The occasional ramblings of a freelance lexicographer

Friday, October 04, 2013

Munich: no beer, but a bit of quickie research

My trip to Munich last weekend went well. The trip itself was fairly unremarkable, just standard, rather unglamorous business travel without much time to see the place I was visiting. And sadly, without enough time to visit the Oktoberfest, which is perhaps for the best as I’m not sure that a large amount of beer is advisable when you’ve got two hour-long presentations to deliver!

The event itself though, a whole day of talks on EAP organized by MELTA (the local English teachers’ association), was really good, with a really interesting and interested audience, and lots of lively chat in-between sessions. There was a very long day of back-to-back talks lined up, of which I was doing two, so I wanted to break things up with a bit of audience participation.

Photo by Vivienne Arnold

In my first session about EAP vocabulary, I was talking about three areas of vocabulary that students need to work on to develop their personal academic lexicon:

1 core academic vocabulary (as typified by the Academic Word List)
2 more frequent words (that don’t make it onto the AWL) which have specific academic senses and uses
3 specialist or discipline-specific vocabulary

So to kick off my session, I asked the audience to write down on a blank card just one piece of vocabulary that they thought of as prototypically academic and that they might choose if they could teach their students only one word that would help them most in improving their academic English.
I did it as a way of involving the audience in the topic, but I was also genuinely interested in getting some insight into their views and intuitions about academic vocabulary. After the talk, while another speaker was presenting, I very quickly typed the words from the cards into an AWLhighlighter to produce some rather rough and ready ‘results’ to present at the start of my next session. This is what came out:

40.81% top 2000 most frequent words
44.90% AWL / core academic vocabulary
14.29% off-list / “specialist”

according according advantage claim claim consider development effect however however is opinion propose prove purpose read studied towards argue discuss

analysis analyze analyze approach conclusion conclusion consequently controversial derivative emphasize focus function nevertheless perspective research research structure subsequently summarize thesis topic whereas

enthusiasm essay essay panacea paradox reference transcript

Interestingly, it quite nicely backed up my contention that, while useful, just focusing on traditional AWL vocabulary isn’t enough and that there’s a lot of apparently ‘frequent’ vocabulary that is also worth some focus in an EAP class, especially where the everyday and academic uses of a word, such as consider or argue, are quite different.

Photo by Vivienne Arnold

It also threw up some interesting anomalies, especially the fact that essay and reference, clearly two key words for EAP students were “off-list” (i.e. neither in the top 2000 nor on the AWL). There are explanations for this, but I think I’m going to save that discussion for another day and another blog post …

It was a fun bit of quickie research though and perhaps one that would be interesting to repeat with different groups of EAP teachers to find out how they view what academic vocabulary is all about. It was also a fun day and as ever, great to meet and chat to EAP teachers working in a different country and context. Thanks to everyone for making me feel so welcome!

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