We recently published Vocabulary Theory, Patterning and Teaching edited by Paweł Szudarski and Samuel Barclay. In this post the editors discuss their book’s contribution to the flourishing field of vocabulary studies.
Let’s step back in time. It is the 1940s and we are sitting in the back of an English language class. The teacher is standing at the front reading a dialogue aloud. After listening, we voice first one character and then the other before completing substitution, transformation, and chain drills. Forty-five minutes later we recite the dialogue perfectly and leave the classroom smiling.
Cut to thirty years later, the 1970s, and the teacher has embraced the communicative approach. We are interacting with our classmates, completing discussion and problem-solving activities. We are encouraged to focus on transacting meaning and communicating fluently, and after another, slightly noisier, forty-five minutes we stand up to leave.
These two scenarios represent markedly different views of language, learning, and learners and yet they are similar in one very important way: neither adopts a principled approach to the teaching and learning of vocabulary. In 2021, although many curricula may still lack a systematic process of vocabulary selection, instruction, and recycling, the picture looks, on the whole, lexically richer, at least when it comes to empirical findings and a growing interest in this area. Vocabulary plays an increasingly central role in language teaching, and research into lexical studies has flourished over the past few decades. The field then, is in a healthy state.
This situation has not come about by chance but rather is the result of the consistent endeavour of a handful of individuals. These researchers nurtured the foundations of the field, providing the roots upon which current research activity proudly stands, actively cultivating the field from an overlooked sapling into the position of prominence it holds today. One of these scholars is Professor Norbert Schmitt, in whose honour this edited volume is written. Anyone who knows Second Language Acquisition and Vocabulary Studies knows Norbert from his considerable research contributions over the last 30 years, and perhaps also the colourful Tigger t-shirts he wears to conferences. He has written about various aspects of the field – teaching and learning, formulaic language, assessment, theory – and, crucially, for a variety of audiences – from textbooks for students and introductory books for instructors, to research manuals and reports for those who are more research oriented. In doing so, he has helped to ignite and sustain research interest in vocabulary, while nurturing the next generation of scholars and ensuring that students of applied linguistics have a positive educational experience.
This volume is, however, much more than an extended thank-you letter to Norbert. It presents cutting-edge research from prominent scholars in the field. There are nine experimental chapters organised into three sections – theory and assessment, formulaic language, and teaching and learning. Each section also contains an opening chapter written by leading scholars in the field of Vocabulary Studies, where they offer their perspective on the reported findings, their place within the wider area of lexical and applied linguistic research, and also make suggestions for future studies. In this way, the volume acts as a microcosm of Norbert’s career; it contains thought-provoking and innovative designs and methodologies, but also seeks to foster future research activity. There is also a fascinating preface written by Michael McCarthy and a hilarious afterword penned by Zoltan Dornyei, both of whom were Norbert’s colleagues and collaborators during his career at the University of Nottingham. The volume represents, to continue the metaphor started above, that the vocabulary tree is strong and healthy. It has solid roots and is growing ever bigger, expanding in different directions, and becoming denser in certain key areas. Thankfully, the more it develops, the more ground it has the capacity to influence, the more nutrients its products feed into the educational ecosystem. The image on the front cover of this volume is this tree and we hope that the reported findings sufficiently contribute to the foliage. We may have stretched the metaphor a little too far now, so let us make one final point before wrapping up.
This volume would not have been possible without our gracious contributors. Specific thanks go to Ana Pellicer-Sanchez. Not only has she co-authored a chapter, but she also suggested we contact each other when first I (Paweł) and then I (Sam) called her to discuss an idea for an edited volume. What started as an innocent chat in a small café in London has now turned into an academic publication we are deeply proud of. It has been a great pleasure to have worked together on this volume for the past three years. It has not been all hops and barley, but our work as editors was made easier by the energy and positivity of all the collaborators. It is a sign of the esteem in which Norbert is held that each and every person we emailed about contributing to the volume replied enthusiastically. We hope that you are similarly enthusiastic about the volume and look forward to hearing your thoughts. Happy reading!
Paweł Szudarski and Sam Barclay
For more information about this book, please see our website.
If you found this interesting, you might also like Perspectives on the L2 Phrasicon by Sylviane Granger.