chapter  8
24 Pages

Advanced learners’ development of systematic vocabulary knowledge: Learning German vocabulary with inseparable prefixes


The literature on advanced learners’ word knowledge (e.g., Nation, 1990) assumes that learners can build upon their base vocabularies by adding derivational morphemes to known root words. Recent evidence shows, however, that learners neither do this systematically (Schmitt and Meara, 1997) nor with ease (Schmitt, 1998), even at relatively advanced stages of lexical development. The study reported in this chapter employs a case study methodology to examine the developing lexicogrammatical knowledge of word families experienced over the course of a semester by two advanced learners who received different forms of instruction on the meaning of the two German prefixes be-and er-. These prefixes prototypically convey the linguistic concepts of durativity, goal-/outcome-orientation, intentionality, telicity, and/or abstraction; thus, they are informationally dense and are often used to take a perspective on a given activity. Two learners participated in a 14-week-sustained input flood, including three concordancer activities. One learner also received explicit instruction on the linguistic concepts that form the meaning distinctions between root and prefixed verbs. Over the semester she used this knowledge to deduce prefixed words’ meaningfulness as she encountered them in texts read for class. The other learner did not receive any instruction. Thus, her task was inductive as she sought to understand prefixed words in context. I examine the knowledge sources that the two learners used to develop a systematic understanding of these word classes over the semester, concluding with a discussion of the benefits and limits of instruction in this area.