Category Archives: PhD Research

Thesis: Submitted

By   March 14, 2015

I submitted my PhD thesis for examination this week. “Congratulations! / That’s exciting! / It must feel good to have that done.” is the normal response from everyone, but I honestly don’t feel any different. Technically I am not completely done with the thesis because Australia does not have the same system of oral defense for doctorates that many other countries use.

Copies of thesis

So. much. paper.

Autsralian PhD students submit a thesis to two examiners, one in Australia and one abroad, who have 12 weeks to write a report and give a score between 1 (pass forthwith) and 5 (fail/accept as Master’s). If the score is anything less than 1, students have a few weeks to a few months to make minor or major corrections before printing the final copy, and only after that is the degree officially conferred by the university. The whole process is supposed to take 3 to 6 months after submission, and so I do not actually know when I will be able to put Dr. before my name.

I also have not yet found a job or a way to stay in Australia so I may have to leave the country in a few months, which is an endless source of stress. I suppose the main reason why submitting my thesis changes nothing for me is that it does not actually help that much with finding a job. Most job listings specify “must have PhD in hand” by time of appointment, meaning the degree must already be conferred. I was rejected from one job because I did not yet have my PhD, the second I never heard back from, which is just cruel and unfortunately a common occurrence in academia, and the third re-listed the job announcement with a new closing date, which I’m assuming is bad news for me.

In the meantime, I’m teaching French and linguistics this semester (as a casual tutor), which I enjoy immensely. My students are great, as always, and I’m already sad that I won’t be able to teach them again next semester.

Applied Linguistics Associations of Australia & NZ Conference in Adelaide 2015

By   January 15, 2015

The 2015 combined conference of the Applied Linguistics Associations of Australia and New Zealand (ALAA and ALANZ) – together with the Association for Language Testing and Assessment of Australia and New Zealand (ALTAANZ) – will be held November 30 to December 2 in Adelaide, Australia. The Research Centre for Languages and Cultures at the University of South Australia will be hosting the conference, with the theme Learning in a Multilingual World. Abstracts can be submitted until February 28 at this site.

Applied Linguistics Associations of Australia

This conference was not held in 2014 due to the AILA World Congress in Brisbane. The conference in 2013 was held in Wellington, New Zealand, and it will return to New Zealand again in 2016. I was excited to find out that my research centre and university were hosting the conference this year, but I may no longer be in Australia by November since my visa expires in October. Fingers crossed that I find a job soon that keeps me in this part of the world!

AILA World Congress 2014: International Applied Linguistics Association Conference

By   August 20, 2014

I was in Brisbane all last week for the AILA 2014 World Congress, the largest conference for applied linguistics in the world. It is held every three years and I had just missed out on the Beijing conference in 2011 by one month when I first started my PhD. I presented my research on stylistic and geographic variation in French textbooks and was pleasantly surprised at how many people were interested in my presentation. The conference was quite large – over 1,600 delegates – and exhausting but definitely worth it. The program was over 200 pages, not including the abstracts, and there were about 25 parallel sessions to choose from. I found all of the plenaries interesting and was overall impressed by how well run everything was. I can’t imagine organising a conference of this size is an easy task.

Opening ceremony of the AILA Olympics

Opening ceremony of the AILA Olympics

You can check out the program and abstracts via the website to see the diversity of presentations and symposia. It can be a bit overwhelming reading through it all – now imagine having to choose only one session among all of them. Tough decisions!

Plenary on language that looks like English but isn't really

Plenary on language that looks like English but isn’t really

I tended to stick to the strands on language teaching, learning and educational technology. I even found myself in a talk that reported on a Māori teaching course, which I wasn’t expecting from the title since it didn’t mention any specific languages. Hearing Māori – and let’s be honest, incredibly adorable New Zealand accents – is always nice!

So happy to find myself in a talk about Māori language

Jocelyn even said a mihi before the presentation and it was beautiful

My favorite presentation was by Tom Cobb since it’s very relevant to my research. He has recently been adopting English-based corpus tools to French, which also helps improve his amazing Compleat Lexical Tutor website.

Top 2,000 words of French account for 92% lexical coverage

Top 2,000 words of French account for 92% lexical coverage (cf only 80% in English)

Even though it’s winter in Australia right now, it was in the 20s C / 70s F in Brisbane. I love Queensland! However, learning about the existence of gigantic burrowing cockroaches at the (free!) Queensland Museum did leave me a little traumatized…

Swimming in winter

Swimming in winter

The next AILA World Congress will be held in August 2017 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil! See you in South America, my fellow applied linguists!

