Determining ESL learners’ vocabulary needs from a textbook corpus: challenges and prospects

DOI: 10.2989/16073614.2016.1159521
Author(s): Jabulani SibandaEducation Department, South Africa, Jean BaxenEducation Department, South Africa


Sound vocabulary repertoire is a requisite for reading and all learning. Teaching a language’s vocabulary is a mammoth undertaking, unless particular lexical items are isolated and accorded explicit attention. Words taught explicitly should coincide with learners’ core vocabulary needs. This study generates words reflective of South African Grade 3 learners’ vocabulary needs for transition to Grade 4; a transition replete with challenges. We document challenges besetting the determination of learners’ core vocabulary needs from a textbook corpus. These included words to exclude from the frequency counts, challenges presented by multiword units, the unit of counting for word frequency generation, among others. High frequency words from the Grade 4 textbook corpus were generated and compared against five available word frequency lists as well as across different subject areas. The present study’s adapted unit of counting was applied to the word list with the whole process yielding 212 core words requisite for Grade 3 to 4 transition within the South African context. We advocate infusion of grade-specific core vocabulary lists in curriculum documents based on a robust large-scale word frequency generation process, among other things.

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