The Role of Initial English as Foreign Language Proficiency in Lexical Attrition/Retention of Iranian Learners: Is Productive or the Receptive Word Knowledge of Learned Nouns More Likely to be Lost?

| January 8, 2014

April 2008. Volume 3 Issue 1

Title
The Role of Initial English as Foreign Language Proficiency in Lexical Attrition/Retention of Iranian Learners:
Is Productive or the Receptive Word Knowledge
of Learned Nouns More Likely to Be Lost?

Author
Mahboobeh Morshedian
Allame Tabatabai University, Iran

Bio-Data
Mahmoobeh Morshedian has over five years of experience in translation from English into Persian and vice versa and over five years of EFL teaching experience in English institutes and universities in Iran. He received an M.A. in TEFL from Allama Tabataba’i University.

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Abstract
In the process of L2/FL learning, learners encounter the serious problem of attrition of learned linguistic knowledge. When formal instruction is over and after a period of L2/FL disuse, learners forget learned materials. This is mostly the case with L2/FL vocabulary (Weltens, 1987); particularly, it is claimed that productive vocabulary rather than receptive is more likely to undergo attrition (Murtagh, 2003). It is also believed that initial level of proficiency before the onset of attrition prevents attrition (Schmid, 2005). This paper investigates lexical attrition/retention among Iranian EFL learners after three months of disuse, with a particular emphasis on the impact of initial proficiency level on the attrition/retention of productive vs. receptive word knowledge of learned nouns.

To this end, the learners’ initial level of proficiency as well as their learning of nouns, which were covered in their reading comprehension course they had just taken, were assessed. Both receptive and productive word knowledge of these nouns were tested through a receptive/productive test. After a three-month interval, the summer break, and at the beginning of the fall semester, this test was administered to them again to measure their retention/attrition of learned nouns over this interval.

It was found that, on the whole, receptive word knowledge is more resistant to loss than productive word knowledge in all proficiency groups. It was also revealed that, irrespective of the productive/ receptive dichotomy, those learners with higher levels of proficiency retained learned nouns more than the others did. However, no significant effect for the initial proficiency level on the attrition/retention of receptive vs. productive word knowledge was observed.

Keywords: Language proficiency, productive vocabulary, receptive vocabulary, language attrition, language retention

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Category: 2008