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The process of vocabulary learning

The process of vocabulary learning:
Vocabulary learning strategies and beliefs about language
and language learning

Robert Michael Easterbrook

A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy in Education,
The University of Canberra, November 2013



Abstract
The process of learning a foreign language is an important and challenging component in foreign
language students’ lives due to the students’ limited language exposure and opportunities to
practice the language. While research in China has focused on vocabulary learning strategies and
the Chinese culture of learning beliefs about language and language learning, these have been
explored as individual factors. Research has not explored these factors as part of a process of
learning that is driven by both strategies and beliefs in the one research project. In attempting to
fill this gap, the present research thus explored the possible influence of vocabulary learning
strategy use and beliefs about language and language learning on the process of vocabulary

learning in the Chinese university context. The research was novel in that it compared
vocabulary strategy use, students’ language learning beliefs and examined potential impact on
vocabulary development across 4 grades at a university level.
Using mixed methods, quantitative and qualitative, the research explored vocabulary learning
strategy use (VLS), beliefs about language and language learning (BALLL), general and
specific, and English vocabulary size, in this order, to gain insights into the process of English
vocabulary learning. Data was collected using three questionnaires (one vocabulary learning
strategies questionnaire, and two beliefs questionnaires), a range of vocabulary size tests (e.g.
vocabulary size tests 1000, 2000, 3000 and Academic) and interviews with Chinese English
Majors in a university context. Non-parametric Kruskal-Wallis and Spearman’s rho correlation
tests were run, the first to observe statistically significant differences in mean-scores, at the
individual level within a grade, and then between grades, and second, to observe the relationship
among strategies, beliefs and vocabulary size test scores. The Kruskal-Wallis test was used to
observe relationships among the main factors (e.g. strategies, beliefs and vocabulary size test
scores), as well as between the main factors and age and years of English education. The
interviews underwent thematic analysis to highlight common themes which allowed students to
elaborate on some questionnaire responses.
The results show that there is consistency in strategy use and beliefs about language and
language learning in Chinese English Majors process of vocabulary learning. The process:
students often discover new vocabulary in written materials, sometimes TV/movies and songs,
and then use a small range of strategies to learn it using other strategies to complement the small
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range of strategies. The most frequently used strategies included guessing meaning, looking up
dictionary, learning its spelling, writing it down, learning its pronunciation, saying it aloud, and
connecting it with the Chinese meaning. This process was observed in and/or interpreted from
their VLS use and their BALLL, general and specific. The results of exploring these factors
highlighted 1) particular VLSs repeatedly used across four grades which included discovering
new vocabulary in textbooks, when reading English materials; memorizing the new word’s
pronunciation and spelling; connecting new words to the Chinese meaning; looking at the new
word several times; remember the new word by its meaning (when read again)), and 2) general
and specific beliefs about language and language learning, for example, it’s important to repeat
English words and practice often and I learn English to find a good job in the future.
Other strategies were used on occasion to complement the fixed set of strategies, depending on
the learning task such as remembering a new word by its meaning (when heard again); the way
the new word is used; trying to guess the word’s meaning from context (e.g. the sentence the
word is used in). There were strong correlations found among vocabulary learning strategies and
beliefs, both general and specific. There was no significant correlation found between strategy
use/ beliefs and vocabulary size tests. Vocabulary size grew incrementally but not dramatically


throughout the four-year degree. There was little difference in scores for all students in the 4
grades on the vocabulary size tests 1000 to 3000 and Academic, with scores decreasing from
vocabulary size tests 1000 to 3000. However, scores increased in each grade on the Academic
size test e.g. English vocabulary size ranged from 2400 to 5200 for grade 1; from 3900 to 6300
for grade 2; from 1900 to 5900 for grade 3; from 3500 to 6100 for grade 4. The result can be
attributed to students following a fairly fixed regime of vocabulary learning strategy use, driven
by a range of beliefs that reflect how students conceptualise language and how to learn it, as well
as a lack of opportunity to use it and limited exposure. The fixed regime of vocabulary learning
strategy use might also be explained by classroom pedagogy which tends not to focus on oral
communication therefore limiting or constraining English vocabulary size and language
development. The discussion provides recommendations for teaching vocabulary and strategy
training in the Chinese university context.

