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THE VOCABULARY LEARNING STRATEGIES OF


UNIVERSITY EFL LEARNERS
Article October 2006

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ANUPI 2006

THE VOCABULARY LEARNING STRATEGIES OF


UNIVERSITY EFL LEARNERS
Alfredo Marn Marn
Universidad de Quintana Roo, Campus Chetumal
ABSTRACT
This paper reports on a preliminary study on the use of vocabulary learning strategies
(VLS) by 185 students enrolled in a five-year English major at the University of Veracruz. The data
collection instruments were an open VLS questionnaire with three general questions and semistructured interviews, whose thorough analyses resulted in a 78-item VLS questionnaire more or
less consistent with similar instruments developed by Ahmed, 1988; Stoffer, 1995; Schmitt, 1997;
Nakamura, 2000; Fan, 2003; Gu, 2003. The interview data were surveyed via the VLS
questionnaire that included eight categories (guessing, skipping, dictionary-use, social-discovery,
note-taking, repetition, association, and further-consolidation strategies).
The results showed that further consolidation emerged as the most frequently used VLS
category, followed by dictionary-use and repetition strategies. In contrast, skipping and association
strategies were the least frequently reported categories. Further, an analysis of individual VLS
showed interesting result that will be discussed in this paper.
1.- INTRODUCTION
Considerable research has been done in the realm of vocabulary learning strategies
across several countries. To the best of my knowledge, to date no published empirical studies on
VLS have been conducted in Mexico. Hence, as suggested by Scholfield1 (personal
communication, 2001), it was felt necessary to start by looking into the EFL situation in Mexico.
The rationale behind this suggestion lies in the fact that sometimes it is taken for granted that
research instruments (e.g. language learning strategies questionnaires) may be administered to
any kind of student populations without considering other factors such as culture, learning
1 P. J. Scholfield is a senior lecturer at the University of Essex and his field of expertise is L2 vocabulary teaching and learning
(http://privatewww.essex.ac.uk/~scholp/).

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environment, the mother tongue, and the like. What follows then is an account of a preliminary
study that paved the way for a wider investigation (Marin-Marin, 2005) in which other variables
were examined.
2.- OBJECTIVES
Basically, the preliminary study had a two-fold purpose. As a primary objective, it aimed to
validate the contents and organisation of a Vocabulary Learning Strategies Questionnaire (VLS-Q).
It was felt that the preliminary study would result in a more valid instrument that reflected the actual
situation in Mexico than just adapting existing questionnaires from the literature (e.g. Ahmed, 1988;
Stoffer, 1995; Schmitt, 1997; Kudo, 1999; Nakamura, 2000).2 Likewise, as a secondary, but
important objective, this study set out to provide a preliminary descriptive picture of how Mexican
university students learn English vocabulary both inside and outside the classroom. More
specifically, the following research questions were stated as follows:
RQ1. What are the most and least frequently reported vocabulary learning strategies?
RQ2. What are the most and least frequently reported vocabulary learning strategy
categories?
3.- PARTICIPANTS
The participants were 185 EFL learners enrolled in an English major at the University of
Veracruz, Mexico. This is a five-year undergraduate programme that consists of three main areas
of study: English language teaching, English-Spanish-English translation, and English literature.
During the first three years of enrolment all the students are lumped together in a common core
curriculum and take subjects such as general English, English workshop on the four skills, Western
culture, Spanish, among others. It is during the last two years of their studies that the students
have the three optional components mentioned above. It should be pointed out that most of the
learners start learning English formally at university level, though they are supposed to have
acquired the basic communicative skills at earlier levels of education, i.e. three years in secondary
school and one year in high school. Anyhow, at university the participants of the preliminary study
2

More recent VLS questionnaires have been designed by Fan (2003) and Gu (2003) both intended for Chinese learners of English.

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were exposed, at least in the classroom, to English in that most of the courses of this programme
are given in the target language. As a matter of fact, compulsory general English courses are
taught almost throughout the programme. Finally, a valid reason for choosing this university for the
preliminary study lies in the fact that the participants share some common characteristics with
those in the main study in terms of previous educational background, English major, EFL
environment, years of studies, and age. Thus, it can be said that a parallel group of participants
was available without any risk of contaminating the data of the main study as the distance between
the two universities is about 1000 kilometres.
4.- INSTRUMENTS AND PROCEDURE
Two instruments were used for collecting the data: an open questionnaire and a semistructured interview. Initially, it had been planned to include a classroom activity, similar to a focus
group. This activity would encourage the learners to talk about those special tricks they used to
learn English vocabulary. Unfortunately, no other classes were available for this due to several
constraints such as timetable clashes, exam periods, and lack of classrooms.
1. THE OPEN QUESTIONNAIRE
As suggested by Scholfield (personal communication, 2001), the open questionnaire (OQ)
should reflect the logical sequence that learners may follow when meeting unfamiliar vocabulary
items, from initial discovery to consolidation whenever the learner decides to do something about it.
Thus, the OQ was divided into three main sections: dealing with unfamiliar vocabulary items, note
taking, and memorising/retaining new words. Each section included a general stem sentence with
two sample sentences of how to complete them, (i.e. VLS). For example:
SECTION I - DEALING WITH UNFAMILIAR VOCABULARY ITEMS.
When I meet a new word, which is not directly explained by the teacher or the book and I
want to know what it means
I check if the word looks similar to Spanish.
I ask the teacher/classmate for a translation.

