SIZE MATTERS IN LANGUAGE RESEARCH

Issue date: 07 January 2004


ISSUE DATE: 07/01/04

How do you measure your knowledge of a language? Understanding grammar was seen in the past as the vital factor. Now, whether it is your mother tongue or a second language, the words you use are seen as the most important aspect in making a language come alive. But how easy is it to measure the vocabulary an aspiring linguist knows?

To answer this question, a vocabulary conference is being held on 8-9 January by UWE’s School of Languages and Linguistics, in the Faculty of Humanities, Languages and Social Sciences, to reveal the results of research undertaken in the last few months. The conference will look at various ways of measuring language acquisition, such as asking students to describe the events in cartoon strips, both in their mother tongue and in a foreign language.

Discovering further data on the subject will be of great use in language teaching, as well as understanding language loss in conditions such as Alzheimer’s and in stroke patients, says conference organiser Jeanine Treffers-Daller.

“The measures that we are coming up with should be valid for a whole range of languages. We are collecting the same information across the board, in Spanish, French, German, and from native speakers and language learners. We are looking at how the knowledge of words is built up through the learning process.

“In the case of some languages, lists of the most frequently used words exist and these can be matched with a person’s increasing knowledge. However in some languages, such as Turkish, one single word can be equivalent to a phrase in English so simply counting the number of words they use does not give an accurate picture of someone’s ability. In our research we are trying to find a measure that works across all tongues.

“Our research is linking into the Common European Framework of Reference in Languages – which uses three levels of language competence. We are trying to make the framework usable in an operational way, and try to identify what the different levels mean in terms of size of vocabulary.”

-ENDS-

Editor’s notes
1. The workshop is organised in conjunction with University of Wales at Swansea and the Institute of Education at Reading University, and is sponsored by the British Association for Applied Linguistics and the Linguistics Association of Great Britain.
2. Around 40 delegates from New Zealand, the US, Israel, France, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK are expected to attend the conference. Other UWE researchers involved are Helmut Daller, David Phelan, and Nataliya Afitskaya.
3. A book is due to be published containing the proceedings of the conference.

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