Vocabulary priorities

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While language teachers are generally very aware of the importance of vocabulary development for learners, there is not much consensus about the way vocabulary should be learned and taught, or indeed which vocabulary items to focus on. We have been struck by the research of Professor Averil Coxhead at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, ever since she presented the Academic Word List as her MA work in 1998 (see Coxhead 2000 below).

She has more recently continued to examine the use of word lists and vocabulary testing in language teaching and learning. We are delighted to present here a video of our conversation with Averil. We have divided it into two as it is almost an hour in total because there was very little we wanted to omit in editing!

Part 1 of our conversation with Averil, on vocabulary testing and teaching, and the importance of word frequency for prioritising what vocabulary to teach and learn.


Part 2 includes a beautiful idea for working with a class to select the vocabulary that is worth learning.

Here is a transcript of the entire interview with Averil.


Dang, T. N. Y., Webb, S., & Coxhead, A. (2020) Evaluating lists of high-frequency words: Teachers’ and learners’ perspectives. Language Teaching Research.https://doi.org/10.1177%2F1362168820911189

Skjelde, K. & Coxhead, A. (2020). Mind the gap: Academic vocabulary knowledge as a predictor of English grades. Acta Didactica Norden 14(3): 1—20. https://doi.org/10.5617/adno.7975

And further reading

Coxhead, A. (2000). A new academic word list. TESOL Quarterly, 34(2), 213-238.

Coxhead, A., Parkinson, J. & Tu’amoheloa, F (2020). Using Talanoa to develop bilingual word lists of technical vocabulary in the trades, International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 23(5), 513-533, DOI: 10.1080/13670050.2017.1374329

Norberg, C., & Nordlund, M. (2018). A corpus-based study of lexis in L2 English textbooks. Journal of Language Teaching & Research, 9(3).

Averil mentions these websites:
  1. Just the Word
  2. Compleat Lexical Tutor
  3. Academic vocabulary lists
  4. AntConc
  5. EAP foundation website

Other resources

Advanced learners’ dictionaries help you in many ways. Look at the Oxford learners’ dictionary pages and the 3000 and 5000 word lists as well as advice on how to work with them.

Other dictionary publishers offer resources too, such as this vocabulary checker from Longman.

The Swedish Kelly list is also useful with resources for Greek, Arabic, Chinese, English, Italian, Russian Norwegian as well as Swedish.

Have your say!

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We have now come to the end of the first year of CIRCLE. We have very much enjoyed the conversations with researchers and the live conversations with those who have been able to join us to discuss the material. Now we are considering how to proceed in 2022. Please take a look at this survey and let us know what you would like to see in the CIRCLE in 2022.


Shared resources for teaching fluency

My colleague, Mara Haslam, who joined me in the live conversation about Teaching Fluency on 7 June, has prepared some material on Teaching Listening Fluency Through Structured Input. She says she was inspired by my difficulty distinguishing between ele [he] and ela [she] in Portuguese (see my conversation with Tore in the Teaching Fluency page). You can download Mara’s material here, and be inspired or use it as is!

During the live conversation, someone wondered how you can establish the vocabulary size of your learners in order to work with fluency at an appropriate vocabulary size level (Nation tells us that in fluency work, 98% of the words learners encounter should be familiar). Fortunately, Nation has left us many resources to establish our learners’ vocabulary size, at least if the target language is English. Take a look at this website about vocabulary tests.

I am currently developing a course on vocabulary and fluency development for teachers of English. Hopefully, it will run as a summer course in 2022. Let me know if you are interested in this! Always happy to discuss!

Shared resources for Target language only?

Language allocation policies calling for strict language separation continue to prevail in schools, even as they are continuously violated and negotiated by educators and students.

(García & Otheguy, 2020)

BethAnne Paulsrud mentioned some texts in our interview:

Openly available texts

Jim Cummins’ iceberg model of translanguaging from Wikimedia The_Iceberg_Model.gif

For those who have access to a university library or funding to buy literature:

Please share any of your own resources for this topic. Mail us at circle@isd.su.se.

Study with us!

Stockholm University

If you want to develop in your teaching, or you are often frustrated in your reading by paywalls, you may consider becoming a master’s student with us, which will give you free access to the entire Stockholm University library as well as a world-class education! Read about our online master courses in Language education which are taught in English.

Current courses

The Department of Teaching and Learning at Stockholm University offers courses and programmes at all levels. You may be interested in our Advanced level courses which can be taken as part of a master’s or as stand-alone courses. The courses are generally open for late applications. Most are online and many are in English.