The end of my PhD is near, so what’s next?

By   August 13, 2014

I have just finished writing the last chapter of data analysis for my thesis. Now I need to write the conclusion and abstract, update my literature review, and do some final revisions then the printing and binding of four copies. Technically I have until March 2015 to submit, so if I haven’t managed to find a job this (Australian) summer, I’ll at least still have student status for a while longer. You’re probably thinking that I could finish in no time since I don’t have much left to do, but I have about seven jobs right now – more than half are actually volunteer positions – so I can’t exactly work on my thesis every single day. Plus turning my chapters into manuscripts to submit to journals takes a while, but needs to be done sooner rather than later since finding an academic job without having research publications is very difficult.

This may or may not be the same size as my stack of data and thesis copies...

This may or may not be the same size as my stack of data sets and thesis copies… [Photo Credit: gadl via Compfight cc]

I love all of my jobs though and wouldn’t give any of them up without a fight. The most time-consuming right now is teaching three classes this semester: first year French, second year French, and a tutorial on intercultural communication. I am a tiny bit obsessed with finding and creating fun speaking and vocabulary activities for my French students (see exhibit A: my Teaching French at Uni board on Pinterest).

I’m in Brisbane this week for the 1,600 delegate-strong AILA World Congress (the most important applied linguistics conference in the world!) and then I’m off to Sydney in October for the Easter Island exhibition that I’m co-curating as well as Taiwan in December to present at the Pacific History Association conference.

I’m also an assistant editor of the Journal of New Zealand & Pacific Studies which publishes two issues a year and has an annual conference in Europe, for which I’m an organiser, as part of the New Zealand Studies Association. (We’ll be in Vienna in July 2015, btw.) Add to those being the student representative for PhD students in my School (I get to complain on behalf of all of the students! I love complaining!), a research assistant, and webmaster of five websites, and hopefully you will understand why I have very little free time these days.

My current student visa expires in October 2015 and I’m still a little unclear as to whether the Department of Immigration changes the expiration date if your degree is conferred before your candidature is up. (It seems that international undergrads who finish their degrees early only have 28 days before they must leave the country.) I’m crossing my fingers that a visa-sponsoring academic job in Australia or New Zealand is available for next year but I’m also trying to prepare for the worst, i.e. packing up everything and moving across the ocean at my own expense for the third time in my life.

Plan B is submitting an expression of interest to obtain a resident visa for New Zealand since university lecturer is currently on the Long Term Skill Shortage List. Plan C is putting my stuff in storage, having friends look after Charlie and basically hanging out in Honolulu or LA until I can find a permanent way back to this part of the world. Just as one language will never be enough for me, one nationality and one passport will never be enough either.

I’ll post a summary of my time at AILA next week, but in the meantime I’m tweeting about the presentations and plenaries I’m attending and you can also check out the hashtag #AILA2014.

Applied Linguistics, CALL and French Conferences in 2014 and Beyond

By   January 2, 2014

Upcoming conferences on applied linguistics, computer-assisted language learning/teaching with technology, general language teaching & learning or French studies:

Applied Linguistics / Materials Design

OrganizationDatesAbstracts dueLocation
American Association of Applied Linguistics (AAAL)March 22-25, 2014closedMarriott Downtown in Portland, Oregon
Canadian Association of Applied Linguistics (CAAL / ACLA)May 26-28, 2014??Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario
Materials Development Association (MATSDA)July 28-29, 2014??University of Liverpool in Liverpool, England
International Applied Linguistics Association (AILA)August 10-15, 2014closedConvention Centre in Brisbane, Australia
British Association of Applied Linguistics (BAAL)September 4-6, 2014March 1, 2014University of Warwick in Coventry, England
American Association of Applied Linguistics (AAAL)March 21-24, 2015August 20, 2014Fairmont Royal York, Toronto, Canada
International Applied Linguistics Association (AILA)August 2017 ??Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

I don’t believe the applied linguistics associations of Australia or New Zealand will be holding conferences in 2014 since the AILA World Congress is in Australia.


