vocabulary in Another Language, emphasises that autonomous learning is crucial in promoting vocabulary growth. One of the ways is through use of VLS. Many scholars relate VLS to reading comprehension (Askar, 2016; Gu and Johnson, 1996; Hamza et. al., 2017; Ma, 2013; Nation, 2011; Park, 2013; Waldvogel, 2013; Webb and Nation, 2018) which is taken into consideration in the context of this study as point of reference. This is due to the basic mechanism of reading comprehension is to recognise word. Nonetheless, text comprehension remains one of the key research areas in this study.

Most of the correlation between vocabulary size and reading comprehension in addition of VLS research are mainly focused on college or university students (Carroll, 1993; Ma, 2014; Nation, 2006; Laufer & Ravenhorst-Kalovski 2010 cited in Agernäs, 2015; Perfetti, 2007; Perfetti, Yang, & Schmalhofer, 2008; Saengpakdeejit, 2014; Sidek & Rahim, 2015; Stæhr, 2008;, 2014; Thorndike, 1973; Ying, 2010). It is interesting about the fact that there is limited number of vocabulary related studies being conducted in a rural area setting. According the statistics provided by the Malaysian Ministry of Education (MoE), 56% of the schools are rural area schools. Based on the analysis of the SPM public examination in 2016, the performance gap of English between rural and urban area is distinctive. Based on the National Average Grade (GPN), with the indication of low GPN reflects better performance, both the rural and urban scored 5.36 and 4.89 in the year 2016. This creates a gap between the two areas and although the percentage of rural area schools is marginally significant to percentage of urban area schools, it is worth the investigation. 

With strong interests in the field of vocabulary learning i.e. vocabulary size and its correlation with English text comprehension and how VLS is employed by pupils in a rural area setting, this study proposes a few questions:

< >What is the vocabulary size of upper secondary school pupils at a rural area school in Kuala Selangor district?What is the relationship between vocabulary size and text comprehension in English among upper secondary ESL pupils at a rural area school in Kuala Selangor district? How do upper secondary school pupils at a rural area school in Kuala Selangor district learn vocabulary?

to answer the questionnaire. The questionnaire is adapted from two studies (Al-Khasawneh, 2013; Noor and Amir, 2011) to enable better understanding of the participants.

Participants will then be given Nelson-Denney Comprehension Test which is established for its validity and reliability on testing text comprehension skills. However, there may be a need to adapt the text to cater to the standards of the sample participants. Then, participants will be asked to key in their scores for both online Vocabulary Size Test and printed Nelson-Denny Reading Test (NDRT) Comprehension Text (Form G and H) in the online adapted version of VLS questionnaire. Subsequently, four selected participants (two who showed the best scores and two with the lowest scores) in both online VST and NDRT (Form G and H) will be interviewed. The semi-structured questions (see Appendix A) will be adapted from Su’s study as it is relevant to the study. The interview questions will be reviewed to suit the learners’ background. This is done for a few purposes: 1) to investigate what are the VLS used when they are learning English and 2) to understand if the participant thinks that their vocabulary size is related to their text comprehension performance. The interview questions may also be translated to the participants’ L1 language (mostly Malay) to elicit more information. The rationale of conducting the interview is also to deepen the understanding of how pupils from different spectrum in terms of comprehension performance learn vocabulary. Do they share the same VLS? How do they learn vocabulary? Are there any strategies they apply that are yet to be identified since the research on rural area pupils are very limited? After the interview session, the researcher will transcribe and analyse all the gathered data. The set of data collected for VST and NDRT forms will be analysed using the Pearson r-correlation coefficient method. Another set of quantitative data will be generated by using one of Google Form’s features – analyse and researcher will then study the analysis.

In terms of ethical considerations, according to Creswell (2014), there may be issues related to getting permissions, the anonymity of the research, not disrupting sites and conveying the study’s purpose. Furthermore, researcher needs to be aware about the appropriate incentives used during data collection. Consequently, it is necessary that the researcher has to be careful in considering the importance derived from a sample in regardless of its size. The researcher is obliged to destroy the survey instruments gathered during the period of study after the completion of the study in order to protect the confidentiality of participants in the study (Creswell, 2014, p. 432). However, the main quantitative instruments are conducted through online and the participants must be informed.    


Appendix A Semi-structured interview questions

< >What do you feel about your scores (referring to the online VST and NDRT forms)?What do you think about the scores (referring to the online VST and NDRT forms)?What do you do when you meet a new word?Which way do you consider the most efficient in learning vocabulary? For example: rote memorization, unintentional learning in the context.What does it mean to you when you say you have learnt a word? Do you do extra work in vocabulary learning other than the teachers’ requirements? How?Do you think the method(s) is/are effective to discover a new word meaning? What do you do after you find out the meaning of a new word?  Do you think the method(s) is/are effective to help you remember a new word? Is vocabulary learning more a kind of self-study or cooperation and/or communication with others? Can you give me some examples for illustration?


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  • An Investigation of Vocabulary Learning Among ESL Pupils: A Case Study
    Hung Tong, Malaysia