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The OQ also included a brief introduction about the main purpose of the instrument
followed by detailed instructions to complete it. Regarding the learners background information,
they were required to provide just the university year of study and the class/group number. No
other personal information (e.g. English learning experience) was requested as the researcher
formerly worked at the university and was generally acquainted with that. More importantly, the OQ
was translated into Spanish to ensure that the learners understood the contents of the instrument.
In addition to this, the researcher personally administered the OQ to all groups in class time and
was attentive to any queries from the participants. It should be noted that no time limit was set to
complete the OQ and that a space was given so that the participants could add any other relevant
information concerned with VLS.
All in all, the open questionnaire was administered to 185 EFL learners. In advance, the
researcher asked the Head of the Department of Languages for permission to collect the data.
Once permission was granted, scheduled visits to ten classrooms were made at the very beginning
of the English lesson to avoid disruption. In the classroom, the researcher introduced himself to the
learners, talked about the purpose of the study, and explained the procedures for the completion of
the questionnaire. It must be pointed out that the term learning strategy was carefully defined with
examples of language learning strategies. In general, the learners seemed to be familiar with
learning strategies, maybe because they were enrolled in an English major.
2. 4.2 The semi-structured interview
The interview basically followed the same sections covered in the open questionnaire.
Obviously, this retrospective instrument allowed the learners to describe more in detail what they
claimed to do when meeting new words and their subsequent strategic behaviours. Each section
included a main question and some follow-up questions, which served as prompts in case the
interviewees remained silent. For example:
SECTION I - DEALING WITH UNFAMILIAR VOCABULARY ITEMS.
When you meet a new word, if it is not directly explained by the teacher or the book, how
do you figure out its meaning?

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Follow-ups:
Do you ever guess? How?
Do you ever use a dictionary? Monolingual or bilingual? What do you look up in the
dictionary?
Do you ever skip new words and not bother with them?
Do you ask other people? Who? What information do you ask about?
Thirty-three students (21 females and 12 males) volunteered for individual interviews,
which lasted between 8 and 21 minutes and were done either in English or Spanish by the
researcher alone. From each of the ten classes, at least two students were invited to participate; in
other classes, three or more volunteered. During the interview, the learners were encouraged to
talk about what they actually did currently to learn vocabulary on their own, not what they did at
early stages of their studies or what they would like to do. More importantly, as suggested by Kvale
(1996), the interview generally started with a briefing and finished with a debriefing. Thus, in the
briefing the researcher somewhat broke the ice, stated the purpose of the interview and clarified
any doubts. Regarding the debriefing, the researcher commented on some interview outcomes as
a way of creating a sense of relevance to the interviewees contributions.
Finally, it should be noted that the students who completed the questionnaire were also
invited to the interview. Initially and ideally, it was best thought to interview students who had not
completed the questionnaire; however, this was not achieved due to the reasons stated previously
such as timetable clashes, exam periods, and lack of classrooms. Anyhow, for the purpose of this
preliminary study, this fact cannot be considered as a drawback; rather, it was taken as an
opportunity to find out more about the interviewees vocabulary learning strategies.
5.- DATA ANALYSES.
A few weeks after collecting the data via the open questionnaire and the semistructure interview, the researcher went back to the University of Essex to start the analyses,
whose final product would be a validated vocabulary learning strategies questionnaire. What
follows is a general account of how this was done since for reasons of space a detailed description
cannot be granted.

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1. 5.1 THE ANALYSIS OF THE QUESTIONNAIRE


The data analysis of the open questionnaire involved three main stages, i.e. data
extraction, data classification, data reduction. In general, the learners differed in the amount of
information they provided in the OQ. That is to say, some students provided considerable
information about the strategies they use whereas others just reported using one or two strategies
in each section or even wrote about something else.
All in all, the data extraction stage involved grouping the questionnaires according to the
students academic year at university (1 to 5) and then analysing all the information written down in
the three sections of the OQ. Obviously, the product such an analysis contained a great number of
redundancies; however, the aim was to consider all the instances of VLS. A week later, for
reliability purposes the same procedure was followed as if it were the first time the researcher was
analysing the data following the same broad identification. Then, both sets of almost raw data were
compared and the most noticeable redundancies were cleared up giving rise to a more compact
set of statements about strategies after analysing the questionnaires twice.
At the data classification stage, the second list resulting from the previous stage was
analysed by bearing in mind other more specific categories suggested in the literature. Likewise,
the very nature of the data collected in the form of statements about strategies from each section
led the researcher to come up with further subcategorisations. For example, for dealing with
unknown vocabulary (i.e. the first section of the OQ), strategies were tentatively grouped into
guessing, using dictionaries and asking others. Note-taking strategies, on the other hand, were
stratified into location (i.e. places where the information about new words were recorded such as
vocabulary notebooks, wall charts, word cards, etc.) and type of information noted down (i.e.
Spanish translation, English definitions, synonyms, etc), and organisation of notes (i.e. alphabetical
order, part of speech, etc). Memorising strategies were in turn split into repetition, associations, and
further consolidation. This preliminary classification was then subjected to further analysis and
validation by considering more specific criteria in some categories as suggested by a second
expert, Scholfield.

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Finally, by data condensation is meant boiling down the number of VLS as much as
possible by getting rid of all redundancies and combining strategies that can sensibly go together in
a single one. In the end, this reduced number of strategies would take the form of the questionnaire
that was going to be used in a wider investigation. The data reduction procedure was carried out
manually by analysing each category along with its subcategories separately and by the year
variable. Also, in an unsophisticated way, a colour code (word processor highlighting) was used to
put common strategies together. Ultimately this recursive process ended up with a more or less
condensed list of 112 vocabulary learning strategies
2. THE ANALYSIS OF THE INTERVIEWS
The analysis of the interviews was done more or less in parallel fashion with the OQ
analysis. Most importantly, the interviews played a crucial part in the preliminary study in that they
helped to
validate what learners stated in the OQ by triangulation,
clarify some vague statements reported in OQ,
incorporate other strategies not stated in the OQ.
The analysis of the interviews was entirely guided by the three main sections of the open
questionnaire meeting new words, note taking. and memorising words. On the basis of these
criteria, notes were taken from each of the 33 taped interviews.
In general, the interviews corroborated the different strategies reported in the open
questionnaire across the year of studies (i.e. 1-5). Moreover, the contents of the interviews
provided some more specific information about some VLS. For instance, in the OQ, many learners
reported using a dictionary but did not state what kind of dictionary they used or what kind of
information they looked up. Another example of vagueness had to do with guessing meaning by
context, which was frequently reported in the OQ. Thus, through the interviews it could be realised
that learners were referring mostly to the written context, either immediate or wider context. Other
learners meant by context the topic of the text or the conversation they were involved in.

