Learner Language:
Vocabulary & Phonology
Amalia Caruso & Karen Murphy
Structure
1. Vocabulary
2. The Aspects of a Word
3. Frequency
4. Strategies for Meaning
5. Strategies for Acquisition
6. A brief History of L2 Acquisition Phonology
7. Learner Problems
8. Teaching Pronunciation
1. Vocabulary

“Of all error types, learners consider vocabulary
errors the most serious“

“[L]exical errors are the most common among
second language learners“

“[N]ative speakers find lexical errors to be more
disruptive than grammatical errors“
source:
Gass, S.M. & Selinker, L. (2001). Second Language
Acquisition. An Introductory Course. 2nd ed. London: LEA, 372.
1. Vocabulary

is everywhere

can disturb communication

connected to phonology, orthography, morphology,
grammar, etc.
1. Vocabulary
1.1 English in Numbers
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It is estimated that the vocabulary of English ranges
from
100,000 to 1,000,000 words
(dependant on the way one counts the words)
An educated speaker of English is believed to know
at least
20,000 words
Most everyday conversation requires about
2,000 words
80 – 90% of most non-technical texts is made up by
2,000 to 3,000 words
(the most frequent ones)
1. Vocabulary
1.2 L1-Learners vs. L2-Learners
L1 acquisition in
children
L2 acquisition in older
learners
(first 1,000 or 2,000 words)
L1 spoken in environment exposed to far smaller
samples of language
helpful contexts
not always very helpful
less difficult words
more difficult, meanings
may not be easily guessed
1. Vocabulary
1.3 Vocabulary Tests (Meara)
“The first step in knowing a word may
simply be to recognize that it is a word”
http://www.lextutor.ca/tests/yes_no_eng/test_1/

items which look like English words but are not

estimate vocabulary size

effective even for advanced learners as number of
chosen non-words is also taken into account
2. The Aspects of a Word
“A word is more than its meaning!”

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
form: written or spoken
grammatical properties
 category, (im-)possible structure, idiosyncratic
grammatical information
lexical properties
 word combinations, appropriateness
Meaning
 general & specific
3. Frequency

as long as students receive natural input from
course books and teachers they will be getting the
most common words automatically

but it is often the edited texts and classroom
conversations which do not have these natural
properties
(e.g. vocabulary is listed according to alphabetical
order with brief translation into L1)
(cf. Cook)
3. Frequency

with which a word is seen, heard and understood

up to 16 encounters to establish it in memory

even more to use it in fluent speech & to
understand it immediately
(cf. Nation)
4. Strategies for Meaning
4.1 One-Syllable & Borrowed Words, Cognates
List 1
List 2
List 3
Friend
Hamburger
Government
More
Coke
Responsibility
Town
T-shirt
Dictionary
Book
Walkman
Elementary
Hunt
Taxi
Remarkable
Sing
Pizza
Description
Box
Hotel
Expression
Smile
Dollar
International
Eye
Internet
Preparation
Night
Disco
Activity
(source: Lightbown, P.M. & Spada, N. p.98)
4. Strategies for Meaning
4.1 One-Syllable & Borrowed Words, Cognates
List 1: One-Syllable Words

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among most common words
but not likely to be known without former instruction
or exposure to English
form and pronunciation give no clue to meaning
many exposures in order to establish them in
memory
4. Strategies for Meaning
4.1 One-Syllable & Borrowed Words, Cognates
List 2: Borrowed Words

international vocabulary

might be known to people who have never learned
English, as well

borrowed words
4. Strategies for Meaning
4.1 One-Syllable & Borrowed Words, Cognates
List 3: Cognates

Infrequent

but known on sight or learned after single exposure

resemblance to their translation equivalent in other
languages
4. Strategies for Meaning
4.1 One-Syllable & Borrowed Words, Cognates
Cognates

misinterpretation possible

recognition not always easy

in general, more accessible in written than in
spoken language
4. Strategies for Meaning
4.2 Other Strategies

guessing from situation or context

using a dictionary

making deductions from the word-form
5. Strategies for Acquisition
5.1 Acquisition through Reading?

some theorists suggest that one can learn
vocabulary with little intentional effort (“Reading for
pleasure”)
 has a positive impact on learning, but doubtful:

one has to know 95% of the words in a text in order
to get the meaning of a new word (cf. Laufer)
5. Strategies for Acquisition
5.1 Acquisition through Reading?

one has to encounter a new word many times (cf.
Nation)

certain types of words are very rare in narratives
(cf. Gardner)

certain types of books forbid the acquisition of
words important for academic needs
5. Strategies for Acquisition
5.1 Acquisition through Reading?
 more successful with focused attention through
activities and productive tasks (cf. Hulstijn
Laufer)
 more effective with good learning strategies, as well
(cf. Kojic-Sabo & Lightbown)
5. Strategies for Acquisition
5.2 Other Strategies

repetition and rote learning

organizing words

linking to existing knowledge

reviewing
6. A brief History of L2 Acquisition Phonology

Not as much research on phonology as on other
components of language

Audiolingualism: techniques aimed at perception
and production of the distinction of single sounds
Critical period hypothesis: native-like pronunciation
= unrealistic for L2
Communicative language teaching: little attention, if
included: emphasis on rhythm, stress and
intonation

