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Words in school: A study of vocabulary learning support in the Swedish EFL classroom

Publicerad:8 januari
Uppdaterad:27 februari

Vilka ord kan elever lära sig från texter och ordövningar i läromedel
som används i svenska skolor? Det är en av frågorna som Denise Bergström undersöker i sin avhandling.


Denise Bergström


Cathrine Norberg, Luleå tekniska universitet Marie Nordlund, Luleå tekniska universitet


Professor Pia Sundqvist, Universitetet i Oslo

Disputerat vid

Luleå tekniska universitet



Abstract in English

Vocabulary is a central but difficult aspect of learning English. EFL students face a considerable challenge in acquiring a vocabulary sufficient for communication, which means knowing many words and having a deep and varied knowledge of them. Researchers therefore argue that students need support to succeed in this endeavor, especially in an instructional context, where time and language exposure are limited. Although vocabulary research has provided many insights as concerns the nature of vocabulary learning, little is known about vocabulary learning in school. This thesis investigates vocabulary learning support in the Swedish secondary school EFL classroom in four empirical studies. The overall purpose of the studies was to illuminate the vocabulary component in areas that structure and organize the EFL classroom. It comprises two qualitative interview studies with teachers (n = 14) and materials developers (n = 8) respectively, and two content analyses of teaching materials focusing on the target words and learning conditions provided in the reading texts and the accompanying vocabulary exercises.

The results illuminate how vocabulary is positioned and how the vocabulary component is treated in the classroom. The findings from the interview studies show that although the teachers and the materials developers stated that vocabulary is important, they attested to not perceiving vocabulary as a prominent aspect of the EFL classroom. This was found to be a result of their understanding of vocabulary development as an incidental process. Much in the same vein, the interviewees expressed that they do not prioritize working explicitly with vocabulary in class and rely on words to be acquired when students engage in other activities. The results also show that the vocabulary component in the classroom is mainly unplanned, both in regard to both target words and vocabulary learning activities. Neither the teachers nor the materials developers reported any systematic approaches to planning vocabulary instruction. Similarly, the teaching material analyses reveal that the vocabulary component is not structured in a way that is in accordance with research-based suggestions. The thesis indicates that the Swedish EFL classroom is unlikely to provide sufficient vocabulary learning support, which, in turn, can have considerable implications for students’ learning in school. The findings are discussed in relation to central contextual factors such as communicative language teaching, the Swedish curriculum and extramural English.

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