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Article: Students fall short on Vocabulary

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 Message 1 of 319
06 April 2014 at 3:20am | IP Logged

TL;DR: In UK, French learners on average have a vocabulary size that is half of what
they should have.

I expect the situation to be similar in other countries, in other languages.

English excepted.

The article mentions how standards are being cut, programs are being dumbed down. Sound

Edited by Gemuse on 06 April 2014 at 11:56am

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 Message 2 of 319
06 April 2014 at 10:14am | IP Logged 
This makes me wonder how they tested vocabulary, if it's measured at below 1000 up until *year 6*. In French a native English speaker starts out with at least 1500 (probably more, really) super-obvious cognates, and for us to learn them it suffices to simply be told that they exist...

Edited by tastyonions on 06 April 2014 at 10:16am

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 Message 3 of 319
06 April 2014 at 11:32am | IP Logged 
Tastyonions - kids in year 6 are only 12 years old. They might not be aware of the
English words which are cognate with the French ones at that age. Also, the books deemed
appropriate for 12 year olds are extremely simplistic; hand-holding all the way.

It doesn't surprise me that graduates have enough words to converse in all manner of
conversational situations (3000 or so) but not enough to read widely. Since most of these
graduates end up teaching English, in English-language TEFL classrooms, anyway...
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 Message 4 of 319
06 April 2014 at 11:56am | IP Logged 
In the study referenced above, year 6 refers to the first year of A level studies, where the
normal age is 16/17 and students have generally self selected to study the language to a
higher level.

My own experience of A level studies was there was a much stronger emphasis on accurate
grammar over vocabulary development, although that could have been an idiosyncrasy of the
teacher I had at the time.
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 Message 5 of 319
06 April 2014 at 1:01pm | IP Logged 
I agree the reference to Year 5 and Year 6 is confusing. The author seems to be using
the older terminology of 5th form and 6th form of secondary school - 15/16 and 16/17

It is interesting that on that basis of that study - something like a 70s Linguaphone
course which has about 3500 words exceeds the average word count of an A level student,
even a first year degree student. That surely cannot be correct?

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 Message 6 of 319
06 April 2014 at 1:08pm | IP Logged 
From the article, this is just a train wreck:

'A' level students, with under 2000 words on average, look like they are just hitting the vocabulary levels needed for gist understanding which would place them at B1 rather than B2 level. My observation is that this is about right; our university entrants struggle to hold a conversation on anything but the most predictable and limited of topics, and certainly could not follow a lecture or a seminar in French. French graduates, with about 3300 words on average, appear well short of complete mastery and again this calculation appears to match the observation of students in my own university. We no longer routinely lecture through the medium of French, we cut down the number of books students read, to enable them to cope, and much of the work in done in translation. Graduates cannot perform in all aspects of language in an educated native-like fashion.

Just before I sat my DELF B2 exam, I used Routledge's A Frequency Dictionary of French: Core Vocabulary for Learners to estimate my vocabulary, via sampling and some calculations. It looked like I knew about 90% of the words in the Routledge dictionary, plus a fair number that weren't included. And I still ran into a bunch of unknown vocabulary on the exam and had to guess. (The DELF B2 is structured in such a way that you could never create a "B2 vocabulary list". They give you actual native materials, on almost any non-political subject that might appear in a newspaper, and they expect you to cope, or at least to bluff convincingly.) Reading was still a challenge at this point, and far less pleasant than it became half-way through the Super Challenge.

It's harder to estimate my vocabulary now. There are some online vocabulary estimators, calibrated for natives, that claim I know over 20,000 dictionary headwords, but I may be screwing them up by knowing low-frequency English cognates. But I almost certainly know more than 10,000 words. And all I did, when you get right down to it, was screw around with science fiction, BDs, TV and Anki, and listen to my wife speak with toddlers.

So for student to graduate from a university with a degree in French, and a vocabulary 3,300 words, well, that's just shameful. If you have a university degree in French, you've presumably dedicated several years of your life to studying French. And while it might be possible for someone to pass the DELF B2 with a 3,330 word vocabulary, it would at least be painful. 3,330 feels more like a comfortably-solid B1. It would be suicide for the DALF C1.

I'm not normally the sort of person to gripe about mediocrity and ever-lower standards, because that usually has more to do with emotions than actual facts, but seriously? A-levels and then a university degree, all for a 3,300 word vocabulary? Either this study is garbage, or British foreign language instruction is simply awful.
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 Message 7 of 319
06 April 2014 at 1:33pm | IP Logged 
^^ Dont just hate on UK.
In Germany, I had a class at the Goethe Institut, which is supposed to be the top
language institute in the country. They take in students, charge 1000 euro per
(intensive) course. And keep promoting the students without taking any actual test at
the end of the term. In my A2.1 class (which was really a A1.2 class), there was a girl
who had voluntarily dropped down from her B2 level class because she could not
cope. You can imagine the incompetence of a place which keeps promoting an A2.1 level
student up to the B2 level.

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 Message 8 of 319
06 April 2014 at 2:03pm | IP Logged 
I studied French for six years in Sweden, and when finished, I could not use the past tense (any of them) and during an exam in my fifth (I think) year I forgot whether I should be "ma sœur" or "mon sœur" (because I'm male). I guessed incorrectly.

I finished with a good grade in French.

The problem in Sweden is that it's obligatory to learn a third language. This means the majority of students aren't interested, and since it's impossible to teach a language to people not interested in learning, the bar has to be set ridiculously low in order to not fail 95% of the class. With such a low bar and uninterested students, nobody learns anything.

Edited by Ari on 06 April 2014 at 2:04pm

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