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LTRG talk: Karen Dunn: "Building an empirical model of word difficulty for L2 learners"

Date: 6 December 2012 Time: 3:30-5:00 pm

Venue: County South, C89

Building an Empirical Model of Word Difficulty for L2 Learners: An Explanatory IRT Approach

This talk reports on a quantitative study which tested for linguistic and psycholinguistic influences on the likelihood of L2 learners knowing English-language words. Of interest are substantive findings regarding the role of word frequency and imageability, plus possibilities accorded in both SLA and language testing arenas for applying explanatory item response theory (IRT) models.

In total, 20 variables were tested as possible factors affecting word difficulty. These concerned: word form (length, syllables, phonemes); role of the word within the language system (e.g. frequency, word family size, part of speech, polysemy); and the relationship between word and mind (e.g. semantic variables: concreteness and imageability). The diverse influence of L1/L2 interrelationships was controlled for as far as possible by selecting students from a single language background (Hungarian) and testing knowledge of words with unrelated translation equivalents.

Word knowledge data were collected using a vocabulary test undertaken by 250 sixteen/seventeen year-old, basic-intermediate level EFL learners attending secondary schools in Budapest. The test consisted of 119 items, each assessing the ability to draw a link between written form and (one) meaning of an individual word given only minimal contextualisation.

A relatively recent explanatory IRT model, the LLTM+e (DeBoeck and Wilson, 2004), was used to model item responses. Following a rigorous item screening process, hypothesised variables were tested for their contribution to explaining word difficulties. This statistical model treats the sample of words tested as drawn from a wider population, an inbuilt assumption of which is that characteristics found to exert a significant influence on word difficulty within the study are generalisable.


Who can attend: Anyone


Further information

Organising departments and research centres: Linguistics and English Language


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