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7. Learner Problems
7.1 The basic Trouble: L1 Influence

Languages differ in sounds & their structuring into
syllables as well as intonation

Degree of L1/L2 difference influences L2 phonology

More difference = longer period to achieve fluency
 Chinese vs. German or Dutch

Affects other areas of language, too
7. Learner Problems
7.1 The basic Trouble: L1 Influence
Can you think of typical mistakes
foreigners from a specific
country make?
7. Learner Problems
7.1 The basic Trouble: L1 Influence

Some examples:
 Korean L1: problem hearing & producing /l/ and
/r/ sound
 Sounds not distinct in Korean
 Spanish L1: “I e-speak e-Spanish”
 No consonant clusters starting with “s” at the
beginning of words in Spanish
 French L1: stress on last syllable
 Normal in French
7. Learner Problems
7.2 In Detail: Phonemes
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Phoneme: sound that distinguishes meaning in a
particular language
Languages differ in their choice of phonemes
Typical pronunciation material: hearing and
repeating sentences with high concentration on
particular phoneme
 Emphasis on practice rather than
communication
 Tries to build up new pronunciation habits
7. Learner Problems
7.2 In Detail: Phonemes
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Problem: Phoneme itself is not responsible
Distinctive features of phonemes differ (e.g. voice,
aspiration)
Learner needs to learn both
Harder to learn distinctive features (esp. of known
phoneme) than a new phoneme
Learner stages:
 Presystematic stage
 Transfer stage
 Approximative stage
7. Learner Problems
7.3 In Detail: Syllable Structure

Which of the following do you believe to be
possible and which impossible English words?
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Pfunging
Plin
Pzan
Prush
Trilly
Tnuc
7. Learner Problems
7.3 In Detail: Syllable Structure

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Language specific rules how syllables are made up
English: compulsory vowel preceded or followed by
one or more consonants

Main L2 trouble: consonant combinations
 Even if consonants of both languages are the
same combinations may differ

L2 learners try to make syllables fit their L1
 Interlanguage solution
7. Learner Problems
7.3 In Detail: Syllable Structure

Epenthesis: insertion of extra vowel to make
English fit L1 (e.g. Korean, Arabic)



Korean: “kelass” for class
Japanese “sutoraki” for strike
Simplification: deletion of consonants out of words if
not allowed in L1

Cantonese: “Joa” for Joan
7. Learner Problems
7.4 In Detail: Voicing (VOT)
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Voice onset time: the moment voicing starts
Systems differ
Example: stops
 English voiced: before or almost simultaneous to
moment of release
 English unvoiced: after release
 Spanish: before release
 Spanish unvoiced: almost simultaneous to
release
Spanish speaker may interpret voiced as unvoiced
7. Learner Problems
7.5 Universal Processes

Occur in later stages of L2 acquisition (Major, 1986)

Early stages: stronger L1 interference
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Simplification happens almost regardless of L1

Devoicing of final consonants

Epenthesis depends on structure of L1 but seems
available to all L2 learners
8. Teaching Pronunciation
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Recent studies: can make difference when focus
lies on suprasegmentals rather than segmentals
(Hahn, 2004)
Typical: Ad-hoc correction of single words in
isolation
 Learning must include: pronunciation rules,
syllable structure & precise VOT control
Relationship reception/production of sounds is
complex
8. Teaching Pronunciation



Evelyn Altenberg (2005)
 Learners good at writing pseudowords
 NOT so good at production
Faults need to be related to students current
interlanguage
Learner stage orientation:
 Beginners: emphasis on single words
 Intermediate: relate to L1
 Advanced: L2 sound system separate
8. Teaching Pronunciation
8.1 Standards
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Controversial issue
Intelligibility rather than native-like ability
 Strong foreign accent can still be
comprehensible (Munrow/Derwing, 1995)
Teachers should be aware that some sounds will
never improve (treat them differently to the ones
that will)
Remember: success rate depends on learner’s
motivation
8. Teaching Pronunciation
8.2 Influential Factors

Student’s L1
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Amount and type of exposure to L2
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Degree of L1 use
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Ethnic orientation and sense of identity
8. Teaching Pronunciation
8.3 Standard Teaching Techniques
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Phonetic Script
 Disputed whether conscious awareness
converts into ability to speak
Imitation
Discrimination of sounds
 Minimal pair exercises: no context
Consciousness raising
 Training ears to hear things better (cf. Cook)
Communication
 Real life problems
8. Teaching Pronunciation
8.4 Intonation
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Intonation shows: grammatical points, discourse
connections, speakers’ attitudes
Helps intelligibility
L2 intonation similar to L1: few problems
New patterns: own strategies of students
Mostly: practice and repetition
Better: awareness for nature of intonation
Dickerson (1987): L2 intonation instruction is indeed
very helpful
Sources

Gass, S.M. & Selinker, L. (2001). Second Language
Acquisition. An Introductory Course. 2nd ed.
London: LEA.

Cook, V. (2001). Second Language Learning and
Language Teaching. 3rd ed. New York: OUP.

Lightbown P.M. & Spada, N. (2006). How
Languages are Learned. 3rd ed. Oxford: OUP.
And finally:
Thanks for your attention!
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Learner Language: Vocabulary & Phonology