Computer-Assisted Language Learning / Teaching & Learning with Technology

OrganizationDatesAbstracts dueLocation
Computer-Assisted Language Instruction Consortium (CALICO)May 6-10, 2014closedOhio University in Athens, Ohio
European Association for Computer-Assisted Language Learning (EUROCALL)August 20-23, 2014January 31, 2014University of Groningen in Groningen, the Netherlands
Technology for Second Language Learning (TSLL)September 12-13, 2014May 23, 2014Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa
Globalization and Localization in Computer-Assisted Language Learning (GloCALL) – jointly sponsored by Asia-Pacific and Pacific CALL associationsOctober 10-11, 2014April 30, 2014Ahmenabad, India
Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education (ASCILITE)November 23-26, 2014??University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand
International Association for Language Learning Technology (IALLT)August 11-15, 2015??Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts


Language Teaching & Learning (Secondary and Tertiary Levels)

OrganizationDatesAbstracts dueLocation
Association for Language Learning (ALL)April 4-5, 2014??Lancaster University in Lancaster, England
Foreign Language Teaching and Applied LinguisticsMay 9-10, 2014February 15, 2014Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
New Zealand Association of Language Teachers (NZALT)July 6-9, 2014May 16, 2014Convention Center in Palmerston North, New Zealand
American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL)November 21-23, 2014January 15, 2014Convention Center in San Antonio, Texas
Canadian Association of Second Language Teachers (CASLT) with International Federation of Language Teachers Association (FIPLV) and Ontario Modern Language Teachers’ Association (OMLTA)March 26-28, 2015May 1, 2014Sheraton/Crowne Plaza, Niagara Falls, Ontario
Australian Federation of Modern Language Teachers Association (AFMLTA)July 9-12, 2015??Melbourne, Australia
American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL)November 20-22, 2015??Convention Centre / Marriott Hotel, San Diego, California
American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL)November 18-20, 2016??Convention & Exposition Center / Westin Riverfront Hotel, Boston, Massachusetts
American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL)November 17-19, 2017??Music City Center / Omni Hotel, Nashville, Tennessee


French Studies

OrganizationDatesAbstracts dueLocation
Association for French Language Studies (AFLS)June 25-27, 2014January 10, 2014University of Kent in Canterbury, England
The Society for French Studies (SFS)June 30-July 2, 2014closedUniversity of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, Scotland
American Association of Teachers of French (AATF)July 19-22, 2014??Astor Crowne Plaza Hotel in New Orleans, Louisiana
Federation of Associations of Teachers of French in Australia (FATFA)July 25-26, 2014February 21, 2014University of Melbourne in Melbourne, Australia
Association canadienne des professeurs d’immersion (ACPI)October 23-25, 2014??Halifax, Nova Scotia
Australian Society for French Studies (ASFS)December 3-6, 2014 June 30, 2014RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia
American Association of Teachers of French (AATF)July 8-11, 2015??Saguenay, Quebec

Applied Linguistics Conference in New Zealand

By   November 13, 2013

I’m off to New Zealand in two weeks to present at the Applied Linguistics Association of New Zealand / Applied Linguistics Association of Australia conference in Wellington. My presentation is “Formality and Francophonie: Stylistic and geographic variation in university textbooks of French” (Spoiler alert: there isn’t much.) The conference is November 27-29 at Victoria University of Wellington and I plan to live tweet the sessions I attend, probably with the hashtag #alanz2013.

Wellington with cable car (Wikimedia Commons)

Wellington with cable car (Wikimedia Commons)

Then on November 30, Michelle will be joining me from the US and we will begin our annual vacation together. (Remember our European and Australian vacations?) We’ll be exploring both the North and South Islands of New Zealand as well as the Cook Islands, which is in free association with New Zealand.

This will be my first trip to a tropical island in the South Pacific and my first experience with Polynesian languages. I hope to learn more Maori and Cook Islands Maori because right now my vocabulary is limited to kia ora / kia orana.

Conferences for Applied Linguistics, CALL, Language Teaching & Learning and French

By   March 31, 2013

If you’re interested in attending or presenting at conferences on applied linguistics, computer-assisted language learning, modern/foreign languages or French studies, here are some upcoming conferences. You still have time to submit abstracts for some of them. I plan on being in Wellington this November for the ALAA/ALANZ conference and Brisbane next August for the AILA World Congress. Any other organizations or conferences I should know about? My main areas are materials design, technology in language teaching/learning and vocabulary acquisition/teaching.

