Teaching and learning vocabulary through reading at Saudi universities

  • Sultan Mohammed F ALTALHAB

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Vocabulary is a vital part of learning a new language. The more learners learn new vocabulary, the more likely they are to be able to use the new language effectively. In an EFL context, where opportunities for practising English in daily life may be more limited, one of the main sources of new vocabulary is reading of English texts. Several studies have reported the challenges that Saudi students encounter in learning English. However, all of these studies looked at schools as the context for investigation and focused on teaching and learning English in general. The present research investigates the teaching and learning of vocabulary through reading at Saudi universities. It examines three main issues. First, it looks at the vocabulary teaching techniques employed by teachers teaching English in Saudi universities. Second, it examines the vocabulary learning strategies (VLSs) identified by students as most useful and the ones they felt most competent in using when reading. Third, it explores both teachers' and students' attitudes towards learning vocabulary through reading. While investigating these issues, the thesis identifies specific issues in teaching and learning vocabulary through reading at Saudi universities, in order to conclude with suggestions and recommendations for EFL teaching practices and language policy. While most vocabulary research is quantitative, this study used a mixed methods approach of quantitative and qualitative data collected from a range of sources. One hundred and fifty students majoring in English from four different universities completed a semi-structured questionnaire and twenty-two of them were interviewed. In addition, nine teachers of vocabulary and reading subjects were interviewed and their classes observed. A systematic analysis for the prescribed textbooks was also conducted in order to explore the relationship between the vocabulary introduced by the textbooks and the techniques and strategies employed in the classroom by teachers and students. The findings revealed that the teachers were "textbook-centralised" with a high dependence on the prescribed textbooks although they also showed autonomy in their use of vocabulary teaching techniques and ways in which they made use of the textbooks. They employed diverse vocabulary teaching techniques, but the predominant techniques were: using synonyms, defining new words in English and using Arabic. The students used a range of VLSs and employed the strategies that they thought were "fast" and "easy" to use. They tended to avoid complex strategies. The VLSs that the participants thought they commonly used were also the ones believed to be most useful. Students identified specific benefits of using certain VLSs and they showed autonomy in employing the strategies that they most valued. These benefits were mainly in relation to providing them with accurate and diverse information on new words and helping their retention. The participants felt skilful in using most of the VLSs used in their classes and they made a link between the strategies that they used most often and their level of competence in employing these strategies. All the teachers involved in the study perceived reading as a useful strategy in learning vocabulary and most of the students shared this view. Both teachers and students were negotiating their autonomy on an ongoing basis, which means that the social context of learning has a powerful influence on what students learn. The thesis concludes that vocabulary learning is a social practice influenced by a range of factors, such as teaching techniques, VLSs, the textbook, participants' beliefs and attitudes, learners' interests, cultural values and learners' level of competence in English.
Date of Award17 Jun 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University Of Strathclyde

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