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Acknowledgements
This thesis would never have been completed if it hadn’t been for the help and support of so
many people. I want to express my thanks to them here.
Dr. Stracke, Dr. Houston, Dr. Jones, Dr. Hill, Dr. Petraki and Dr. Zhang who willingly accepted
to supervise me at some stage during the research project but soon found it tough supervising,
their warm encouragement and dedication to perfection, and their excellent assistance and
abundant ideas and suggestions contributed to the completion of the thesis. Dr. Petraki,
especially, for her commitment and hard work in the final stage when much revision and work
was achieved.
The Chinese English Majors who willingly participated in the research. If these willing few
hadn’t have agreed to participate, the project would never have seen full fruition. They made my
life very interesting when I taught many of them, and by giving their time and effort to informing
me about themselves and their lives without hidden agenda.
The university research site teachers and administrators. If the administrators hadn’t have given
permission for the research to go ahead at the site, it would have had to have searched for and
used another site. And there was no telling how enthusiastic or how indifferent the administrators
at another site would have been to the research given the context of the research. I thank the
many teachers at the research site for the support and friendship.
‘Dean’ Wang Lei, a dedicated Chinese English language teacher, excellent research assistant and
very good friend. Firstly, I thank him for his enduring friendship despite the hassles associated
with being involved in the research project, secondly, for his willing assistance without which
the data collection process would have been more trouble than it was, and thirdly, for carry the
burden of association beyond the use by date.
Yu Hong, excellent Chinese English teacher, research assistant, and partner during the many
years spent in northern China. Firstly, I thank her for her willingness to commit her time and
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energy to assisting with the administrative duties attached to the data collection process and
management of the questionnaires, and secondly, for her love and companionship without which
my life in northern China would have been more lonely and barren than it was.
I offer the University of Canberra a special thank you for offering me candidature. I thank the
university for giving me the chance to fulfil a childhood dream that was finally realized, but not
until I was in the autumn of my youth. And without the support of the university in several
important areas, completing the thesis might have been more challenging than it was.
Some of my fellow PhD candidates during the PhD program, Josh Rosner, Andrew Blythe,
Kilala Chi (now Dr. Chi), Sri Wahyuni (now Dr. Wahyuni), Yoshi Yamamoto (now Dr.
Yamamoto), Ross Hamilton, Walter Steensby, Dr. Man Chul and many others who, while I was
completing my thesis, supported me in many interesting and kindly ways; especially with
humour and great conversation. Firstly, I thank them for their camaraderie, and secondly, for the
special encouragement some of them gave me when the journey got very challenging and tough,
and thirdly, the small kindnesses some of them showed me that made the journey far more
bearable and sustained me through the toughest times.
To Dr. Judith Ascione, a special thank you, for the wonderful assistance on the statistics. Miss
Jee Lee, for additional brainstorming on the approach to statistical analysis. And a special thank
you to Belinda Henwood for the excellent editorial work.
To the many people who, though I was unknown to them, were role models and inspirational in
the most important ways. I give a special thank you to these people because if it hadn’t have
been for their lives and the milestones they each achieved, I might not have been inspired to
undertake one of the most interesting journeys ever during my short years on this planet.

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TABLE OF CONTENTS
Abstract
Form B: Certificate of Authorship of Thesis
Acknowledgements
Table of contents
List of abbreviations
List of tables, graphs, charts and illustrations
1.0
1.1
1.2
1.3
1.4
1.5
1.6
2.0
2.1
2.2
2.3
2.3.2
2.4
2.4.1
2.5
3.0
3.1
3.2
3.3
4.0
4.1
4.2
4.3
4.4
4.5
4.6
4.6.1
4.7
4.8
5.0
5.1

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Section
Chapter 1: Introduction & Overview
Steps taken to explore the process of vocabulary learning
Background
Research questions
Definitions of Key Terms
Contribution to knowledge and significance of the research
The structure of the thesis
Chapter 2: Vocabulary, Vocabulary Learning, and Vocabulary
Learning Strategies
Vocabulary and vocabulary knowledge
Vocabulary learning
Definitions of vocabulary learning strategies
Classifications of vocabulary learning strategies
Vocabulary learning strategy research – a brief outline
Vocabulary learning strategy research conducted globally outside China
Vocabulary learning strategy research in a Chinese context
Chapter 3: Beliefs About Language and Language learning
Beliefs about language and language learning – research in a global
context
Beliefs in relation to language and language learning/strategies
Chinese culture of learning – English language education/learning in a
Chinese context
Chapter 4: Methodology & Procedures
Methods and selection of methods
Mixed methods design
Reliability and validity
Case and participants
Role of the researcher
Data collection method & Procedures
Data collection instruments, their nature and function
Procedures – administration, data management and data analysis
Intended outcomes of the research
Chapter 5: Results – Vocabulary learning strategies and beliefs about
language and language learning – descriptive statistics
Part 1: Research question No. 1: Which vocabulary learning strategies do
Chinese English Majors tend to use?
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Page
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5.2
5.3
5.3.1
5.3.2
5.3.3
5.3.4
5.3.5
5.3.6
5.3.7
5.4
5.5
5.6
5.6.1
5.6.2
5.7
5.7.1
5.8
6.0
6.1
6.2
6.3
6.4
6.5
7.0
7.0
7.1
7.2
7.3
7.4
7.5
7.6
7.7

