Vocabulary Learning Beliefs, Strategies and Language Learning Outcomes: a study of Chinese learners of English in Higher Vocational Education

Li, Su
Bitchener, John
Conway, Clare
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Master of Arts in Applied Language Studies
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Auckland University of Technology

It is widely perceived that vocabulary learning is important in second language acquisition (SLA), and that vocabulary learning outcomes are not satisfactory for most learners. As beliefs and strategies are factors influencing SLA, vocabulary learning beliefs (VLB) and strategies (VLS) have drawn continuous attention in SLA research in the past two decades, especially in China. The present study has continued these foci by investigating VLB and VLS of a new group of English learners in China whose vocabulary learning is under-researched - vocational college students. The study aimed to capture the VLB and VLS profiles of such learners by triangulating them with teacher observations. It also aimed to examine the interrelationships between VLB, VLS and learning outcomes. In essence, the consistency in learners’ self-reports and the consistency between learners’ self-reports and their actual vocabulary learning behavior perceived by their English teacher were examined. A mixed-method approach was adopted for investigation from different perspectives. Involving student questionnaires and interviews as well as an interview with a teacher, this approach overcame the weakness of reliance on learners’ self-reported questionnaires in previous work. 102 International Trade and Economy majors at a Chinese vocational college completed the questionnaire and the vocabulary test. Follow-up interviews were conducted with 20% of these students and their English teacher. Synthesis of quantitative data and qualitative data revealed the students predominantly believed in the importance of vocabulary for the tests while tending to disagree that vocabulary should be memorized. They seemed to dwell on dictionary strategies and contextual guessing while using communication/cooperation and wordlists the least. However, teacher observations contradicted their belief in the high use of dictionaries and low use of wordlists. Among the VLBs, self-efficacy showed the most significant correlation with vocabulary proficiency. No VLB showed significant correlation with general English proficiency. In addition, not all VLSs, that significantly correlated with vocabulary proficiency, showed significant correlation with general English proficiency. Furthermore, self-efficacy and interest in vocabulary learning showed a wide range of correlation with VLSs, while the belief in the importance of vocabulary learning for the tests and the belief in memorization showed the minimum range of correlation with VLSs. The results confirmed the two-dimensional construct of vocabulary-knowledge plus skill of use. The findings also revealed for the first time the importance of motivational beliefs in vocabulary learning. Pedagogical suggestions such as cultivation of students’ self-efficacy and interest in vocabulary learning and implications for future research including longitudinal studies of VLB and/or VLS variation were also identified

Vocabulary learning , Strategy , Beliefs
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