The Frequency Model of Vocabulary Learning and Japanese Learners
Dale Brown
Nanzan University
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The frequency model of vocabulary learning, the idea that words are learnt broadly in order of their frequency, is routinely applied in language teaching, testing and research. There has, however, been little research actually confirming it. This paper reports on a small-scale study which investigated the extent to which the vocabulary knowledge of a group of Japanese university students follows the model. Forty-nine low intermediate proficiency participants took a 100-item Yes/No test containing 20 words from five frequency bands. It was found that, as expected, for the group as a whole, knowledge of the words was related to frequency, with the proportion of words known falling as frequency declined. Following Milton’s study, however, an analysis of the results of individual participants revealed that around 20% showed different patterns of knowledge and did not follow the frequency model. One question, however, is whether the frequency information on which the Yes/No test is based is the best approximation of these learners’ experience of English. A re-examination of the data in terms of JACET8000 levels found that once more the group as a whole followed the frequency model, and in addition that more of the individual participants conformed to the model. The study thus demonstrates the importance of using frequency data that is relevant to the learners in question and provides confirmation that frequency is a key determiner in the learning of vocabulary. It seems that teachers can reasonably make use of frequency information to support their students’ learning.

vocabulary learning; word frequency; frequency model; JACET8000.

Brown, D.(2012).The frequency model of vocabulary learning and Japanese learners. Vocabulary Learning and Instruction, 1(1), 2028. doi: 10.7820/vli.v01.1.brown