Frequency-of-use strategy groupings
Questionnaire & Interview data compared
Question #1: Where do you meet new vocabulary?
Question #2: What do you usually do when you meet a new word?
Question #3: Do you practise the new vocabulary? What strategies do you
use?
Question #4: How do you memorise new words?
Question #5: Should vocabulary learning strategies be taught?
Strategies rarely or never used
The percentage of students often using a strategy
Research question No. 2: What is the difference in VLS use among the four
grades of CEMs?
Additional questions: Where do you often learn vocabulary during the
semester? and Of four possible sources to obtain VLS, which do CEMs
source the most?
Part 2: Research question No. 3: What are Chinese English Majors
Western and Chinese culture of learning beliefs?
Beliefs about language and language learning
Three general groupings
Chinese culture of learning
Some general groupings in the data
BALLLQ & CCLQ beliefs compared with interview data
Research question
Chapter 6: Results – Statistical Analysis of Vocabulary Learning
Strategy use, Beliefs About Language and Language Learning, and
Vocabulary Size Test
Correlational analysis of three factors – No. 4: Do Chinese English Majors
beliefs, general and specific, correlate with vocabulary learning strategy
use?
Spearman’s rho Correlational analysis of VLS use against VST/Academic
score-means in each grade
Correlational analysis of 7 factors in each grade
Kruskal-Wallis test of beliefs & strategies against 3 means of scores on
Academic size test
Boxplots analysis of beliefs against Academic size test means of scores
Chapter 7: Discussion
Section 1: Research question No. 1 & Research question No. 2:
Vocabulary learning strategies
CEMs’ memorization strategies compared to Schmitt (1997)
VLS use compared with Gu and Johnson (1996)
Patterning of VLS use compared to compared to Gu and Johnson (1996)
Use of discovery and consolidation strategies compared to Griffiths (2013)
The present research compared to Ma (2009)
Clustering of VLSs in four grades
Variable use of VLSs

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197

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7.8 Research question No. 2: What is the difference in VLs frequency of use
among the four grades of CEMs?
7.8.1 Gu’s Tetrahedral Model
7.9 Section 2: Research question No. 3 & Research question No. 4: Beliefs
about language and language learning
7.9.1 Horwitz’ BALLI
7.9.2 The difficulty of language
7.9.3 Foreign language aptitude
7.9.4 The nature of language learning
7.9.5 Learning and communication strategies
7.9.6 Motivations and expectations
7.9.7 Additional research into the relationship between beliefs and VLs
generally
7.10 Shi’s CCL BALLL
7.10.1 Attitude to learning English
7.10.2 Learner’s aims for learning English
7.10.3 Criteria for being a good teacher of English
7.10.4 Teacher-student relationship
7.10.5 Perceptions of teachers’ attitudes towards students’ questions in the
classroom
7.10.6 Favoured teaching method
7.10.7 Attitudes to the content of textbooks
7.10.8 Memorising vocabulary
7.10.9 Practising reading skill
7.10.10 Practising speaking skill
7.10.11 Practising listening skill
7.10.12 Practising writing skill
7.10.13 Barriers to learning English
7.10.14 What makes a good learner?
7.11 Research question No. 6: Do BALLL and VLSs have an impact on EVS of
CEMs?
7.12.1 Section 3: The process of vocabulary learning uses strategy clusters
7.12.2 The PVL involves strategies and beliefs
7.12.3 The importance of the findings
8.0 Chapter 8: Conclusion
8.1 Summary of project aims
8.2 Major findings - summary
8.3 Theoretical implications & contribution
Practical implications
8.4 Limitations and Recommendations
List of References
Appendices
1 GDLB
2 VLSQ
3 BALLI
4 CCLQ
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305
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5 VSTs
6 English vocabulary size – research question No. 4
7 Statistical formula for the Kruskal-Wallis test and Spearman’s rho
correlations
8 VLSQ tables of means, percentages, groupings graphs, and interview
tables
9 BALLI tables of means, percentages, groupings graphs, interview tables,
and comparisons
10 CCLQ tables of means, percentages, groupings graphs, interview tables,
and comparisons
11 Interview tables
12 Participant information sheets – for the questionnaire
13 Participant information sheets – for the interview
14 Informed consent form – for the questionnaire
15 Informed consent form – for the interview
16 Permission to conduct research