Applied Linguistics / CALL

OrganizationDatesAbstracts dueLocation
Computer-Assisted Language Instruction Consortium (CALICO)May 21-25, 2013Manoa, Hawaii
Canadian Association of Applied Linguistics (CAAL / ACLA)June 3-5, 2013Victoria, British Columbia
International Association for Language Learning Technology (IALLT)June 11-15, 2013Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
Worldwide Association for Computer-Assisted Language Learning (WorldCALL)July 10-13, 2013Glasgow, Scotland
Materials Development Association (MATSDA)July 13-14, 2013Liverpool, England
British Association of Applied Linguistics (BAAL)September 5-7, 2013Edinburgh, Scotland
European Association for Computer-Assisted Language Learning (EUROCALL)September 11-14, 2013Evora, Portugal
Applied Linguistics Association of Australia / NZ (ALAA / ALANZ)November 27-29, 2013April 8, 2013Wellington, New Zealand
Vocab@VicDecember 18-20, 2013April 12, 2013Wellington, New Zealand
American Association of Applied Linguistics (AAAL)March 22-25, 2014August 21, 2013Portland, Oregon
International Applied Linguistics Association / AILA World CongressAugust 10-15, 2014April 30, 2013Brisbane, Australia


Language Teaching & Learning / French

OrganizationDatesAbstracts dueLocation
International Conference on Languages, Literature and LinguisticsApril 29-30, 2013Johannesburg, South Africa
Association for French Language Studies (AFLS)June 6-8, 2013Perpignan, France
Languages & Cultures Network for Australian Universities (LCNAU)July 3-5, 2013Canberra, Australia
Australian Federation of Modern Language Teachers Association / New Zealand Association of Language Teachers (AFMLTA / NZALT)July 5-8, 2013Canberra, Australia
American Association of Teachers of French (AATF)July 11-14, 2013Providence, Rhode Island
International Conference on Linguistics, Literature, & Cultural studies in Modern LanguagesSeptember 12-13, 2013May 1, 2013Murcia, Spain
American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL)November 22-24, 2013Portland, Oregon
Australian Society for French Studies (ASFS)December 9-11, 2013August 31, 2013Brisbane, Australia
Association for Language Learning (ALL)March ???, 2014UK?
American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL)November 21-23, 2014San Antonio, Texas


I’ll continue to update this post if I find more conferences.

Do some academics look down on other academics as well as non-academics?

By   March 12, 2013

A recent post on The Thesis Whisperer, a blog designed to help research students in Australia, has been quite popular this past month. The title? Academic assholes and the circle of niceness

Luckily, I have not personally experienced any aggressive or arrogant behavior at the universities I have attended in the US or Australia. My professors and colleagues have always been supportive and helpful. But I have seen this behavior at conferences, and I felt extremely bad for the students who had to deal with it. How are you supposed to respond when a jerk in the audience says your research is pointless? Belittling students and colleagues in front of others in order to feel better about your own research is just awful. Unfortunately, these assholes tend to be perceived as more intelligent than nice people, though it seems to me that people are deliberately arrogant in order to feel superior to everyone else in more than just intelligence. Insecure much? A lot of it is simply bragging – look at me! look at what I can do! look at what I know! – which is incredibly sad considering that academics are supposed to be mature adults and not five year olds.

The Thesis WhispererVery helpful blog for research students

However, I wanted to write about this post because of one of the earliest comments on it, which brings up the issue of academics seemingly acting like jerks to non-academics. Fiona says “In my experience many if not most academics, seem to look down on the lowly general public… Anyone mentioning personal experience or views is usually shouted down by someone demanding an official study is vital to back up the opinion. It’s not possible or acceptable to have a view on anything, it would appear, unless there’s an official study to ‘prove’ it.”

I can understand why she feels that some academics look down on non-academics. There are definitely some Sheldon Coopers in the real world. Academics can seem arrogant when drawing attention to their intelligence, but here’s the thing: academics are more intelligent than non-academics in their chosen fields. I recently posted about my frustration with people who continue spreading myths about linguistics and language learning. It is quite offensive when people who have no professional training in an area that you have been researching for over a decade act as if they know more than you. It is also frustrating when people believe things that have been proven wrong by research for no reason other than they “just do.” When I ask teachers who use the Direct Method why they choose to do so when data show that banning the first language is not beneficial to learning a second language, many are unaware of the research which proves its inefficacy or choose not to abandon it because using the target language 100% of the time “seems” like a better idea, regardless of what the research says. Maybe it is our fault for not popularizing our research more, but what can we do when people refuse to believe our data or change their behavior to incorporate the facts?