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In summary, the VLS-Q ended up with 78 items, which still may be considered as a long
research instrument. It is comparable with Stoffers (1995) 53, Kudos (1999) 44 items,
Nakamuras (2000) 70 items, Fans (2003) 60 items, and Gus (2003) 78 items). However, it
can be argued that the VLS-Q aimed to be as inclusive as possible. It should be recalled that
initially the preliminary versions consisted of 112 items, which were extracted from a large number
of reported strategies. The 78-item questionnaire along with an account of what learners reported
can be found in Appendix A. Such accounts were taken from both the open questionnaires and the
interviews. Each item is given an endnote number in which the original learners utterances are
included for the sake of validity. Thus, the main objective of the preliminary study was achieved:
the design of a VLS-Q representative of the learning context in Mexico.
6.- RESULTS AND DISCUSSION OF THE RESEARCH QUESTIONS
In this section, the second objective of the preliminary study is briefly reported. Once the
VLS-Q was thoroughly revised in collaboration with Scholfield, an attempt was made to use it to
provide a picture of the vocabulary learning situation in the University of Veracruz, Mexico. It was
decided to re-analyse only the contents of the interviews to answer the research questions stated
above in that they provided more specific information about learning strategies. For example, when
the interviewees reported guessing meaning from context, the researcher had the opportunity to
find out how exactly they guessed. The open questionnaire, on the other hand, because of its
nature, elicited vague, and less detailed information than the interviews, e.g. I look up the word in
the dictionary. Therefore, it would have been less sensible to consider the OQ for this kind of
analysis as the instrument in itself was not intended for such a purpose. However, it must be
admitted that even during the interviews the learners could have omitted important information
about other vocabulary learning strategies they use. In sum, 33 learners (12 males and 21 females)
were surveyed with the VLS-Q. Thus, the researcher reviewed the interviews, noted down the
reported strategies from the list of 78 and fed them into SPSS for descriptive statistics.
RQ1. What are the most and least frequently reported vocabulary learning strategies?
To answer this question the occurrences of each strategy among the 33 learners were
counted. The percentage was, then, calculated on the basis of the number of learners who
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reported using each strategy. Table 6.1 shows the 10 most frequently reported vocabulary learning
strategies regardless of such variables as proficiency level and gender (and of course with no
consideration given to how frequently each person used them).
Table 6.1 The most-reported VLS

No.

Strategy number and name

Count/33 %

Guess meaning by context in sentence/paragraph.*

32

97

14

Use dictionary to check meaning(s).

30

91

78

Look for opportunities to meet new words.

30

91

12

Look up word in monolingual dictionary.

25

76

75

Test myself or have others test me.

25

76

38

Write down Spanish translation.

22

67

18

Use dictionary to check examples/fixed expressions.

21

64

10

Look up word in bilingual dictionary.

20

61

19

Ask classmates/friends/relatives for translation.

20

61

54

Say word aloud repeatedly.

20

61

* It should be noted that the items are worded in short sentences for the purpose of presentation of results. The actual
items of VLS-Q include longer sentences and examples.

As can be seen, guessing meaning by written context was the most used strategy, at 97
per cent. That is, almost all the learners said during the interview that they used such a strategy.
This trend may be attributed to three possible factors: (1) positive strategic transfer from L1,
especially in reading, (2) strategies explicitly or implicitly encouraged by the teachers and (3) the
tasks the learners do in class. Moreover, 91 percent of the respondents reported that they used a
dictionary, either bilingual or monolingual. In fact, four of the most used strategies have to do with
the use of dictionary to check meanings, example sentences and fixed expressions. Interestingly, a
monolingual dictionary (76 %) was reported more often than a bilingual one (61 %) maybe because

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the learners were enrolled in an English-major and they were encouraged to use this type of
dictionary. Another of the most commonly used strategies is that of finding opportunities to meet
new words, at 91 per cent, which indicates that the learners seemed to be motivated to find
different sources of input even in an EFL environment where there are few opportunities to practise
the target language. The sources of input for these learners typically consist of books, magazines,
satellite TV, internet, and a little contact with native speakers of English. Similarly, testing on
vocabulary either alone or with a classmate was reported by 76 % of the learners. In the interviews
some learners said that they used to gather together days before the mid-term and final exams,
which included a vocabulary section. More importantly, the use of translation when writing down
information about new words and when appealing for assistance was frequently reported, at 67 and
61 per cent respectively. This finding appears to contradict the idea that the nature of the major the
learners were enrolled in may be a factor in greater use of monolingual dictionaries. However, the
learners also reported writing down (51 %) an English definition and asking the teacher for one as
well (48 %). Finally, repeating the word aloud was a common strategy in that 60 percent of the
learners maintain that they used such a strategy, though some admitted that it was not a good
strategy.
Overall, if the ten most used strategies in this preliminary study are compared with those in
Schmitts (1997), some similarities can be pointed out, especially in what he labelled as discovery
strategies. Thus bilingual dictionary, guess from textual context, and ask classmates for
meaning were also found in the preliminary study, though with slightly different names. Likewise,
Nakamura (2000) obtained consistent results with those of Schmitts. The similarities are striking
since it should be remembered that their studies were conducted with Japanese learners of
English. Regarding consolidation strategies, other common strategies were found in the three
studies, that is, say the word aloud combined with verbal repetition and take notes in class.
Therefore, it seems that some vocabulary learning strategies appear to be universal, though this
conclusion should be treated with caution as this preliminary study analysis relied on only 33
interviews.

