Reading and Writing

, Volume 28, Issue 3, pp 347–369 | Cite as

Measuring productive elements of multi-word phrase vocabulary knowledge among children with English as an additional or only language

  • Sara A. SmithEmail author
  • Victoria A. Murphy


Vocabulary plays a critical role in language and reading development for children, particularly those learning English as an additional language (EAL) (Stahl & Nagy, 2006). Previous research on vocabulary has mainly focused on measuring individual words without considering multi-word phrase knowledge, despite evidence that these items occur frequently in English (Erman & Warren, 2000). Multi-word vocabulary knowledge and its contribution to literacy among children remains underexplored, possibly due to challenges presented in measuring this element of vocabulary and assessing children and learners with EAL. The current study adapted a test format designed for L2 adults (Revier, 2009) to develop a task measuring productive elements of English verb + object phrase knowledge. The measure was administered to 108 children (monolingual and EAL) between ages 7 and 10, along with a battery of standardized assessments. The measure possessed high internal consistency and temporal reliability, and correlated significantly with related vocabulary measures. Results showed significant differences among year groups and language backgrounds. Specifically, patterns in multi-word phrase knowledge across year group differ between children with EAL and monolingual English speakers. Findings are of import for understanding vocabulary acquisition and reading outcomes among both first and second language learners.


Bilingualism/ESL Language assessment Child language Vocabulary acquisition Multi-word vocabulary 



We are grateful to all our participating schools, including teachers, staff, the young learners and their families. We would also like to thank Mairéad McKendry and Sibylla Leon Guerrero for their feedback and support. This study was supported by The International Research Foundation for English Language Education, Educational Testing Service and Funds for Women Graduates.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EducationUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK
  2. 2.Department of Human Development and Women’s StudiesCalifornia State University, East BayHaywardUSA

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