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The Relationship Between Passive and Active Vocabularies: Effects of LanguageLearning Context

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Abstract:

This study investigated the relationships among 3 types of vocabularyknowledge (passive, controlled active, and free active) within the same individuals, taking 4variables into consideration: passive vocabulary size, language learning context, second (L2) orforeign (FL), length of residence in L2 context and, among the Canadians, knowledge of French.Participants were adult learners of English in Israel (N = 79) and in Canada (N = 103) at different proficiency levels. We used The Levels Test for passivevocabulary size, a Controlled Active Vocabulary Test and The Lexical Frequency Profile (forlexical richness in free written expression). We found that the 3 dimensions of vocabularyknowledge developed at different rates. Active, particularly free active, vocabulary developedmore slowly and less predictably than did passive vocabulary. Furthermore, the relationshipsamong the 3 dimensions of vocabulary knowledge differed between the 2 learning contexts.Although passive vocabulary was always significantly larger than controlled active and freeactive, the passive-active vocabulary gap was smaller in the FL than in the L2 context. Thebenefits of residence in an L2 context only began to appear after about 2 years, as passivevocabulary was activated and the gap reduced. In the Canadian context, knowledge of Frenchwas an asset at the earlier stages of ESL learning.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/0023-8333.00046

Affiliations: 1: University of Haifa, 2: University of Ottawa

Publication date: 1998-09-01

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