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As to the least reported vocabulary learning strategies, Table 6.2 shows that 14 strategies
were reported by only 3 per cent of the interviewees (that is, by only one learner). It should be
noted that as all of these strategies had the same percentage, they were arranged in the order they
appear in the actual VLS-Q (see strategy number). More importantly, if close attention is paid to the
table below, it can be noticed that four strategies about making associations are among the least
used strategies, which supports the above finding that for consolidation learners prefer to say the
words aloud several times. This finding may also indicate that learners have not been trained in
these kinds of deeper strategies. It should be remembered that neither the keyword method nor
relating the new word to word families to consolidate meaning was reported in the interviews,
consistent with the low use of the other strategies for making associations.
Table 6.2 The least-reported VLS

No.

Strategy number and name

Count/33 %

Analyse word structure when guessing.

Guess meaning by sound.

Guess meaning by pictures in text.

11

Look up word in electronic dictionary.

29

Ask teacher for grammar of the word.

36

Record words on audio-cassettes.

45

Write down grammar of the word.

46

Write down contextual/situation use.

48

Organise words by unit/lesson.

61

Repeat word and L2 definition.

63

Relate word to L2 word with similar sound.

65

Relate word to word in L3/L4.

68

Relate word to collocations.

69

Associate word with semantically related words.

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Similarly, four note-taking strategies were not highly reported, which may be an
unsurprising result in that, for example, recording words on audiocassettes might be a boring task
for the learner. Also, writing grammatical information about new words, and writing the
contextual/situational use of the word, organising them into units or lessons of the textbook are not
commonplace among the learners as they seem to prefer to write down other aspects of the words
such as pronunciation (24 %), English definition (52 %), Spanish translation (67 %) and to write
down words in the order they appear (46 %). Interestingly, the low report of writing down
grammatical information about a new word is supported by the finding that learners do not ask the
teacher for that either, because they are more concerned with meaning and pronunciation as
shown above. A common trend of low use can be observed in three guessing strategies which
involve looking at the pictures in the text, the morphological features of the word, and the way the
word sounds. In this respect, Scholfield (personal communication) points that pictures may not be
available with many texts the learners read and that guessing from sound is an unreliable beginner
VLS, which they might rightly not use. Thus, the learners seem to opt to guess meaning from
textual context, which was the most frequently used strategy. Finally, two other least-reported
strategies are look up the word in an electronic dictionary and repeat the word along with its
English definition. In fact, the use of electronic dictionaries (e.g. pocket and computerised) is not
as popular as in Japan, for example (Yonnaly and Gilfert, 1995), despite the apparent advantages
over paperback dictionaries in terms of ease and time. However, the situation in Mexico is more a
matter of economic resources, especially in state schools where some learners cannot even afford
to buy a hard-copy dictionary. As to repeating the new word and its L2 definition, it can be argued
that although the learners write down the word in such a fashion (52 %), they may tend to repeat
the word alone (42 %), an outcome that may be supported by the finding that learners say the word
aloud several times (61 %) or even silently (52 %). Also in the interviews, some learners
emphasised that they said the word several times, but without extra information such as definition
and translation.

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RQ2. What are the most and least frequently reported vocabulary learning strategy
categories?
In order to answer this question, the 78 items of the VLS-Q were logically grouped into
eight main categories: guessing, skipping, dictionary-use, social-discovery, note-taking, repetition,
association, and further consolidation strategies. It must be noted that other VLS taxonomies were
used as criteria for this categorisation (Ahmed, 1988; Schmitt, 1997; Nakamura, 2000). Also, the
categorisation follows the sequence of the questionnaire as presented to the respondents.
Table 6.3 shows in rank order the proportion of strategy use according to the eight
categories described above. It should be noted that the low percentages in strategy use may be
due to the fact some individual strategies were not reported so frequently in the interviews,
affecting the percentage of the category of strategies as a whole. Another factor is the nature of the
categorisation itself: categories containing some high use strategies (e.g. the use of BD in category
three) may have their percentage use brought down by the fact that they contain rather more low
use strategies (e.g. types of information sought). Other examples can be noted in the strategies
use keyword method and think of prefixes/suffixes of the word, which were not reported at all in
the interviews and which bring down the percentage for category seven (association strategies).
Anyhow, having this caveat in mind, it is felt that the strategies presented in categories still may
reflect some interesting and distinctive patterns as seen below.
Table 6.3 Percentage of strategy use by categories

Rank

Strategy Category

Sum/max

Further consolidation (4) *

33

74/132

56

Dictionary use (9)

33

128/297

43

Repetition (9)

33

83/297

28

Guessing (7)

33

57/231

25

Note-taking (24)

33

195/792

24

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Social-discovery (11)

33

78/363

21

Association (12)

33

60/396

15

Skipping (2)

33

7/66

11

* The number in brackets indicates the number of strategies classified in each category. The percentage was
calculated as follows: the total number of subjects multiplied by the total number of strategies in each category as the
maximum score, then the actual score for reported strategies used in that category was multiplied by 100 and divided
by the maximum score: e.g. 74 X 100 132 = 56.06 for category 8.

The results show that further consolidation strategies are used by 56 per cent of the
learners, which makes it the most-used strategy category. This outcome may be accounted for by
the learners awareness and motivation to increase their English vocabulary even in an EFL
environment where there are few opportunities to practise the target language in real-life situations.
In fact, only 12 % of the respondents reported asking native speakers for meaning. Other factors
may also explain this result such as the English-major curriculum itself that states that learners
should pass a series of in-house English tests which necessarily include a vocabulary section.
Furthermore, the second most-used strategy category is that of dictionary use, at 43 per cent. It
seems that these learners see the conventional (non-electronic) dictionary as a good source of
vocabulary knowledge as they not only look up the meaning of new word, but also look at
pronunciation, grammatical category and example sentences. Interestingly, the learners appear to
be using the dictionary more often than asking others for meaning (21 %), which may suggest that
they have received some training on dictionary use or that they ask others for an approximate
definition in Spanish or English and resort to the dictionary for more detailed information about
unknown words. This can be seen from the low percentages in asking someone for
spelling/pronunciation (3 %) grammatical information about the word (3 %), example sentences (9
%), etc.
The third most used strategy category is that of repetition strategies, at 28 per cent. It
seems that the learners rely to a great extent upon this traditional approach to committing words to
memory as compared with the use of association strategies (15 %), which may not receive enough
attention on the part of the teacher and learners. A similar pattern can be noted in the guessing