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LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS
BA

Bachelor of Arts degree

BALLI

Beliefs about language and language learning inventory

BALLL

Beliefs about language and language learning

BALLLQ

Beliefs about language and language learning questionnaire

CCL

Chinese culture of learning

CCLQ

Chinese culture of learning questionnaire

CEMs

Chinese English Majors

CET

College Entrance Test

DV

Dependent variable

EFL

English as a foreign language

EGP

English for general purposes

ELT

English language teaching

ESL

English as a second language

EVS

English vocabulary size

FLC

Foreign language community

FLL

Foreign language learning

FLLs

Foreign language learners

GDLB

General demographics and language background

ICQ

Abbreviation of ‘I seek you’

IV

Independent variable

LLSs

Language learning strategies

LTM

Long term memory

MoE

Ministry of Education

NET

Native English teacher [online]

PVL

Process of vocabulary learning

SD

Standard deviation

SILL

Strategy inventory of language learning

SLA

Second language acquisition

SPSS

Statistical package for the social sciences

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TEM

Test for English Majors

USA

United States of America

UU

University of Utah

VLS

Vocabulary learning strategy

VLSQ

Vocabulary learning strategy questionnaire

VLSs

Vocabulary learning strategies

VST

Vocabulary size test

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LIST OF TABLES, GRAPHS, CHARTS & ILLUSTRATIONS
Table 2.1

Schmitt’s 26 memory strategies

22

Table 2.2

Schmitt’s 2001 VLS taxonomy

25

Table 2.3

Vocabulary learning strategy categories

25

Table 2.4

Vocabulary strategy categories & strategy function

26

Table 4.1

Researcher, method and factor researched

67

Table 4.2

‘Multi-questionnaire’ data collection instruments and method

75

Table 4.3

General demographics and language background

77

VLSQ Question No. 1

78

Table 4.4

Three Means-score range analysis

80

Illustration

BALLI Belief statement No. 5: English is structured in the same way

No. 2

as Chinese

Illustration

CLQ Belief statement No. 3: A good teacher of English should be

No. 3

knowledgeable in his/her area

Table 4.5

VLT 1000 Question 1

85

Table 4.6

One student’s general characteristics and language background

89

Table 4.7

GDLB for whole of grade 1

90

Table 4.8

One student’s raw data of VLS use

91

Table 4.9

Percentage of student VLS and frequency of use at the grade 1 level

91

Table 4.10

VLS use raw data of grade 1 re: Question 1

92

Table 4.11

Raw data converted to percentages for all grades for each question

92

Illustration
No. 1

Table 4.12
Table 4.13

Percentage of students using a VLS and VLS frequency of use at grade
1 level
Percentage of CEMs who use a VLS and VLS frequency of use of all
grades

81
82

93
94

Table 4:14

Overall ranking of VLSs

94

Table 4.15

All students all grades responses to BALLI Belief Statement #1

96

Table 4.16

All students in all grades responses to BALLI Belief Statement #1 as
percentages

xiii

97


Table 4.17
Table 4.18

All students in all grades responses to CCL Belief statement #1
All students in all grades responses to CCL Beliefs statement #1 as
percentages

98
99

Table 4.19

Known words at the 1,000 words size

100

Table 4.20

Discovery strategies

103

Table 5.1

Categories & Strategies and means suggesting use

109

Tables 5.2

Categories & Strategies for whole group

109

Table 5.3

Question 1: Where do you meet new words?

112

Table 5.4

Question 3: What do you do when you meet new vocabulary?

113

Table 5.5

Question 4: when learning new vocabulary, what aspects do you study? 114

Table 5.6

Question 5: How do you put in order the info about then new
vocabulary?

115

Table 5.7

Question 6: How do you memorize new vocabulary? [First group]

116

Table 5.8

Question 6: How do you memorize new vocabulary? [Second group]

117

Table 5.9

Question 7: How do you review vocabulary?

118

Table 5.10

Question 8: How do you remember words you have memorized?

119

Tables 5.11

Question 9: How do you make use of new vocabulary?

