Title: An English and French vocabulary size test for Flemish learners
Authors: Peters, Elke
Van Rompaey, Tinne
Velghe, Tom
Issue Date: Sep-2014
Conference: EUROSLA edition:24 location:York, UK date:3-6 September 2014
Abstract: This presentation reports on the design and development of an English and French vocabulary size test, specifically designed for Dutch-speaking learners in Belgium. More specifically, we aim to develop form-recall and meaning-recognition tests for both English and French which (i) rely on up-to-date frequency information, (ii) pinpoint the vocabulary level of (upper-)intermediate learners in an accurate, valid way and (iii) are tailored to the Flemish context.
In the development of the English test, our purpose is to take into account limitations of previous vocabulary size tests (see also Schmitt et al., 2013). The French vocabulary size test is created from scratch, as a valid French test is not available at present. Such a test is, however, of particular relevance to Flemish learners given the status of French as the second official language in Belgium.
Firstly, the item selection for the tests is based on recent frequency lists extracted from the 450-million-word Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA, Davies 2008-) and the Frequency Dictionary of French (Lonsdale & Le Bras 2009, based on a 23-million-word corpus). The detailed frequency data enable us to define a more adequate representative noun-verb-adjective ratio which, in contrast with Nation’s (1990) 3:2:1 ratio and Schmitt et al.’s (2001:58) 5:3:1 ratio for the English VLT test, differs per frequency band (e.g. the COCA data display a 6:3:2 ratio in the 1 to 1,000 band versus 3:1:1 in the 4,001 to 5,000 list).
Secondly, we address the sampling rate and differentiation within the frequency bands, viz. 1-2,000, 2,001-3,000, 3,001-5,000, and 5,001-10,000, a concern also raised by Schmitt et al. (2013) regarding the Vocabulary Size Test (Nation & Beglar 2007). Preliminary results of Schmitt et al.’s VLT test administered to Flemish undergraduate students show that the VLT might not be sensitive enough to measure learners’ vocabulary size of the frequency bands between 3,000 and 5,000. Therefore, the English and French tests differentiate between the 3001-4,000 and 4,001-5,000 frequency bands.
Thirdly and crucially, our test design is adapted to Dutch-speaking learners in Flanders. The VLT contains a considerable number of cognates and loanwords, including items that are orthographically identical to Dutch (e.g. sport). Consequently, the VLT runs the risk of overestimating learners’ vocabulary size (Schmitt et al. 2013). This may even more so be the case for Flemish, which is prone to English borrowings and known for its historical influence from French – especially in regional variants. Therefore, the item selection for both the English and French test was preceded by a careful screening for Germanic and Romance cognates.
In this poster, we will discuss the design and item selection of the French and English tests in more detail. In addition, we will present the first results of the pilot study.

Davies, Mark. 2008. The Corpus of Contemporary American English: 450 million words, 1990-present. Available online at
Lonsdale, D., & Le Bras, Y. 2009. A frequency dictionary of French core vocabulary for learners. London/New York: Routledge.
Nation, I.S.P. 1990. Teaching and Learning Vocabulary. New York: Newbury House.
Nation, I.S.P. & Beglar, D. 2007. A vocabulary size test. The Language Teacher 31, 7: 9-13.
Schmitt, N., Schmitt, D. & Clapham, C. 2001. Developing and exploring the behaviour of two new versions of the Vocabulary Levels Test. Language Testing 18, 1: 55-88.
Schmitt, N., H. Gyllstad & L. Vilkaite. 2013. Investigating the vocabulary size test: How well does it work for SLA research purposes? Paper presented at the Eurosla 23 Conference, 29 August, Amsterdam.
Publication status: published
KU Leuven publication type: IMa
Appears in Collections:Language and Education, Campus Sint-Andries Antwerp
Linguistics Research Unit - miscellaneous
Linguistics Research Unit, Campus Sint-Andries Antwerp - miscellaneous

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