VLI 6(2): Brown (2017)

Coverage-based Frequency Bands: A Proposal
Dale Brown
Kanazawa University
doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.7820/vli.v06.2.Brown
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Second language vocabulary research makes much use of word frequency
lists and their division into bands. In recent years, bands of 1,000 items
have become conventional. However, there does not seem to be any firm
basis or rationale for this. Conventional banding may be questioned since
the utility of words varies greatly depending on frequency, because there
are enormous differences in frequency within higher bands, and because
the reliability of the placement of words in bands becomes progressively
poorer at lower frequency levels. This article suggests an alternative approach:
basing bands on coverage levels. Because of the frequency distribution
of words, this means the highest frequency bands would contain
very few words, while lower frequency bands would contain a great many
words. The article shows how such bands can be constructed and presents
a re-analysis of the results of a vocabulary test designed with conventional
bands in terms of coverage-based bands. This re-analysis produces
a very different profile of learners’ knowledge, and it is argued that the
shape of this profile may be more useful in terms of guiding instruction
in that it gives a clearer indication of which words should be targeted for
a group of learners. It is further argued that the smaller number of words
contained in coverage-based bands at higher frequency levels makes
them a more feasible basis for instruction. The article thus concludes that
coverage-based bands may be a fruitful avenue for researchers to explore.

Brown, D. (2017). Coverage-based frequency bands: A proposal. Vocabulary Learning and Instruction, 6 (2), 52–60. doi: 10.7820/vli.v06.2.Brown