Vocabulary Learning Strategies Used by Kuwaiti Students

Introduction

Background of the study

This study aims to provide substantial contribution to some applied and theoretical domains of the Second Language (L2) learning and teaching by investigating what the current Vocabulary Learning Strategies (VLS) practiced by second language learners in Kuwait across genders and a range of educational levels including both school and university, in and outside classrooms. Particularly, the study aims to explore the vocabulary learning strategies employed by Kuwaiti EFL students’ who use the broad categories of VLS as well as the individual strategies. The study relates to three individual variables, level of education (LED), gender (G), and vocabulary proficiency (VP). Therefore, this can be served to be important prerequisite research for the planning of VLS training in Kuwaiti schools, universities, colleges, etc. to achieve English proficiency, goals are going to be described in this study.

The importance of Vocabulary Learning Strategies (VLS) in general Vocabulary Learning Strategies (VLS) is “a part of language learning strategies which in turn are a part of general learning strategies” Nation (2001: 217). The importance of VLS among language learning strategies is reflected by the fact that the vast majority of strategies in taxonomies such as Oxford’s (1990) are either VLS (e.g. all strategies in the memory category), or can be used for vocabulary learning tasks. Learners particularly use strategies to learn vocabulary, especially when compared to more integrated tasks (Schmitt, 1997). Chamot (1985) affirms that high school ESL learners reported more strategy use for vocabulary learning than for any other language learning activity, including listening comprehension, oral presentation, and social communication. Although LLS studies often include some VLS, few individual VLS have been researched in-depth, for instance guessing the appropriate meaning of the new word from the context in which it is used (Haynes and Cody, 1993) and certain mnemonics such as the keyword methods (Pressley, Levin, and Miller, 1987, cited in Nation, 1997).

Literature Review

Language Learning Strategies (LLS)

For the last twenty years, much research in the field of second language (L2) learning and teaching has shifted from instructional methods to learner-centred approaches. Along with this new shift of interest, questions about how learners process new information and what kind of strategies they employ to understand, learn or remember information has become a primary concern for researchers in foreign language learning. This shift of focus from teachers to learners can be seen in the development of the learner-centred, self-directed, communicative approach, and second language research efforts have increasingly been directed to learning strategies used by L2 learners. See Wenden and Rubin (1987), Cohen (1998), O’Malley and Chamot (1990), Oxford (1990).

Vocabulary in language learning and teaching

For many years, methodologists, linguists and language teachers considered vocabulary as incidental to the main purpose of language teaching, which is to promote the acquisition of grammatical knowledge. In his conclusion of a survey article on vocabulary acquisition, Meara’s (1982: 240) states that “the study of vocabulary acquisition is an area where the sort of research work that has been carried out is far from satisfactory, and where a large number of questions remain to be answered.” In other words, until recent years, vocabulary seems to have played a secondary role, whereas the teaching of grammar has followed the trend of modem linguistics and has developed and renewed itself continuously (Maiguashca, 1993).

Methodology of the study

This chapter includes a detailed account of the methodology used for this study, including the background of the subjects and the procedures and methods used by the researcher for the collection and analysing of data procedures. The chapter concludes with a summary of the study.

Subjects

For this study, the researcher plans to use a range of about 300-400 male / female students as participants, from the third grade of intermediate, high school, the second year of the English Department at Kuwait University and different colleges in the Public Authority for Applied Education and Training (PAAET). The researcher also plans to interview about 10 female/male teachers from different schools, colleges and universities.

Instruments

The researcher aims to use four data collecting instruments including questionnaires, oral interviews of students, oral interviews of teachers and case studies, all of which will be implemented in the process of gathering information on the VLS used by Kuwaiti students:

Open questionnaire

The primary instrument for the study is the open questionnaire, in which students will be asked to answer 6 questions in detail. The potential questions are:

  • What strategies or actions do you employ when you encounter a new vocabulary item if the teacher or coursebook does not explain it for you?
  • Do you write down or make notes of the new vocabulary items? If yes, where?
  • How do you organise your notes?
  • Do you use a dictionary? If yes what type, bilingual or monolingual?
  • What are the reasons for using the dictionary?
  • What do you normally do to memorise new English words (to help you remember them), whether at home or in class?

This questionnaire aims to elicit a list of strategies for the closed items of the main study questionnaire.

Piloting the open questionnaire

The researcher aims to conduct a pilot study on a group of eight male Kuwaiti students; three of them belonging to the intermediate level, three to high school and two students studying at the university level in Kuwait. This division has been planned to make represent all three levels of education with different exposure to the English language. Following the questionnaire, the researcher aims to ask them the following list of questions:

  • Were the instructions clear and easy to follow?
  • Were the questions clear?
  • Were you able to answer all the questions?
  • What did you think about the general format?

The questionnaire will be translated into Arabic and all explanations and instructions will be provided in the first language (Arabic) of the subjects’ to avoid any possible confusion or misunderstanding.

Questionnaire procedure

Data collection for the preliminary study will be conducted in Kuwait during the academic year 2008-2009. The researcher will hold a one-week briefing period before the data collection, with the Development Department of Research in the Ministry of Education, to explain the purpose of the study and the data collection instruments. He then needs to be authorised by being given an official letter introducing him to the concerned schools’ headmasters and asking them to cooperate with the researcher.

