Vocabulary Testing and the Influence of Second Language on Third Language Vocabulary Acquisition

Szabo, Csaba Zoltán (2017). Vocabulary Testing and the Influence of Second Language on Third Language Vocabulary Acquisition. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000ce71


Learning and speaking foreign languages are regarded today as the norm. Simultaneously, empirical findings in the area of multilingualism have recently demonstrated that the mental lexicon of a language learner consists of intertwined systems where languages interact with each other, rather than remain separate entities. However, studies that explore how different lexicons are integrated and influence each other in the case of multilinguals are relatively scarce.

This thesis seeks to contribute to this gap in research reporting two empirical studies drawing on a vocabulary testing perspective. The studies investigate the impact of prior lexical knowledge on additional language learning of Hungarian native speakers, who speak Romanian as an L2 and English as an L3.

From a theoretical standpoint, the studies contest the traditional assumption that foreign language vocabulary acquisition can be explained solely by measures of frequency of word occurrence. Instead is contended that cross-linguistic similarities, namely cognates, provide a special bridge between languages and also need to be taken into account. At a more substantive level, it aims to explore (1) the relationship between learners’ Romanian and English written lexical knowledge; (2) the facilitatory effect of cognates; and (3) the implications of this for vocabulary assessments. To address these aims, Romanian versions of Nation’s Vocabulary Levels Test (VLT) and Vocabulary Size Test (VST) have been developed, assessed for validity, and applied.

The findings indicate that there is a strong connection between multilinguals’ Romanian L2 and English L3 lexica. Learners’ lexical proficiency can be described as a function of frequency but is also influenced by cognateness. Therefore, word frequency and cognateness in conjunction can potentially increase test accuracy and validity, and enable a more in-depth understanding of vocabulary size and lexical accessibility. These conclusions are drawn from a vocabulary testing perspective, but further pedagogical implications, future directions for research and limitations are also offered.

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