Asking what people’s opinions are based on should not be interpreted as academics asserting their superiority, or just plain being assholes. We hope that your opinions will be informed by empirical data, because if not, what exactly are they based on? You can have personal views and tell anecdotes about your experiences, but when you believe things that are not supported by research, of course we want to know why. One person’s opinion is in a separate domain from scientific research, where the conclusions are peer-reviewed, many experiments have been done, and the results can be replicated. So yes, we get quite upset when someone says “I smoked for 20 years and never got sick so smoking doesn’t cause cancer” because years upon years of research involving thousands of people proves that it does cause cancer for some people. Just because something didn’t happen to you, or something didn’t work for you, doesn’t mean you can make a broad generalization for all other people.

Fiona continues her comment: “Most of the public are these days cynical of studies proving this or that, given that so many are contradictory. It seems to me that there’s far more we don’t know that what we do; and that sometimes overly dramatic scare-monger type media releases are simply a way of drumming up more research funding (whilst eroding credibility in the eyes of the public).”

It is true that there is far more that we don’t know than what we do, and that is exactly why we need science. Yet the first sentence epitomizes how misunderstood science really is (especially in the US!). People don’t trust scientists because their results and conclusions are constantly changing, and yes, contradictory. But that is science: the facts must change with the evidence. I don’t know why people are so uncomfortable with this. Granted, there are other reasons why people disregard research in addition to its changing nature. In the case of using the Direct Method, it is easier to teach languages and more profitable to write textbooks in this way, so even with all the evidence against it, teachers and publishers are less likely to do anything differently. I hope everyone can see what an enormous insult to researchers this line of thinking is. To me, disregarding research because it is the easy or profitable thing to do is far more arrogant than what researchers have been accused of.

I am often defensive about the importance of research and academia, mostly because of how much higher education is attacked by right-wingers in the US. I am not trying to brag about how smart I am or make others feel like they are inferior because they are not researchers. I’m just trying to share linguistic research since it’s a shame that so much of it can only be found in journals that are ridiculously expensive (embrace open access, academia!), and since some of the research that makes its way into the popular press only tells one side of the story. If I come across as arrogant online, I apologize for that – but I will not apologize for trying to teach people the beauty of science.

Have any students experienced aggressive and arrogant behavior by colleagues (or even other students)? For those not in academia, how do you feel about academics and researchers?

Non-Linguists, Please Stop Trying to Do or Talk About Linguistics Without the Help of Actual Linguists

By   February 17, 2013

Ben Zimmer has a wonderful article on “When physicists do linguistics” over at the Boston Globe, which can perhaps be best summarized by this comic from xkcd:

Joking aside, I am happy that other disciplines have an interest in language – however, I hate when other disciplines try to do linguistic research and fail because they do not involve any actual linguists in the research. I agree completely when Zimmer says that there is a “need for better communication between disciplines that previously had little to do with each other.” Communication among related fields could use a little boost too, because it isn’t just physicists who publish papers that contradict linguistic research. Psychologists, speech pathologists, and cognitive scientists have been doing it wrong for a while too, especially when it comes to multilingual and cultural aspects of language acquisition.

Linguistics seems to the be the field that everyone thinks they can do without any special training. Most people wouldn’t think of talking about chemistry or mathematics without actually having studied those subjects. Yet everyone seems to think they are experts on language simply because they speak a language (their native language) or because they have learned another language. Sorry, but those abilities do not make you a qualified linguist nor do they give you the right to talk about language without checking facts or to teach language as if you were an experienced teacher. I know how to drive a car, but I don’t go around pretending to be a certified mechanic or give advice to others on how to fix their own cars.

Robert Lane Greene’s book, You Are What You Speak: Grammar Grouches, Language Laws, and the Politics of Identity, is about this phenomenon. People believe, and repeat, such ridiculous things as “this language has eleventy billion words for X” or “this language is primitive but that language is logical” all the time. Even worse, respected authors repeat these myths in their articles and books, such as Bill Bryson in The Mother Tongue, and so they are repeated again and again without anyone questioning whether they are true or not. These myths are dangerous because a lot of them are based on ethnocentrism and the perceived superiority of the way we speak compared to everyone else.