120

Graph 1

Increase

122

Graph 2

Increase then decrease

123

Graph 3

Increase, decrease then increase

125

Graph 4

Increase, decrease then unchanged

126

Graph 5

Increase, then unchanged

127

Graph 6

Increase, unchanged then increase

128

Graph 7

Increase, unchanged then decrease

129

Graph 8

Decrease

130

Graph 9

Decrease then increase

131

Graph 10

Decrease, increase then decrease

132

Graph 11

Decrease, increase then unchanged

133

Graph 12

Decrease then unchanged

134

Graph 13

Unchanged, increase then decrease

135

Graph 14

Unchanged, decrease then increase

136

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Graph 15

Unchanged then decrease

137

Table 5.12

Should vocabulary learning strategies be taught?

146

Table 5.13

Vocabulary learning strategies rarely or never used

148

Table 5.14

Ranked vocabulary learning strategies over all by percentage

151

Table 5.15

VLSs regularly used per grade

153

Table 5.16

Strategies that complemented the Eight

154

Table 5.17
Table 5.18

Percentage of students per grade who chose a place and frequency of
use per Question 2
Percentage of students per grade who chose a source of VLSs and
frequency of choice

157
159

Table 5.19

BALLI beliefs by percentage, frequency and mean

162

Table 5.20

BALLI beliefs by percentage, frequency and mean [continued]

163

Table 5.21

BALLI beliefs by percentage, frequency and mean [continued]

164

Graph 1

Agree

167

Graph 2

Disagree

168

Graph 3

Neither disagree or agree/agree

169

Graph 4

Disagree/neither disagree or agree/agree

170

Graph 5

Level of difficulty

171

Graph 6

Time till fluency

172

Table 5.22

CCL beliefs by grade percentage, frequency and mean

173

Table 5.23

CCL beliefs by grade percentage, frequency and mean [continued]

175

Table 5.24

CCL beliefs by grade percentage, frequency and mean [continued]

175

Table 5.25

CCL beliefs by grade percentage, frequency and mean [continued]

177

Table 5.26

CCL beliefs by grade percentage, frequency and mean [continued]

178

Graph 1

Agree

181

Graph 2

Disagree

182

Graph 3

Disagree, neither disagree or agree/agree

183

Graph 4

Agree/neither disagree or agree

185

Graph 5

Neither disagree or agree

186

Graph 6

Disagree/neither disagree or agree

187

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Table 5.27

What should the student-teacher relationship be like?

190

Table 5.28

Should vocabulary learning strategies be taught?

