Measuring Vocabulary Size

Authored by: Paul Nation , Laurence Anthony

Handbook of Research in Second Language Teaching and Learning

Print publication date:  December  2016
Online publication date:  November  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138859814
eBook ISBN: 9781315716893
Adobe ISBN: 9781317508366


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There are two kinds of vocabulary proficiency tests. One kind, of which the most well-known is the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (Dunn, 1965), measures knowledge of a selection of words that do not systematically represent a larger population of words. A learner’s score on such a test can be compared with another learner’s score, or the score of a group of learners can be compared with another group or with norms for various groups. The second kind of test can be called a vocabulary size measure because the words in the test are intended to be a representative sample of the vocabulary as a whole or of a clearly defined section of it. Thus, a learner’s score on the test can be converted into the number of words known in the whole language or that section of the language, such as the most frequent 10, 000 words. The best-known test of this type is the Vocabulary Size Test (Nation & Beglar, 2007). This chapter deals with this second kind of test and looks at the design and limitations of such tests for both native speakers and non-native speakers of English.

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