Please, do yourself a favor and study language seriously instead of repeating myths. Talk to actual linguists, read books written by actual linguists or whose authors talked to actual linguists. In addition to You Are What You Speak, you can start with Language Myths (for a general overview), Vocabulary Myths (for language learners/teachers, which I previously posted about), and the “truth-squad” blog Language Log. But most importantly, always question what is written about language even if it is published by best-selling authors or academic researchers because they may not be linguists at all.

Update 26/02/13: And another one! Ugh. “Why speaking English can make you poor when you retire” about research done by a behavioural economist. Hey, that’s not linguistics! ::sigh:: At least the article quotes my hero, John McWhorter.

Update 15/03/15: So glad I’m not the only one who complains about this: If you’re not a linguist, don’t do linguistic research by @EvilJoeMcVeigh

Topic vs. Frequency in Vocabulary Learning

By   August 24, 2012

Teachers and learners of languages, I am looking for your input in the topic vs. frequency debate. Almost all textbooks and coursebooks introduce vocabulary in chapter topics or themes such as food, clothing, transportation, etc.  These related words are often used to fill in the slots of functional phrases, which a lot of current books are based on thanks to the  popularity of the communicative approach. For example, one of the chapters in the French textbook that I use in my class combines the functions of offering, accepting and refusing with the topic of drinks. So students are expected to memorize the question Voulez-vous boire un/e ____ ? and the vocabulary list is full of nouns such as un verre de lait, une tasse de thé, un coca, un chocolat chaud, etc. (The conjugation of vouloir is not actually taught in this or any preceding chapters.)

The problems with presenting vocabulary like this, however, is that it goes against vocabulary acquisition research. Many researchers have argued that grouping vocabulary into topics (and therefore semantic sets) actually hinders acquisition and confuses the students more. The topics tend to represent concrete concepts as well and can easily be illustrated in the chapters with pictures or photographs – which consequently leaves out abstract ideas. Plus words grouped according to topic mean that the words are not grouped according to frequency, which is the most important criterion for selecting vocabulary to teach/learn first.  Of course, frequency is not the only criterion, but it should be the starting point for vocabulary selection.

Learn opposites together = forever confused

If frequency is supported by research and topic is not, then why do all textbooks teach vocabulary based on topic? Is it because it easier to write textbooks in this way? Is it easier for the instructor to teach in this way? Is it considered less boring and more engaging for students to learn in this manner even if it goes against vocabulary acquisition research?

I’ve heard arguments that students should learn vocabulary in topics so they can talk about them right away, but that doesn’t make sense if the students don’t even have the basic vocabulary needed to construct sentences. Even if you learn all the articles of clothing, what exactly can you say about them? How can you have conversations about clothes if all you know if a list of nouns? In my class’s textbook, students learn to say Je porte un/e ___ and then some adjectives to describe the clothes. I really don’t see how that is going to help them communicate in the real world.

It seems to me that it’s more of a classroom vs. real world debate. We want students to be able to use the language as soon as possible, even if that means teaching things that will only ever be used inside the classroom. But isn’t it our job as educators to prepare students as much as possible for the future when they will leave our classrooms? Or are we simply just trying to make sure they don’t fall asleep in class?

I’ m not saying that students should just learn the 2,000 most frequent words of a language in sequential order. That would be rather boring and frustrating. But there is a much better way of presenting vocabulary – the most frequent words among a few topics presented in story format, for example – that textbook authors keep resisting. And I want to know why! Is it because the textbook publishing industry does not want to change and try something new (for fear of losing money)? Is it because too many people think it’s more logical to learn vocabulary in semantic sets regardless of what research says? Personally I feel it is much more logical to learn the words that you are most likely to encounter, i.e. the most frequent words. Even if there are problems with frequency – such as, what texts were used in the corpus to generate the frequency data? – it is actually supported by research, and that is what is most important to me.

How many first year French students do you think really need to learn the words arc-boutant (flying buttress) or fluocompacte (energy-saving) but not tel (such), également (also), soit (either…or), mener (to lead), appartenir (to belong to), atteindre (to reach), entier (whole), moindre (least), or intérêt (interest)? These are all words that are not taught in the active vocabulary lists of ANY of the 12 first year textbooks that I am analyzing and they are all ranked among the top 500 most frequent words in French.

So what do you think?