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Reading has always been regarded as an important skill to achieve good results in second language learning. Researchers claim that lexical approach has proved to be effective when learning English as a second language (Lewis 1997). It has been estimated that adult (well-educated) native speakers of the English language have about seventeen thousand base words in their vocabulary (Goulden et al. 1990). Therefore, it is important to work out specific approaches to develop learners’ reading skills and help them enrich their vocabulary.
It is necessary to note that the correlation between the language proficiency and reading comprehension has been studied for decades and there can be no doubt that there is strong correlation between language proficiency and reading comprehension (Droop & Verhoeven 2003; Jiang 2011). Apart from this, scholars have also focused on some more specific issues. Thus, it has been estimated that learners need to know about 98%-99% of words to read a text for pleasure (Schmitt et al. 2011; Hsueh-chao & Nation 2000). Importantly, some scholars suggested that even 65-70% could be enough for proper understanding of a text (Schmitt et al. 2011). It has also been found that extensive repetition of word forms contributes greatly to acquisition of new vocabulary (Brown et al. 2008). These findings are extremely important for designing new strategies to develop learners’ reading skills and vocabulary. The data can also be used to design specific types of assessment to assess learners’ proficiency (Salmani-Nodoushan 2003).
The study of Schmitt et al. (2011) is of special interest as it defines specific percentage of known words necessary for proper comprehension. However, it can be more fruitful to develop the study. It is important to understand how many known words a text should contain for learners to acquire new vocabulary. It is important to understand whether the use of authentic texts should prevail for advanced or intermediate learners or these texts can also be used for pre-intermediate or even elementary learners. It is still unclear what kind of texts (authentic, adapted, academic, fiction, scientific, etc.) can be used. It is necessary to define the exact percentage of known words in texts, which can be regarded as a kind of threshold for effective acquisition of new vocabulary. Admittedly, this information will help educators to work out specific and effective strategies to help learners of English develop their skills. The present study will focus on the issues mentioned above in the context of Saudi Arabia as regional peculiarities can influence greatly development of learners’ skills.
To achieve the objectives mentioned above the present study will focus on such issues as reading comprehension and vocabulary acquisition. The hypotheses the present study will test are as follows:
- Texts containing 65-70% of known words can be used for effective acquisition of vocabulary.
- New words acquired while reading such texts can enrich learners’ active vocabulary.
- There is strong correlation between the reading comprehension and learners’ background knowledge, and acquisition of new vocabulary as learners can read some sources in English to extract more information on topics they are interested in, some fields like medicine science have many ‘international’ terms which are similar in many languages.
To test the hypotheses mentioned above, it is necessary to design specific tests for at least 500 samples. Participants eligible for the present study are elementary and intermediate learners of English who are college students in Saudi Arabia. To make the data more plausible the mean age of samples should be about 19 (i.e. the age of participants will range from 18 to 33). This age pattern was used by Schmitt et al. (2011). The same pattern can be used for the present study as well. The participants eligible for the present study will be those learning English during 3-10 years. The present study will not focus on gender, ethnicity, etc. The major variables of the present study are learners’ level of comprehension and new vocabulary acquisition. The participants will complete a brief questionnaire where they will reveal some personal information including their educational background, age, interests, majors, etc. The level of each participant will be checked with the help of slightly modified tasks used at the Cambridge First Certificate English test.
The texts used will be authentic. They will be taken from magazines, scholarly journals and newspapers. The choice of the text will depend on the complexity of the text. Only recent (2005-2012) text will be used. The two texts given to the student will be of the same complexity, but the first text will be on some general topic whereas the second text will be on some specific topic (medicine, science, etc.). The second text will be given to students in accordance with their preferences, interests and majors. The texts will be of different complexity. There will be several texts chosen in accordance with the level and topic. Thus, participants will read texts which will fit their levels and their interests or majors. Thus, learners majoring in science will obtain scientific texts; those majoring in medicine will get medical texts, etc. This will help understand whether contents can have any significant correlation with new vocabulary acquisition.
As far as procedures are concerned, there will be several sessions. First, modified patterns used by Schmitt et al. will be used (2011). Thus, the participants will have two texts: one general and one specific (in accordance with the participants’ interests, majors and levels) text. While reading the texts and completing standard reading comprehension task, the participants will write out unknown words from the texts. The texts will have many similar words, and the participants will have the opportunity to extract the meaning from the context. There will also be some non-existing forms or words or “nonwords” to make the study more reliable (Schmitt et al. 2011, 33). Importantly, the students will be randomly divided into two groups. Then the first group of participants will read texts on topics which can be potentially interesting for them (the texts will be given in accordance with the students’ preferences and majors) whereas the participants of the second group will read texts which will not be interesting for them.
The next session will be held in two-three weeks. First, the participants will be asked to give definitions or synonyms of the words used in the texts. This will be done in the form of a multiple choice test. After this the participants will read the second (specific) text they read during the second session. They will also complete the task they had during the first session.
I argue that the participants will be able to extract meaning of words from the contents. This will also help them to acquire new vocabulary which will be effectively used in future. It is difficult to predict specific percentage of words acquired. However, I predict that 65-70% of known words in the texts will be enough for the participants to memorize up to 15% of the unknown words. Schmitt et al. (2011) have found that such percentage of known words is enough for proper understanding of the text which leads to memorising of new words as well. Therefore, I argue that authentic texts can be used. I also predict that participants, who will read texts that fit their interests and preferences, will acquire more new words than those who will read text on topics which are not interesting for them. Thus, the present study will address certain gaps, e.g. it will focus on correlation between the reading comprehension and vocabulary acquisition in the context of Saudi Arabia.
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Lewis, Michael. “Pedagogical Implications of the Lexical Approach.” Second Language Vocabulary Acquisition: A Rationale for Pedagogy. Ed. James Coady and Thomas N. Huckin. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. 255-271. Print.
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