International Conference on English Language Teaching Instruction and Assessment


John Read
Victoria University of Wellington

There is a current boom in second language vocabulary studies but in language teaching and learning the focus of attention tends to be curiously narrow. Vocabulary is seen as a key component of language knowledge, made up of words to be learned as individual semantic units, and thus we have well-established tests of vocabulary size and some measures of the depth of learners' knowledge of words. However, the role of vocabulary in language proficiency assessment has been less clearly articulated. There are at least two ways in which our perspective on vocabulary assessment needs to be broadened. The first is that we should assess the learners' ability to deploy their vocabulary knowledge effectively in the performance of communicative tasks, which require them to take account of contextual constraints on the meaning and use of words. Secondly, we increasingly recognise that a major component of a vocabulary consists of multi-word units (or formulaic sequences) which represent the key to fluent, native-like proficiency in the language. This paper will consider the implications of these two perspectives for the design and analysis of language assessment tasks, illustrated with examples from recent research by the speaker and other scholars.