The researcher will begin visiting intermediate and high schools and Kuwait University, College of Arts. He will discuss and explain the data collection instruments to English teachers and clear their doubts by replying to their queries personally. Respective English teachers will then introduce the researcher to classes of 25-30 students and they will be informed of my educational background and the MA degree he/she is pursuing in the United Kingdom. All the students will be informed of the intent of the data collection for the conduction of the preliminary study for research purposes. The subjects will be assured that they will be doing it solely for research purposes and that the study would in no way affect their grades and that all the questionnaires are anonymous. Students will also be told that they will not be obliged to participate if they do not wish to. The session for answering the questionnaires will take place in their classrooms during one of their lectures.

Similar to any other data collecting technique, questionnaires have their limitations. Munn and Dever (1990) reported that there are no wrong or right techniques; merely techniques that are better or worse given the job to be done. As for the questionnaire in this study, a major weakness has been noticed. The information which will be collected tends to be descriptive rather than explain why things are the way they are. For this reason, the researcher has planned to employ oral interviews, with both teachers and students and four case studies so that the missing gaps can be filled in the study.

Students’ Oral Interviews

The secondary data collection instrument will be a semi-structured interview which will be conducted with 12 students, 4 from each level of education, asking them to provide more information concerning the VLS.

There will be an interview guide containing questions similar to the questionnaire to seek more information from the respondents regarding their perceptions, knowledge and information about the VLS techniques employed by their class. Some of the questions will be as follows:

  • Have you been taught or trained in how to deal with unfamiliar English words?
  • What strategies or actions do you employ when you encounter a new vocabulary item if the teacher or coursebook does not explain it for you?
  • Do you write down or make a note of the new vocabulary items? If yes, where?
  • How do you organise your notes?
  • Do you use a dictionary? If yes what type, bilingual or monolingual?
  • For what purposes do you use a dictionary?
  • What do you normally do to memorise new English words to help you to remember them, whether at home or in class?

Interview procedure

Interviews will be conducted separately for each student in the libraries of the intermediate and high schools and the language lab for the university students. They will be tape-recorded and conducted in the learners’ L1 (Arabic), except for the university students as their major is English. At the beginning of each interview, there will be a brief conversation in Arabic to help to create a relaxed atmosphere.

Teachers’ oral interview

The third instrument is a semi-structured interview designed for teachers. Seven teachers will be interviewed using interview guides with questions pertaining to teachers’ awareness of teaching VLS. For example:

  1. What do you do when your student/students encounter English words they do not know the meaning of?
  2. Do you translate immediately by yourself? Or do you explain it to them in some other way? If yes, how?
  3. Do you give students the chance to discover the meaning by themselves or show them what to do when the teacher is not there to ask? If so, what strategies or actions do you encourage them to use to help them understand new vocabulary items?
  4. Do you teach (advise) your students to use a dictionary? If so, what type of dictionary (bilingual or monolingual)? And for what purposes do you advise them to use the dictionary?
  5. Do you teach (advise) your students to write down and keep notes of the new vocabulary items? If so, where?
  6. How do you advise them to organise their notes? What do you tell them to write down?
  7. Do you teach (advice) your students to memorise new vocabulary items either in class or when at home?

Organisation of the study

This study will be organized as follows:

List of Chapters

Introduction: This chapter includes the introduction, the background of the study, the purpose of the study, significance of the study in general and for Kuwaiti students and the organisation of the study.

Literature review: Chapter two reviews the relevant literature. It begins by providing an overview of language learning strategies. There follows a literature review specifically on some aspects of VLS since this is the focus of this study.

Methodology of the study: The design and the methodology of this study are presented in chapter three. This chapter will provide information about the preliminary study, the design of the main study, the subjects, the data collection method, its justification, and the piloting of the method.

The results and discussion: The results will be obtained from quantitative and qualitative outcomes of the analysis of the data, which will be collected through various instruments, as well as their interpretation. Also, this chapter examines the hypotheses and answers the research questions of this study.

Conclusion, summary, implications for teaching, limitations and suggestions for future research.

References

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Oxford, R. L. Language Learning Strategies. What Every Teacher should know. Boston: Heinle and Heinle1990.

Read, J. Vocabulary and testing. In N. Schmitt and M. McCarthy (eds.): Vocabulary destitution, acquisition, and pedagogy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press1997.

O’Malley, J. M., Chamot, A. U., Stewner-Manzanares, G., Kupper, L. and Russo, R. Learning Strategies used by beginning and intermediate ESL students. Language Learning; 35, 21-461985.

Haynes, M. Patterns and perils of guessing in second language reading. In Huckin, T., Haynes, M., and Coady, J (Ed.), Second language reading and vocabulary learning (pp. 46-64). Norwood, N.J. Ablex, 1993.

Pressley, M., Levin, R., and Daniel, M. Remembering versus inferring what a word means: Mnemonic and contextual approaches. In M. McKeown and M. Curtis (Eds) The Nature of Vocabulary Acquisition: 107-23. Hilisdale, N. J: Lawrence Erlbaum1987.

O’Malley, J. M. & Chamot, A. U. Learning Strategies In Second Language Acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Thompson, I. Memory in Language learning. In Wenden, A. and Rubin,J. (eds.), Learner Strategies in Language Learning (pp. 43-56) New York: Prentice-Hall International, 1987.

Cohen, A. D. Strategies in learning and using a second language. London: Longman, 1998.

Cohen, A. D. Studying second-language learning strategies: How do we get the information? Applied Linguistics, 5, 2, 101-12, 1998 b.

O’Malley, J. M. & Chamot, A. U. Learning Strategies In Second Language Acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Maiguashca, R. Teaching and learning vocabulary in second language: past, present, and future directions. The Canadian Modern Language Review, 50, 1, 1993.