Testing Vocabulary Assignment

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Vocabulary Assignment

Vocabulary Assessment


At first glance, it may seem that assessing the vocabulary knowledge of second-language learners is both necessary and reasonably straightforward. It is necessary to the sense that words are the basic building blocks of language, the units of meaning from which larger structures such as sentences, paragraphs and whole texts formed. For native speakers, although the most rapid growth occurs in childhood, vocabulary knowledge continues to develop naturally in adult life in response to new experiences, inventions, concepts, social trends and opportunities for learning. For learners, on the other hand, acquisition of vocabulary is typically a more conscious and demanding process. Even at an advanced level, learners are aware of limitations in their knowledge of second language (or L2) words (Harris, 2009). They experience lexical gaps, which are words they read which they simply do not understand, or concepts that they cannot express as adequately as they could be in their first language (or L1). Many learners see second language acquisition as essentially a matter of learning vocabulary, so they devote a great deal of time to memorise lists of L2 words and rely on their bilingual dictionary as a basic communicative resource.

Vocabulary assessment seems straightforward in the sense that word lists are readily available to provide a basis for selecting a set of words to be tested. In addition, there is a range of well-known item types that are convenient to use for vocabulary testing. Here, are some examples:

Multiple-choice (Choose the correct answer)

The principal was irate when she heard what the students had done.





Completion (Write in the missing word)

At last the climbers reached the s_________ of the mountain.

Translation (Give the L1 equivalent of the underlined word)

They worked at the mill.

Matching (Match each word with its meaning)

1.accurate a. not changing

2.transparent b. not friendly

3.constant c. related to seeing things

4.visual d. greater in size

5.hostile e. careful and exact

f. allowing light to go through

g. in the city

These test items are easy to write and to score, and they make efficient use of testing time. Multiple-choice items in particular have been commonly used in standardised tests. A professionally produced multiple- choice vocabulary test is highly reliable and distinguishes learners effectively according to their level of vocabulary knowledge (Goodrich, 2007).

Tests containing items such as those illustrated above continue to be written and used by language teachers, to assess students' progress in vocabulary learning and to diagnose areas of weakness in their knowledge of target-language words, i.e. the language which they are learning (Dietrich, 2009).

Recent Trends in Language Testing

However, scholars in the field of language testing have a rather different perspective on vocabulary-test items of the conventional kind. Such items fir neatly into what language testers call the discrete-point approach to testing (Dale, 2010). This involves designing tests to assess whether learners have knowledge of particular structural elements of the language: word meanings, word forms, sentence patterns, sound contrasts and so on.

A number of criticisms can be made of discrete-point vocabulary ...
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