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category (25 %) if it is contrasted with that of skipping (11 %). That is, when learners meet a new
word they try to figure out its meaning, look up the word in the dictionary or ask for assistance
before they skip the new word. If the learners do not skip over words very often, then, it can be
suggested that they do not give up easily or that they may have a high level of noticing as noted in
the literature (Nation, 2001). More importantly, the percentage of note-taking use (24 %) may
corroborate the extent to which learners notice new words as they appear to be motivated and
interested in writing down vocabulary items. Finally, in terms of social-discovery strategies the
results show that 21 % of the learners reported using them. Again if social-discovery strategies are
contrasted with dictionary use a large difference can be noticed (21 vs. 43 %). As pointed out
above, many learners seem to work on their own when meeting unknown words by looking them
up in the dictionary or attempting to figure out their meaning.

7.- CONCLUSIONS
In conclusion, it can be suggested that regardless of the limitations of the preliminary
study, a general picture was provided about the use of vocabulary learning strategies among EFL
university learners in Mexico, which shows that there is considerable use of strategies in most
categories a prerequisite for the main study in that had VLS use turned out to be universally low,
there would have been doubt over the usefulness of a study pursuing a study of factors affecting
such use (Scholfield, personal communication). Also most importantly, the primary objective was
attained, the validation of the contents and organisation of the VLS-Q that was going to be
administered for the main study.

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of
Alabama.
Schmitt, N. (1997) Vocabulary learning strategies. In N. Schmitt & M. McCarthy (Eds.) Vocabulary:
Description, Acquisition and Pedagogy. (pp. 199-227). Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press.
Young, D., and Oxford, R. (1997). A gender-related analysis of strategies used to process written
input in the native language and a foreign language. Applied Language Learning, 8, 1, 4373.

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APPENDIX A
VOCABULARY LEARNING STRATEGIES QUESTIONNAIRE
Validated Version

Alfredo Marin-Marin

(see endnotes at the end this Appendix


I. Dealing with unknown vocabulary
Guessing
1. I check if the word looks similar to Spanish.

2. I analyse the structure of the word (i.e. prefixes: mishear and suffixes: homeless) or parts
of the word (i.e. compounds: penknife).
3. I analyse the grammatical category of the word by looking at the sentence.
4. I guess the meaning of the word by its sound, i.e. I say it aloud and guess.
5. I guess the meaning by looking at the pictures accompanying the text.
6. I guess the meaning with the help of the words I know in the sentence or paragraph.
7. I guess the meaning by the topic or the situation in which the word appears.
8. I keep on reading and try to guess later on from the context.
9. I skip the word if I do not manage to guess the meaning.
Using dictionaries and other sources
10. I look up the word in an English-Spanish-English dictionary.
11. I look up the word in my electronic translator.
12. I look up the word in an English-English dictionary.
13. I look up the word on the internet if possible, (i.e. on-line dictionaries).
14. I look up the word in the dictionary and check its meaning(s).
15. I look up the word in the dictionary and check its pronunciation.
16. I look up the word in the dictionary and check its spelling.
17. I look up the word in the dictionary and check its grammatical category (i.e. if the word is a
verb, noun, adjective or both a verb and noun)
18. I look up the word in the dictionary and check example sentences and/or fixed
expressions.

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Asking others
19. I ask classmates, friends or relatives for a Spanish translation.
20. I ask classmates, friends or relatives for a definition in English.
21. I ask classmates, friends or relatives the spelling or pronunciation of the word.
22. I ask native speakers for a definition in English.
23. I ask native speakers for the spelling or pronunciation of the word.
24. I ask the teacher for a Spanish translation.
25. I ask the teacher for a definition in English.
26. I ask the teacher for an example sentence.
27. I ask the teacher for the spelling or pronunciation of the word.
28. I ask the teacher for the words use (i.e. how and when it can be used appropriately).
29. I ask the teacher for the grammar of the word, (i.e. if the verb is followed by an ing form or
to-infinitive: consider going or consider to go.
II. Taking Vocabulary Notes
Places where notes are kept about new words
30. I write down information about new word in the margins of the textbook or where the word
occurs.
31. I write down new words on my English notebook (i.e. the one I use for my English course
or other courses).
32. I write down new words in a specific vocabulary section at the end or top of my English
notebook.
33. I write down new words on my vocabulary notebook.
34. I write down new words on cards or small pieces of paper, which I carry with me.
35. I write down new words on wall charts, posters and small pieces of paper, which I stick
somewhere at home.
36. I record new words on audio-cassettes.
37. I keep vocabulary notes in a computer or other electronic devices.
Kind of information recorded about new words
38. I write down new words and their Spanish translation.
39. I write down new words and their definitions in English.

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40. I write down antonyms or synonyms beside new words.


41. I write down the new word along with my own drawings or pictures.
42. I write down example sentences using the new word.
43. I write down the pronunciation of new words.
44. I write down the grammatical category of new words.
45. I write down the grammatical behaviour/pattern of the word, (i.e. depend on and not
depend of).
46. I write down information about the appropriate context or situation in which the word can
be used.
47. I write down the contextual reference for the new (e.g. page number, unit or lesson, film,
song, etc).
Organisation of notes about new words.
48. I organise new words by unit or lesson of the textbook.
49. I classify new words into their grammatical category, (e.g. verbs in one section, nouns in
another).
50. I classify new words by meaning groups, (e.g. animals, verbs involving motion).
51. I organise new words by alphabetical order or sections, (i.e. words beginning with A in one
section, with B etc).
52. I write down new words in the order they appear.
53. I use different devices to highlight the words you consider important. (.e.g. capital letters,
coloured pens or markers, asterisks, lines, etc).
III. Memorising/Retaining Vocabulary
Repetition to help retain the word.
A. Modes of repetition
54. I say the word aloud several times.
55. I repeat the word silently in my mind.
56. I write the word several times.
57. I listen to the words recorded on tape.
B. What is repeated.
58. I just repeat the English word alone.
59. I repeat the word and its Spanish translation and vice versa.
60. I repeat example sentences several times.
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61. I repeat the word and its English definition.