192

Table 6.1

Three factors correlated

198

Table 6.2

Category & strategies against VST & Academic scores for grade 1

199

Table 6.3

Category & strategies against VST & Academic scores for grade 2

200

Table 6.4

Category & strategies against VST & Academic scores for grade 3

201

Table 6.5

Category & strategies against VST & Academic scores for grade 4

202

Table 6.6

Analysis of all factors for grade 1

203

Table 6.7

Analysis of all factors for grade 2

204

Table 6.8

Analysis of all factors for grade 3

205

Table 6.9

Analysis of all factors for grade 4

206

Table 6.10

Differences in means-scores to show difference or no difference

209

Boxplot 1

Mann-Whitney for BALLI beliefs against Academic scores

210

Boxplot 2

Mann-Whitney for CCL beliefs against Academic scores

211

Table 7.1

Guessing from context, Dictionary & Rehearsal strategies

218

Table 7.2

Discovery & Consolidation strategies compared to Oxford’s SILL

219

Table 7.3

Categories & Strategies for whole group CEMs & Ma 2009

222

Table 7.4

Categories & Strategies and means suggesting use CEMs & Ma 2009

224

Table 7.5

Individual difference in VLS use Question 2

231

Table 7.6

Individual difference in VLS use Question 3

231

Table 7.7

Individual difference in VLS use Question 4

231

Table 7.8

Discovery-place strategies Question 2

233

Table 7.9

Determination-initial response strategies Question 3

233

Table 7.10

Determination-study strategies Question 4

233

Table 7.11

English vocabulary size in grade 2 Xiao A & Xiao B

234

Graph 1

I enjoy English CEMs & Shi

245

Graph 2

I learn English to improve myself/self-development CEMs & Shi

246

Graph 3

I learn English to find a good job in the future CEMs & Shi

246

Graph 4

I learn English for daily communication CEMs & Shi

247

Graph 5

I learn English for the honour of my family CEMs & Shi

247

Graph 6

I learn English to pass exams CEMs & Shi

248

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Graph 7

A good teacher of English should improve my English skills CEMs &
Shi

248

Graph 8

Good teachers should be knowledgeable CEMs & Shi

249

Graph 9

A good teacher should provide comprehensible notes CEMs & Shi

249

Graph 10

A good teacher should improve students’ language skills CEMs & Shi

250

Graph 11

A good teacher should help students pass exams CEMs & Shi

250

Graph 12

The teacher-student relationship should be friend-friend CEMs & Shi

251

Graph 13

The teacher-student relationship should be parent-child CEMs & Shi

252

Graph 14

I love my teacher, but I love the truth more CEMs & Shi

253

Graph 15

If not agreeing with teacher’s teaching, still follow teacher CEMs &
Shi

254

Graph 16

I prefer the teacher use different teaching activities CEMs & Shi

254

Graph 17

I prefer the teacher to encourage me to learn CEMs & Shi

255

Graph 18

I think textbook content is not totally correct CEMs & Shi

255

Graph 19

I think textbook knowledge is useful in real life CEMs & Shi

256

Graph 20

I memorize vocabulary using rehearsal strategies CEMs & Shi

256

Graph 21

I practice reading with textbooks CEMs & Shi

257

Graph 22

I practice speaking by reading aloud & reciting texts CEMs & Shi

258

Graph 23

I practice listening by listening to textbooks tapes CEMs & Shi

258

Graph 24

I practice writing with a diary CEMs & Shi

259

Graph 25

I think the main barrier is I don’t work hard enough CEMs & Shi

260

Graph 26

A good learner of English should respect teachers CEMs & Shi

260

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CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION AND OVERVIEW
1.0 Introduction
The foreign language learning process is a significant event in the life of the learner
attempting to learn a foreign language for various reasons in contexts like China, and interest
in exploring and highlighting its nature and impact on eventual foreign language proficiency
spans many decades. The present research explores the English vocabulary learning process,
a key aspect of foreign language learning (FLL), and in particular, two influential factors, that
of vocabulary learning strategies (VLSs) and beliefs about language and language learning
(BALLL), in order to provide useful insights into the English vocabulary learning process in
China. Section 1.1 discusses steps taken to explore the process of vocabulary learning (PVL),
1.2 discusses the background to the research, 1.3 research questions, 1.4 definitions of key
terms, 1.5 contribution to knowledge/significance of research and 1.6 structure of thesis.
1.1 Steps taken to explore the process of vocabulary learning
To better know the process of vocabulary learning (PVL) in a Chinese context, VLSs and
their use was explored. Early research (e.g. Stern, 1975) found VLSs influenced how
vocabulary is learned, and subsequent research confirmed it (e.g. Jiang, 2000; Schmitt, 2010).
But it was found that VLSs influenced the range of vocabulary eventually learned (e.g. Gu &
Johnson, 1996; Nation, 2001). Research (e.g. Oxford, 1990) suggests that language learning
strategies (LLSs) influence the outcome of language learning (e.g. Gu & Johnson, 1996; Gu,
2010), and that VLS use, specifically, can enhance vocabulary learning generally (e.g.
Schmitt, 1997).
Beliefs about language and language learning (BALLL) — general (e.g. Horwitz, 1988) and
specific, Chinese culture of learning beliefs (CCL) (Shi, 2006) — were explored. Beliefs
have been found to influence how language is learned (e.g. Wenden, 1987), and also the
range of language eventually learned (e.g. Horwitz, 1999). Research (e.g. Elbaum et al.,
1993) suggests that BALLL influence the initial stage of vocabulary learning. Language
learners initially create a mental representation of the object of learning, for example, a
foreign language is a ‘tool’ (see Everett, 2012), based on factors like experience and/or agent

