The English Language curriculum has always attached high importance to the learning and teaching of vocabulary building skills. The Curriculum Guides prepared by the Curriculum Development Council (CDC) encourage teachers to raise students’ awareness of how words are formed and related to one another, through explaining lexical relations such as synonyms, anonyms and collocations, and teaching idiomatic uses of words. The CDC Curriculum Guides also identify topics and themes that are intended to provide the contexts for language use. Teachers are encouraged to select the vocabulary items that are most appropriate for their students.
There is increasing evidence that many secondary school graduates will need a much larger vocabulary than they have already developed if they are to undertake further study. In fact, a study at the Chinese University of Hong Kong concluded that the majority of school leavers entering undergraduate study know fewer than 3,000 English words (Chui, 2005). International research into the English language proficiency of students studying degree courses through the medium of English has suggested that a vocabulary size of 5,000 words is necessary for student to cope with the demands of reading academic texts in English (Laufer, 1889 & 1992). In order to promote higher English vocabulary targets for Hong Kong school leavers, the Education Bureau, in collaboration with the English Language Teaching nit of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, has undertaken a study of the vocabulary needs of Hong Kong primary and secondary students, with a view to producing English vocabulary lists for Basic Education and Senior Secondary Education.
Words were selected with reference to the following sources of information about word frequency in English:
(a) A General Service List of English Words (West, 1953)
This list, popularly known as the GSL, contains around 2,000 word families and is regarded as the classic list of the 2,000 most useful words for secondary language learners. Although the list was compiled over fifty years ago, most of the items are still regarded as essential for language learners.
(b) The British National Corpus (BNC) (2007)
The BNC is a 100 million word collection of samples of written and spoken English form a wide range of sources, designed to represent a wide cross-section of current British English, both spoken and written. The 4,000 most frequent words from BNC were considered for inclusion in the Hong Kong lists.
(c) The Academic Wordlist (Coxhead 2000)
This list contains 570 words that occur frequently across disciplines in academic texts. The items were identified from a study of the textbooks used to teach first-year undergraduate students at English =medium universities.
In considering words for inclusion, reference was also made to an analysis of the vocabulary content of the various English coursebooks on the CDC Recommended Textbook List and to the modules, units and communicative functions suggested in the CDC Curriculum Guides. Groups of teachers form primary and secondary schools were then invited to identify suitable vocabulary for the different levels of learners, and select words appropriate to students’ interests, needs and cognitive levels. Care was also taken to include a reasonable distribution of different parts of speech so that the words can be combined easily and used productively.
As a general principle, the lists include headwords only. The other members of a word family (e.g. ‘painter’ and ‘painting’ in the case of the headword ‘paint’) are not listed separately. Tis restriction of the lists to headwords only means that students will, in fact, know far more than the stated words when the related forms of the headwords are taken into account.
Some English words are spelt in the same way but differ in origin, meaning, and sometimes pronunciation (e.g. wind1[n] as in ‘strong wind’ in KS1 and wind2 [v] as in ‘wind the clock’ in SS) while others have more than one meaning (e.g. hot1 [adj] as in ‘It’s hot today.’ in KS1 and hot2 [adj] as in ‘hot and spicy’ in KS2). To avoid confusion, introducing one meaning of these words to students at a time is preferable. It is therefore decided that such words are shown as separate entries followed by a numerical superscript to indicate the different meanings that students are expected to know at different stages of learning.
The wordlists, which are available in the electronic format, are presented in two wrays, - alphabetically and thematically. The former has the advantage of allowing the wrods and their related forms to be viewed and located easily while the latter enables teachers to select words of a common theme or context in a convenient way. Words for different Key Stages are marked with different colours for easy reference. Where appropriate, the same vocabulary item may appear in more than once theme/category to reflect the range of meanings that a word can have when used for different purposes and in different contexts.
Teachers may like to know that the categories included in the current wordlist are different from those in the previously-released primary wordlists. More general categorization is adopted to embrace a wider range of vocabulary and to keep the categories to a manageable number. However, the words for KS1 and KS2 in the primary wordlists and in the current wordlists remain the same.
It should be emphasised that the lists are for reference only. They provide teachers with a general indication as to what and how many words students should learn at different stages of education. A goal of the vocabulary lists is to equip students with around 5, 000 English words by the time they complete their senior secondary education. Students are expected to recognize the target words when they meet them, either in written texts or in speech, and to know their meanings. They are not expected to have a full productive command of all of the items. Students are expected to know about 1,000 words by the end of KS1, 2,000 words by the end of primary education, 3,500 words by the end of KS3 and 5,000 words by the end of senior secondary education. It should, however, be stressed that this number is indicative rather than prescriptive. Teachers and schools should not rigidly interpret it as the target that students must attain by the end of a Key Stage or year level.