"Advanced" Arabic : investigating learners’ lexical richness in the context of an oral interview
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This study used recordings produced in the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages’ (ACTFL) Oral Proficiency Interviews (OPIs) to investigate the quantity and lexical richness of second language (L2) Arabic speakers’ lexical production. The study focused on 28 full-length tests and 53 sub-samples of narration and description, selected from an initial data set of 115 OPIs. The research questions were: 1) What are the average words and words per minute (WPM) produced by Advanced-Mid rating level test takers in this data set? Do Intermediate-Mid rating level test takers produce fewer words and WPM than Advanced-Mid rating level test takers? Do Superior rating level test takers produce more words and more WPM than Advanced-Mid speakers? 2) What is the lexical variation in the Advanced-Mid samples as measured by type-token ratio (TTR)? Is this variation higher or lower than the lexical variation of test taker samples at the Intermediate-Mid and Superior rating levels? 3) How many shared words produced by learners at the Advanced rating levels are from beyond the 2,000 most frequently used words in Arabic according to Buckwalter and Parkinson’s frequency dictionary (Buckwalter and Parkinson 2011)? 4) What qualitative observations can be made about test takers’ narration and description attempts at the Advanced rating levels? How do these attempts compare to narration and description attempts by test takers at the Intermediate and Superior rating levels respectively? The WPM and TTR values for the Advanced-Mid rating level differentiated this test taker speech from the Intermediate-Mid rating level speech. However, the WPM and TTR measures did not distinguish between the Advanced-Mid rating level and the Superior rating level test takers. In regards to word frequency, learners at the Advanced-Mid rating level did not produce shared words that were beyond the 2,000 most frequently used words in Arabic. However, the qualitative observations of the Advanced rating levels’ descriptions and narrations appeared to show a difference between this group’s lexical resources and those of the Intermediate and Superior rating levels. These findings and related suggestions for future research on the advanced L2 speaker of Arabic were also discussed.