a1 Stockholm University
a2 Uppsala University
This article reports on the design and use of a profiler for lexical sophistication (i.e., use of advanced vocabulary), which was created to assess the lexical richness of intermediate and advanced Swedish second language (L2) learners’ French and Italian. It discusses how teachers’ judgments (TJs) of word difficulty can contribute to the methodology for lexical profiling and compares two methods, one purely frequency based and one modified on the basis of TJs of word difficulty. It has been suggested elsewhere that factors other than frequency play an important role in vocabulary acquisition. Here it is argued that cognates and thematic vocabulary related to teaching materials, although infrequent in target language (TL) corpora, should not necessarily be considered advanced and that analyses of learners’ lexical sophistication would benefit from integrating these aspects. In this study, the frequency-based method normally used in lexical profiling was modified by recategorizing some low-frequency words considered easy by many teachers. On the basis of the TJs, a basic vocabulary, which consisted mainly of high-frequency words but also of cognates and thematic words, was defined, which was based on the fact that teachers judged certain low-frequency cognates and thematic words as relatively easy. Using the modified method, learners’ lexical profiles were found to be more homogeneous within groups of learners at specific proficiency levels. The superiority of the new method over the purely frequency-based one was shown when comparing effect sizes. It is argued that this method gives a more correct picture of advanced L2 lexical profiles.
This study is part of the research program High-Level Proficiency in Second Language Use, funded by the Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Foundation (grant M2005-0459). The authors would like to thank Dr. Per Näsman, senior statistician at the Royal Institute of Technology, KTH, Stockholm, for helping us with the statistics, and Lamont Antieau for checking and correcting our English.