62. I repeat the spelling of the word several times. (i.e. saying the word and spelling it aloud).
Association to help retain words.
63. I relate new words to other English words with similar sounds or spelling (e.g. link & wink,
row & raw).
64. I relate the new words to antonyms or synonyms in English (e.g. wide & narrow, view &
opinion).
65. I associate new words with similar words in another foreign language I have studied.
66. I associate new words with a similar word in Spanish (i.e. cognate, relation & relacin).
67. I use the Keyword Method. (e.g. if I want to memorise the word trigger, I think of a word in
Spanish that sounds similar like trigo; then I create an image of a gun covered with wheat.
68. I relate new words to words which usually go together in speech or writing (e.g. words with
do and words with make).
69. I associate new words with semantically related words or group of words. (e.g. flood &
water, sink & parts of the kitchen).
70. I visualise the form (spelling) of new words.
71. I associate new words with my personal experience. (e.g. fall in love).
72. I associate new words with the place I see or hear them (e.g. books, movies, songs,
magazines, situations).
73. I associate new words with physical action that I do or imagine.
74. I think of prefixes and suffixes that can be attached to the new word (e.g. soft soften softener)
Further practice/consolidation of new words.
75. I quiz myself or have other quiz me on new words (e.g. practising giving meanings in all
possible manners, playing memory games).
76. I use as many new words as possible my everyday conversation or when writing in
English, (e.g. talking to classmates, native speakers, writing letters, diaries, etc).
77. I make up imagined conversations and stories in which I use new words.
78. I look for opportunities to encounter new words or reviewing words in English (e.g. reading
magazines, watching movies, using internet, listening to the radio, etc).

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Note: Excerpts from subjects with name were taken from interviews, e.g. IV. Susan: fourth-year
learner.
Excerpts with subject number were taken from the open questionnaire, e.g. L.V.2 means
fifth-year learner, number 2 in the list.
Interviewers questions are given in [ ].
My comments on the excerpts are given in < >.
1. Most of the words are sometimes similar to Spanish, so I can guess more or less, (I.
Ingrid). I can guess because some words are like in Spanish, for example, cognates,
(IV. Susan).
2. I pay attention to suffixes and prefixes and I set up a relationship with words
previously learnt, (L.V.2). I try to guess, you know, you can see sometimes ... you
can guess by looking at the word formation I mean the stem of the wordso you
can see if the word is derived from other or is what I usually do if I cant, then I go
to a bilingual dictionary. (V. Adan).
3.

As we have dealt with grammar categories, I know the category, from the context I
realise if it is a verb or an adjective, (II. Jose Alberto). On the context, I read it, I try to
guess, if its an adverb or verb, etc, (IV. Heriberto).

4. by context or sometimes by the sound its sound I dont know it must be this
[referring to meaning of word] (III. Yesica).
5. Sometimes the text in the book has photographs and I see those photographs as a
strategy to guess the meaning, (III. Abril).
6. I read all the sentence, see the context, the words surrounding, (II. Christian). I read
all the text or the words which are near the new word, then I have an idea about the
meaning of the word, (III. Virginia).
7. Sometimes in the textbook the words are related to some topic, (IV. Yadira). I relate
the word to the topic of the reading and sometimes guess the word according to the
topic, (L.II.7).
8. I continue reading and try to guess the meaning of the word by the context. At the end
if I dont understand, I come back and look up the word in the dictionary, (IV. Lorena).
I continue reading and if the word appears several times and try to understand
because sometimes the text gives the meaning of the word, (L.II.37).

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9. When reading I find many new words what I do is to continue reading. Sometimes I
ignore some unknown words, I do not stop at every new word I meet. (II. Jose
Alberto).
10. I look up the word in the dictionary, [R: What kind of dictionary do you use, EnglishEnglish or Spanish English?] Spanish-English, (II. Marisela).
11. I use a translator I have the word, the several meanings and sentences, (V. Gaby).
12. In first semester I used a bilingual dictionary, but this semester I find it easier to use a
monolingual dictionary which gives me a wider context of the word, (II. Jose Alberto).
13. Sometimes I look up information on the internet and I have found lots of English
dictionaries on line, e.g. www.english.town.com, (III. Adeyanira).
14. [What information do you look up in the dictionary?] Spelling, I dont know how to say
that if it is noun, verbhow I can use it, if the word has different meanings, things
like that, (III. Adeyanira).
15. [What information do you look up in the dictionary?] Well, the pronunciation, and
many times I choose the appropriate meaning that I need because many times a
single word has many meanings, (I. Miguel).
16. [What information do you try to find or look up in the dictionary?], -The meaning, [Only
the meaning?] Synonyms, spelling words related, (II. Brenda).
17. [What do you look up?] The meaning. [Apart from the meaning?], -If the word is an
adjective or a verb, sometimes it is a adjective or a noun, a verbsometimes it is a
verb, sometimes it is a nounor how it works and when. (V. Miguel).
18. [What information do you look up, apart from meaning?] Examples, how I can use
the new word, (Jose Antonio 502). - - Usually, in the dictionary, after the word and
the meaning are given, you can find the word in fixed phrases, I also pay attention to
that, (I. Ingrid).
19. I look it up in the dictionary or sometimes I ask a classmate for a translation, and he
doesnt know the meaning of the word I have to ask the teacher for a translation,
(L.II.32). <L.I.15 said that she asked her father when encountering new words. Thus, it
may possibly imply asking for translation as this learner is starting her first year>. Cf
23.
20. [When you ask, for example, your classmates or teachers, what information do you
ask about?] Meanings, but by context, I dont want them to translate the word for me
in Spanish, it doesnt work for me, (III. Carolina).

