Susan Conrad

Date of Award

Winter 3-21-2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages


Applied Linguistics

Physical Description

1 online resource (viii, 128 pages)


English language -- Study and teaching (Higher) -- Foreign speakers -- Case studies, Vocabulary -- Study and teaching (Higher) -- Case studies, Vocabulary -- Word frequency -- Case studies, Second language acquisition -- Case studies




This study examines an English for Academic Purposes (EAP) teacher's speech throughout one curricular unit of an intermediate grammar and writing course in order to better understand which high-value vocabulary students might acquire through attending to the teacher and noticing words that are used.

Vocabulary acquisition is important for English for Academic Purposes students, given the vocabulary demands of academic language. The Academic Word List (Coxhead, 2000) has been shown to include important vocabulary in written academic texts, and has become a standard part of English for Academic Purposes curricula and pedagogical materials. Although explicit vocabulary instruction is important, research has shown that large amounts of vocabulary may be acquired incidentally by attending to meaning. Classroom instruction provides a great deal of input, and could potentially offer a chance for students to encounter and begin to learn academic vocabulary through incidental acquisition. However, existing research on incidental vocabulary acquisition in classrooms has focused on adult instruction and English as a Foreign Language settings, resulting in a lack of evidence about English for Academic Purposes classrooms.

To respond to these needs, this study analyzes the occurrence and repetition of Academic Word List items in the teacher's speech throughout two weeks of a course in an intensive academic English program in the United States. Two weeks of naturalistic class recordings from the Multimedia Adult Learner Corpus were transcribed and analyzed using the RANGE program to find the number of academic vocabulary types in the teacher's speech and how often they were repeated. Additionally, I derived categories of classroom topics and coded the transcribed speech in order to investigate the connection between topics and academic word use.

Academic Word List items are present in the teacher's speech, although they do not constitute a large proportion overall, only 2.8% of the running words. Most of the AWL types relate to specific classroom topics or routines. There are 13 AWL types repeated to a high degree, and 26 AWL types repeated to a moderate degree. These items are the most likely candidates for incidental vocabulary acquisition, though there is evidence from the videos that most of the students already understand their general meanings. It is unlikely that students could learn a great deal about AWL items that they were not already familiar with. However, it is possible that the teacher's speech provides incremental gains in AWL word knowledge.

These findings show that there may be a substantial number of AWL items that students learn about even before explicitly studying academic vocabulary. Teachers should try to draw out students' familiarity with these forms when explicitly teaching AWL vocabulary in order to connect familiar words with their academic meanings and uses.

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