  • Undergraduate level:
    • Teaching vocabulary and fluency development in English and modern languages. Summer 2022 online in English as US169F. Apply by 15 March!!
  • Graduate level:
    • Issues in language education research. Autumn 2022 online in English as US542F.
    • Third Language Research and Language Education. Autumn 2022 online in English as US543F

Read more and ask questions at the Department of Teaching and Learning


Teaching pronunciation


John M. Levis at Iowa State University is a major contributor to the field of second language pronunciation teaching. Take a look at this interview with him by Martha C. Pennington, another well-respected researcher in the field. Conversations with Experts – In Conversation with John Levis, Editor of Journal of Second Language Pronunciation. You will also enjoy Martha Pennington’s very recent position paper:

John Levis also convenes the annual Second Language Learning and Teaching Conference, and the Proceedings from these are available for open access. One such paper is by Anna Jarosz at the University of Lodz, in Poland, and another by Mara Haslam (and colleague Elisabeth Zetterholm) from Stockholm University. Our researcher interview for this module is with Anna and Mara.

The Proceedings volumes from this conference series have some more very interesting reading, such as:

and while we are at it, a last treat from my friend and colleague in Lodz, Ewa Waniek-Klimczak:

Reading questions

Lots of reading this time, but choose what ever you find interesting and relevant to dig into. Here are some questions to help focus your reading. Feel free to comment below, join our live conversation (sign up below), and/or set up one of your own.

  1. Pronunciation teaching has been called the Cinderella of language teaching. Do you agree that pronunciation teaching is not given enough attention? Why do/don’t you think pronunciation should have more focus in language teaching?
  2. Going back to Nation’s Four Strands model of language teaching (re-view Tore’s presentation in the module on Grammar teaching if you need to refresh your memory on that), where would the teaching of pronunciation fit in. Is it only in the language-focussed strand, or is there a way to make pronunciation teaching more meaning-focussed.
  3. What about the input and output side of it? Pronunciation has both a role for the speaker and for the listener. Can learners hear sound distinctions they cannot pronounce, and vice-versa?
  4. Where do you yourself stand on the teaching of pronunciation? What is the role of “say after me” vs explicit teaching using phonetic symbols and terminology? How can we help learners notice sounds and sound combinations that they are mispronouncing?


In this module the interview is with two pronunciation teaching researchers who have not (yet) published together, Anna Jarosz and my colleague at the Department of Language Education at Stockholm University, Mara Haslam.

Live conversation

There was a live conversation about Teaching pronunciation on 26 August 2021.

Language learning beyond the classroom

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In Sweden, the topic of the language learning that happens outside the classroom was brought to the attention of many teachers through Pia Sundqvist’s Ph.D. thesis:

Sundqvist, P. (2009). Extramural English matters: Out-of-school English and its impact on Swedish ninth graders’ oral proficiency and vocabulary (Doctoral dissertation, Karlstad University).

Well worth reading, or at least delving into parts of! Pia has continued her work in this area, and another open-access text:

Sundqvist, P. (2019). Commercial-off-the-shelf games in the digital wild and L2 learner vocabulary. Language Learning & Technology, 23(1), 87–113. https://doi.org/10125/44674

Hayo Reinders and Phil Benson, both based in Australia, are also key players in the field of Language learning beyond the classroom. This article from 2017 set out a research agenda:

Reinders, H., & Benson, P. (2017). Research agenda: Language learning beyond the classroom. Language Teaching, 50(4), 561-578.

Reading questions – feel free to comment on these questions, the readings, the interview or anything else relevant to the topic in the comments section at the end of this page

  1. What is your own experience of language learning beyond the classroom, as a learner or as a teacher?
  2. Do you recognise the aspects that Pia mentions in her article about learners’ vocabulary and their gaming habits?
  3. Reinders and Benson point out that “classroom learners can also engage in language beyond the classroom”. Can teachers encourage this, or must the entire activity be learner initiated?


We are delighted to have had the opportunity to interview Pia Sundqvist herself about her work in the area of extramural English.

Pia refers to the work of James Paul Gee, e.g. Gee, J. P. (2007). What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy. Revised and updated edition. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan. That is a book, and not available through open access, but Gee wrote this open access article which may be of interest:

Gee, J. P. (2013). Learning systems, not games. Texas Education Review, 1.

There was a live conversation about Language learning beyond the classroom on 30 September 2021.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.