SHEN, Helen: Vocabulary Acquisition and Reading Comprehension: Evidence from Advanced Non-Native Chinese Learners
In recent years, vocabulary acquisition in foreign language learning has drawn considerable attention by scholars in the field. In the area of L2 acquisition in Chinese, a number of studies have been conducted on the following topics: 1) the relationship between vocabulary acquisition and language acquisition (Lin, 2000); 2) cognitive processing of words and how the level of processing affects character (word) acquisition (Everson, 1998; Liu & Jiang, 2003; Shen, 2004; Yang, 2000), and 3) cognitive and metacognitive strategies applied by learners in vocabulary learning (Ke, 1998; Shen, in press). So far, no comprehensive study deals with the relationship of vocabulary knowledge to reading comprehension though the importance of vocabulary acquisition through context has been widely recognized.
Predicated on the framework of verbal comprehension theory (Sternberg & Powell, 1983), this study investigates the relationship between vocabulary acquisition and reading comprehension among advanced CFL learners. The research questions for this study are three: 1) In general, what level of breadth and depth (quantity and quality) in vocabulary knowledge have the advanced learners reached and how does this vocabulary knowledge relate to individual reading comprehension? 2) At the independent reading level, how does the amount of unknown words in a reading text affect reading comprehension? 3) Do learners gain new vocabulary from their independent reading and if so, what is their individual word gain rate?
Participants are 30 non-native learners enrolled in the advanced Chinese classes in an American university. The following instruments will be developed for the purpose of this study: First, a vocabulary test will be designed to evaluate participants' breadth and depth in mastering Chinese vocabulary in general; second, a reading comprehension test will be developed to assess participants' current reading comprehension level; and finally, new vocabulary pre- and post-tests will be used to assess participants' new vocabulary gain during their independent reading. With regard to data analysis, regression analysis will be applied to detect linear relationships between learners' existing level of general vocabulary knowledge and reading comprehension and between the amount of unknown words in a particular reading text and learners' reading comprehension rate. Analysis of variance will be employed to compare the participants' vocabulary gain pre- and post-reading.
The results of this study will provide answers to the following fundamental pedagogical questions: What is the vocabulary spectrum that the advanced learners can reach within a certain learning period in a non-target language-learning environment? What is the most appropriate level of new words in a reading material for the advanced learners to achieve maximum results in both vocabulary acquisition and reading comprehension? What type of reading material design is most suitable for effectively gaining vocabulary and reading comprehension? Based on the findings of the study, pedagogical implications will be elaborated.
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