1


influence, such as parents and teachers. Secondly, they create a mental representation of the
process of learning the foreign language (e.g. rote memorisation of words and grammar (e.g.
Gu & Johnson, 1996), again based on factors like experience and/or agent influence, such as
parents and teachers. However, an established belief in the mind of the language learner
might be difficult if not impossible to change, even when the learner is faced with evidence
that contradicts the belief; for instance, the belief that learning another language, for example
English, is achieved primarily by imitation alone and doing nothing else.
The research explored the impact of VLSs and BALLL on English vocabulary size (EVS).
Research (e.g. Nation, 2001) suggests that vocabulary learning is incremental, the result of
not only repeated exposure to language (for instance, new language repeatedly exposed to
cognitive processes and consciously manipulated in working memory), but also repeated
opportunities to use it (for instance, recycling learned language). Nation (2001) identifies
three main aspects of vocabulary knowledge, 1) orthography, 2) pronunciation, and 3)
language use, which must be learned. This thesis supports this idea, and vocabulary is seen as
the learning objective of all English as a foreign language learners (EFL learners) in order to
have complete vocabulary knowledge of a foreign language, particularly English. EVS is
explored as an aspect of the process of vocabulary learning (PVL) as much as an outcome
(e.g. Levin & Pressley, 1985), and explored with a view to better understanding it and
subsequently improving vocabulary learning.
Using mixed methods, the research is exploratory, gathering quantitative and qualitative data
to explore VLS use, BALLL and EVS as aspects of the PVL, based on evidence from
questionnaires, interview and tests. The research is also interpretive, in that making sense of
the data collected on VLS use, BALLL and EVS was achieved through both quantitative
measures (e.g. non-parametric tests), qualitative analysis of qualitative data (e.g. thematic
analysis) and reference to prior research — see Chapter 4: Methodology and Procedures.
1.2 Background
In the foreign language learning (FLL) field, particularly in a Chinese context, no (known)
research has explored the English vocabulary learning process the way the present research
does (e.g. Gu & Johnson, 1996), researching the relationship among VLS use and BALLL,
general and specific, and vocabulary size test (VST) scores to gain insight into the PVL. Gu
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and Johnson (1996) suggested strategy use and beliefs were the whole process of FLL and a
process of vocabulary learning but did not show its details, other than list some VLSs and
beliefs that were somehow involved, and mentioned that time was a factor. Schmitt (1997)
hinted at it in his VLS taxonomy. Griffiths (2013) found patterns of LLS use and highlights
that patterns of use were correlated with course level. VLS use, beliefs about language and
language learning, general and specific, and EVS (e.g. Gu & Johnson, 1996; Gu, 2003; Tsai
& Chang, 2009) have been researched as individual factors affecting language learning
outcomes in Chinese contexts. Little is known of the actual process of vocabulary learning in
a Chinese context (e.g. Ma, 2009), though research has shown the initial phase of learning
vocabulary (e.g. Jiang, 2002). Research has been done on each variable as an individual
factor (in both non-Chinese and Chinese contexts) and conclusions drawn about the likely
impact on learning outcomes generally, and vocabulary size specifically — see Chapter 2,
section 2.3 and Chapter 3. The current research is predicated on previous research on each
factor, but explores VLS use and BALLL together in the one project. Although VLS use and
learning outcomes have been matched in a Chinese context (e.g. Gu & Johnson, 1996; Gu,
2002), albeit at a general level, theories posed to explain the outcome of using strategies, as
well as the impact of beliefs — for example, the beliefs of the Chinese culture of learning and
its impact on proficiency (e.g. Cortazzi & Jin, 1996; Shi, 2006) — there is a gap in the
research regarding the process of English vocabulary learning where VLS use and BALLL
play a role in the development of EVS in a Chinese context. The present research tries to fill
this gap.
English language teaching was not explored — English vocabulary teaching specifically, or
the direct relationship between language teaching and vocabulary learning. The research is
focused on the learning side of the equation. Learning is therefore explored without strong
reference to teaching, though the context of learning is English language teaching in a formal
learning context of higher education in China. Based on the literature (see Chapter 2, section
2.2), learning, especially in relation to English vocabulary learning, is viewed as the result of
prior (and continuing) formal education and training, and learning experiences associated
with formal education in China.
As will be discussed, learning is influenced by factors, such as cognitive style, learning style
and cultural style (e.g. Ehrman, 1996, p. 49), acquired in prior formal learning contexts
(primary and middle school) and other sociocultural experiences (such as family life) (e.g.
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Cortazzi & Jin, 1996) as well as the one in which students presently find themselves (higher
education). Chinese English Majors (CEMs) primarily experience formal education (even
formal English education) in China — though they may experience a Westernized education
later as senior undergraduates and/or postgraduates — so their early experience of formal
education is culturally different from students, particularly university students, in either
Australia or the United States. This prior, and often continuing, educational and cultural
experience must be acknowledged in any analysis of EFL learning in China. Learning holds
strong implications for teaching generally, and teaching pedagogy specifically, so the results
will provide further insights for both teaching and pedagogy, and vocabulary teaching
specifically, in Chinese higher education contexts.
1.3 Research questions and their relationship to the research
In order to gain insights into the English vocabulary learning process in a Chinese context,
the research explored CEMs’ vocabulary learning, their VLS use and beliefs as well as their
EVS, and gathered pertinent data to answer the following questions:
Research question No. 1: Which vocabulary learning strategies do Chinese English Majors
tend to use? This will be determined using a questionnaire constructed by Ma (2009) with
slight modification. The idea is to observe which strategies are used and observe patterns of
strategy use across the four grades of a Bachelor degree.
Research question No. 2: What is the difference in vocabulary learning strategy frequency of
use among the four grades of Chinese English Majors? This will be determined using a
scaling that indicates frequency of use — for example, never, rarely, sometimes, often and
always, and, firstly, Non-parametric Kruskal-Wallis and Spearman’s rho to observe
differences in mean scores among individuals within a grade. The students will be able to
indicate whether they use a particular strategy and whether they use it on a regular basis (e.g.,
rarely or often).
Research question No. 3: What are Chinese English Majors’ general ‘Western’ beliefs about
language and language learning and specific Chinese culture of learning beliefs about
language and language learning? Research question No. 4: Do their beliefs about language
and language learning correlate with vocabulary learning strategy use? These will be explored
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using questionnaires validated in and out of China; one exploring general beliefs about
language and language learning (Horwitz, 1988), and the other exploring specific Chinese
beliefs — Chinese culture of learning (Shi, 2006). Non-parametric Correlations Test using
Spearman’s rho will be run.
Research question No. 5: What is the general English vocabulary size of Chinese English
Majors in each of the four grades (grade is used in China instead of year) of a four-year
Bachelor degree? This will be determined using Nation’s Vocabulary Size Test. Students’
vocabulary size will be observed across four grades to observe vocabulary development
patterns in each grade and then observe whether the vocabulary learning strategy use and
beliefs correlate with vocabulary size in each grade. Non-parametric Correlations Test using
Spearman’s rho will be run.
Research question No. 6: Do beliefs about language and language learning and vocabulary
learning strategy use influence English vocabulary size? Non-parametric Correlations Test
using Spearman’s rho will be run.
1.4 Definitions of key terms
1.4.1 Vocabulary
English vocabulary is viewed in the present research (see Chapter 2, section 2.1) as having
two main appearances, orthographical and phonological: a stand-alone language item (e.g.
dog), which possesses meaning, or a combination of stand-alone items often called a
multiword (e.g. three dogs) which may or may not consist of morphological components such
as prefixes, suffixes, or a lexical ‘chunk’ like ‘not least of all’, ‘well and good’ and ‘as well
as’, or acronyms that can carry meaning in an unusual way (e.g. ‘AIDS’) (e.g. Aitchison,
2003; McCarthy, 1990; Nunan, 2003; Proctor, 1996). The research agrees with these
definitions. These aspects of English are generally called English vocabulary, and Chinese
EFL learners will learn them as part of their continuing formal English language education in
a Chinese university.

