The interplay between lexis and learning : a study of second language vocabulary profiles and learning style

Booth, Paul (2011) The interplay between lexis and learning : a study of second language vocabulary profiles and learning style. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


This study examines the relationship between second language vocabulary and learning in terms of productive vocabulary and learning style. Overall, second language learners tend to follow a predictable pattern when they acquire vocabulary. More common words are acquired before less frequent ones. However, individuals display idiosyncratic paths in lexical development. In this study learning style is examined in order to understand whether lexical developmental patterns can be associated with particular learning strengths and weaknesses. The central argument put forward in this thesis is that learning style can help to understand how L2 learners differ in their acquisition of lexis for productive use. Learners were tested for a pre-disposition towards memory or analysis in learning style and their vocabulary was measured via written texts for lexical rarity and the extent to which learners avoid repetition (diversity). The main findings show that at low proficiency memory correlates with lexical rarity, but at higher proficiency and greater analysis there is less variability of function words. Lexical diversity, which is influenced by sentence structure, is more stable with learners who are strong in language analysis. Over time, analytical learners tended to gain rarer words. Individual lexical trajectories over several points in time highlight the variability and stability of lexical profiles in relation to memory and analysis. Task topic influences lexical rarity whereas diversity is relatively independent. There was no direct relationship found between holistic quality ratings of texts and quantitative measures of lexical frequency or diversity; however, the results suggest an indirect relationship with language analysis. The discussion of the results brings to light the heterogeneous nature of L2 lexis and how this interacts with learning style. The results also lend support to a Dynamic Systems Theory of SLA (de Bot et al, 2007); in particular, how variability is a developmental phenomenon which helps us to understand how lexis is assembled in response to local task conditions in real time. The pedagogical implications of these findings are also discussed and recommendations are made to help learners notice and restructure their language.

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