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21. <Although, not mentioned overtly, asking for pronunciation may take place when
learners want to extend their knowledge of the word for productive purposes. Asking
for spelling, on the other hand, may arise in listening activities or conversations. That is
why this item is worth being included.>
22. I ask my classmates sometimes, other times I ask foreign people who speak the
language, because I have some friends, (IV. Susan) <for her, foreigners are mostly
Americans as she works in Summer Language School>.
23. If I dont get the meaning I ask my friends I have lots of native speaker friends. (III.
Carolina). <In this case, it may be that when interacting with native speakers they may
ask for definitions, spelling and pronunciation. Other students reported practising new
words in conversations with native speakers of English>.
24. cf 18.
25. Well, I ask the teacher for an explanation, in English of course, (II. Guadalupe). <this
implies that the teacher provides the learner with a definition in English.
26. I ask the teacher to give me an example in English, (L.I.26). Sometimes I prefer to
ask the teacher for the meaning of the word and if it is possible that the teacher could
give me some examples, that would be good, (L.IV.19). <Typically, in Mexico my
students refer to examples as the meaningful sentences in which the new word is
included>.
27. [Dou you ask only for meaning?] Sometimes I ask for the pronunciation, (I. Miguel).
[What do you ask?] The meaning and the pronunciation in British or American
English because sometimes it is different, (II. Roberto). <With regard to spelling,
although not mentioned overtly that way, some learners reported practising spelling
with friends (e.g. II. Angel), so it may be assumed that they sometimes ask teachers
and classmates for that aspect>.
28. Also if the word has several meanings, I ask the teachers in what situations I can use
the word and which meaning is more appropriate, (L.II.27).
29. [What else do you ask about?] and how we use the word in some sentence, maybe
the the ing after some verbs, for example,I dont know, (II. Christian).
30. I write the word in the margins of the textbook and I underline the sentence where it is
used, L.IV.29). When in class, if I see a new word I write down in the book, later on I
write it on my notebook, (L.III.17).

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31. I write it in a notebook but not in a special notebook, (L.IV.25). <It happens that
sometimes learners divide their notebooks into the several subjects they take in a
semester>.
32. I use a section at the end of my notebook, like a glossary where I write down new
words or difficult ones along with its meaning in Spanish, (L.I.8). I write down the new
words on the first two lines at the top of my notebook, (L.II.38).
33. I write down the new word along with its Spanish translation in my vocabulary
notebook, (L.I.14). I write down the word in a notebook specifically for vocabulary
and I write down its meaning in Spanish, (L.II.6).
34. Sometimes I write down words on cards, on one side the word and on the other side
in Spanish and I keep them with my notebook, (L.II.5).
35. I write the words in a big paper in front of my bed, so I can read every morning when I
wake up, or maybe at night when I go to bed, (L.IV.27). I make a poster and write the
new words in big letters and with fluorescent colours, then I put it on the wall in front of
my bed, (L.IV.21). I write them in a piece of paper or a card and stick them near my
bed, when I have nothing to do I see them and repeat them, (L.III.35).
36. I record my voice saying the new words, (L.I.22). I take the tape recorder, and in my
free time, I listen to the words, (I. Ingrid). <This is the same learner both from the
Open Questionnaire and the Interview. At least one learner in each year reported
using tape recorders>.
37. <Although, nobody mentioned they kept notes this way, it can be suggested that some
of them may use some kind of PC organiser as they reported using web sites for
learning English>.
38. I keep a record in which I include the new word, its meaning, its Spanish equivalent,
examples and the phonetics, (L.II.16). I write the word in English with its equivalent in
Spanish, and if I can, with a sentence to see the word in context, (L.III.7)
39. I make a list of unknown words. I order them alphabetically, writing down the
explanation in English, then I write down a sentence with the word in it. Finally, I write
down the meaning in English, (L.IV.8) I look up the definition in a dictionary and then
I write down in a notebook, (L.V.16).
40. I write down the new word in a space of my book with its meaning, synonym or
translation, (L.III.30). I just write the most common synonym or I write like key or cue
words, (L.V.8). I write down its antonym to remember the word better, (L.III.4)

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41. If I can, I draw the meaning of the word in the notebook or textbook, (L.II.29). I write
down the word in the notebook, and I use some pictures, (L.II.36).
42. I copy examples [sentences] from the textbook, dictionary or from the board,
(L.III.25). I write down examples using the new word, (L.III.14)
43. I write down the word on my notebook, beside the word, how it is pronounced and its
meaning, L.I.26).
44. I write what part of the speech it is, (L.V.19). I make a few annotations[What do
you write down?] I write down the translation, in Spanish, its grammatical category,
examples, (II. Jose Alberto).
45. I write down the word and its meaning; I add an example of how the word is used, and
if the word follows some rules I write them down and put a star, (L.I.20)
46. I look up the definition in English, and then I write both English and Spanish and
examples of the word, the usage of the word, (V. Brenda). <As some learners said
they asked the teacher or looked up in the dictionary when and where the new word
can be used, this suggests that some may write down such information somewhere>.
47. [How do you organise your vocabulary section?] Alphabetically and sometimes I
put the page where I found the word I dont know, (IV. Lorena). [How do you organise
that special notebook?] Well, I organise it by subjects I have 5 pages for adjectives,
other (pages) for verbs, and I write the unit (of the book) where I took it, (IV. Ixchel).
48. I write down a list by unit, (L.III.5). When the exam is near (coming), I look up the
vocabulary unit by unit and I repeat every word, (III. Elsy). <It seems that the words
are noted down in the order they appear in the lesson or unit of the book>.
49. I classify the new word, I mean, if it is a noun, a verb, etc, (L.III.2). I write down new
words in my vocabulary notebook where I write adjectives, nouns, etc., each one in its
category to make it easier to remember them, (L.II.27).
50. I do how do you say campos semanticos?, [semantic maps, how do you know
that? Well, when I was in primary school we did it, now I do it in English, for example,
hospital: nurse (II. Brenda).
51. I have a 100-page notebook and its organised in alphabetical ordera, b, c I
learned that in secondary school, the teacher asked us to keep a diary of unknown
English words, (I. Ingrid). I read texts and highlights words I dont know. Then I write
them down alphabetically in my notebook, the I look up the meaning in English, (IV.
Veronica).