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1.4.2 Learning
Learning is viewed as a complex process that uses many cognitive resources (see Chapter 2,
section 2.2), not least of all a cognitive ‘tool’ to ‘acquire’ generally both skills and knowledge
and experience (Phye & Andre, 1986, pp. 142-144). These cognitive resources (Phye &
Andre, 1986) include general LLSs and specific VLSs (e.g. Schmitt, 1997) gained/developed
in the process of acquiring the first or other foreign language or skill/knowledge — see
Chapter 2, section 2.3. Illeris defines learning as any cognitive process that “leads to
permanent capacity change and which is not solely due to biological maturation or aging”
(2007, p. 3). In the case of FLL, or more specifically foreign language vocabulary learning,
the CEMs in this research are acknowledged as bringing VLSs with them to the English
vocabulary learning task, strategies gained in the process of learning a first language (e.g.
Chinese Mandarin) or another foreign language (e.g. Russian), as well as other knowledge
(such as mathematics and science) and experience which they may or may not modify for
learning English vocabulary.
1.4.3 Vocabulary learning strategies
VLSs include learning strategies widely accepted and known by other names: learning skills,
learning-to-learn, thinking skills and problem solving skills (e.g. Pan, 2005; Phye & Andre,
1986). These broad definitions and classifications of ‘learning’ are subsumed in the use of the
term ‘learning’ as it is used in the present research. Language learning isn’t viewed here as a
single factor activity. Explicit reference is made to Rubin’s (1987) definition of language
learning, which views it as a process — using many strategies — by which language
information is obtained, stored, retrieved and used, and which was co-opted by Schmitt
(1997), for instance, to define and classify VLSs. This definition is applied to the cognitive
‘tools’ employed in vocabulary learning, and the present research will do the same — see
Chapter 2, section 2.3.
1.4.4 Beliefs about language and language learning
Beliefs are viewed in the present research as “psychologically held understandings, premises,
or propositions about the world that are felt to be true” (Richardson, 1996, p. 103). Beliefs are
also described as the relation between two categories when neither defines the other (Open
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