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52. [How do you organise your vocabulary notebook?] Well, the vocabulary is all
continuous, because I think if I try to organise my notebook in alphabetical order, I
think that maybe I dont study, (II. Christian).
53. <In this respect, learners reported using such devices to indicate that the word is new,
that the word needs further checking, etc>.
54. I write the word several times, I repeat the word aloud. (L.III.37).
55. I repeat the word aloud or in my mind several times, (L.III.14). <One of the first year
learner reported repeating the word mentally 30 times>.
56. Also I have to write the word several times to remember how it is written, (L.II.27). I
try to memorise the word by writing it many times on pieces of paper, (L.III.38). I write
the word several times, it depends on the spelling difficulty, (II. Alma). <Another
student reported writing the word repeatedly 5 times>.
57. I record the word and then I listen to a tape many times, (L.V.6). I listen first and
then I repeat the word, (L.V.5). <This involves some kind of aural repetition as they
presumably listen to the tape several times>.
58. I need to write the word several times, [How many times?] I dont know 4 maybe 5.
[So you dont repeat aloud?] Yes, I write it and I repeat it aloud. [Silently?] Yes, also
most of the time because I need to concentrate on the word, (III. Abril).
59. I repeat the word. [How do you repeat?] -I use two ways. I say the word once, I say
the meaning, and I say the word again and the way it sounds in Spanish and I say the
meaning, or sometimes I say the way it sounds in English, the way it sounds in
Spanish and then the meaning. (II. Angel) <Although a bit confusing, this suggests the
learner repeats the word both in English and Spanish and vice versa>.
60. I write down sentences using the word and I repeat them several times, (L.I.1)
61. I read the definitions aloud. [So the new word in sentences, not alone?] Not alone,
sentences and its meaning in English, definitions, words and definitions and
examples, (IV. Veronica).
62. I try to spell the word many times, (L.V.18).
63. I relate words to words I already know, for example link, then I think about wink;
similar you see, I dont usually take notes, I just think. Then next time when I find the
word wink, yes, its not link, (V. Adan). <This learner said he has been successful at
least in the vocabulary section of the exam>. I try to memorise by comparing the
words, for example row raw, (L.III.22).

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64. [Any associations? ] About the word, I ask my classmates to help me find synonyms,
for example for wood we put forest, (II. Angel). For example, the opposites narrow
and wide, I imagine a wide street and a narrow street, (II. Brenda).
65. I find a word and then I look for an equivalent, not in Spanish, in another language, in
my case I took French so I put the word in French or even in the same language, a
synonym or something that could be a link, (V. Adan).
66. I try to relate the word to some other words with a close meaning in Spanish for
example, relation and its Spanish relacion, (IV. Ixchel).
67. Suggested by P. Scholfield (Personal Communication, 2001).
68. Also it is helpful when you take, for example a verb, lets say make, and you put the
words that can be with this verb, like make I dont know make a. (III. Jose
Antonio). <Although the learner does not know the term, he was talking about
collocation, which is an important aspect in vocabulary learning>.
69. If we are talking about flood I relate it to water and disaster and others, (III.
Adeyanira). (cf II. Brenda). Games or making groups of things, for example a group of
fruits, tropical fruits, raspberry, I dont know liche, not common fruits, strange fruits,
very difficult words to learn, (II. Roberto).
70. The spelling always I imagine because its my problem, and the situation, (II. Alma).
Sometimes I see the word, I close my eyes and try to visualise the word. [What do
you visualise, picture or the word, the letters?] If I dont remember the spelling, the
letters, If I dont remember the meaning, some pictures, images, something like that,
(II. Guadalupe).
71. [Can you think about an example of how you do that] -For example, something stupid,
fall in love. I have the image of someone in my mind to remember the word I
associate this with somebody I used to be in love with, (III. Yesica). For me, its just
enough to associate the word with an occasion/action of my daily life to remember the
word, (L.I.16).
72. I also sometimes relate these words to a song I have listened before, L.IV.24). I
remember a movie that is called, I think, Before and After, I dont remember, but I
relate the meaning for I try to understand the meaning with that movie< (V. Ana).
<She said she always confuses the pair before-after, that movie>.
73. Sometimes I use my movements to learn some new words; I try to do the action of the
word, (L.V.7). I imagine the thing that it means, for example, hit, I imagine, well, I
imagine somebody, I imagine even abstract things. (IV. Veronica)

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74. I pay attention to suffixes and prefixes and I set up a relationship with words
previously learnt, (L.V.2).
75. I like studying with my friend; we repeat the words, then she asks me and I answer
and vice versa; its a funny way for doing something not very easy, (L.IV.7). My
partner and I try to explain the words with an easy definition, hands, objects, etc.
(L.V.8).
76.

I try to use it (the word) when talking to my friends or in common situations,


(L.V.11). I write stories by using words I want to memorise, L.II.31). <Other learners
said they chat in English on the internet; other said they practise new words in
conversations with native speakers, cf. IV. Susan>.
1

77. When I am alone in my room I talk to myself; I also pray in English, (III. Jose
Antonio). <Although this learner did not mention that he invented conversations, it can
be suggested that somewhat he may think about imagined conversations>.
78. I like learning vocabulary from song lyrics; so I listen to song and I repeat the new
words and I sing the song to learn them, (L.II.18). For me, the best way to learn new
vocabulary is by reading stories in English which I find interesting, I dont stop reading
and read the stories again because I like them, (L.II.17). <Also several learners
reported using internet in English, reading newspapers, etc>.

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