Lexical Competence and Reading Comprehension: A Pilot Study with Heritage Language Learners of Spanish

  • Edna Velásquez University of Houston
Keywords: Lexical competence, reading comprehension, Spanish as a Heritage Language


The basic questions that guide this study are: (a) what percentage of vocabulary from a passage would a Spanish learner need to know to demonstrate ‘adequate’ (a score of 70 out of 100) comprehension of it? And, (b) what type of curve would best describe the relationship between vocabulary knowledge and reading comprehension? Fifty-three students enrolled in two courses of Spanish as a Heritage Language (SHL) at a metropolitan university read a newspaper article, underlined the unknown vocabulary and then answered a reading comprehension test. Our findings suggest, as in previous studies for English as a Second Language (ESL), that a 98% of vocabulary coverage is needed to show adequate comprehension of an authentic passage. The curve that best describes this relationship was not linear as they concluded but was similar to a logarithmic function, which appears to suggest a relationship that obeys to a law of diminishing returns for Spanish as a Second Language (SSL) reading.


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biography

Edna Velásquez, University of Houston

Edna Velásquez teaches Spanish as a Heritage and as a Second Language at the University of Houston. She holds a MA, and PhD in Spanish Linguistics from the same Institution. Her areas of interest and research are Spanish as a Heritage Language; Bilingual and Heritage Language Education; Spanish/English as a Second Language; Sociolinguistics and U.S.A Spanish.


Anderson, R., & Freebody, P. (1981). vocabulary knowledge. In J.T. Guthrie (Ed.), Comprehension and Teaching: Research Reviews. Newark, DE: International Reading Association. Bravo, R. (2011). Relaciones entre cantidad y calidad del conocimiento léxico y la comprensión de lectura en aprendientes de inglés como lengua extranjera. Lenguas Modernas, 37, 11-31. Cartaya, F. (2011). La hipótesis del umbral léxico en la comprensión de lectura en L2. Revistas científicas y humanísticas Luz. Retrieved from: http://produccioncientificaluz.org/index.php/lingua/article/ view/17263/17236 Davies, M. (2005). vocabulary Range and Text Coverage: Insights from the Forthcoming Routledge Frequency Dictionary of Spanish. In D. Eddington (Ed.), Selected Proceedings of the 7th Hispanic Linguistics Symposium (pp. 106-115). Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Proceedings. Davies, M. (2006). A frequency dictionary of Spanish: Core vocabulary for learners. New York: Routledge. Fairclough, M. (2013). El “(re)conocimiento” del léxico español del estudiante hispano bilingüe en los Estados Unidos. In Dumitrescu, D. & Piña-Rosales, G (Eds.), El Español en los Estados Unidos: E pluribus unum? Enfoques multidisciplinarios. New York: Academia Norteamericana de la Lengua Española. Hawas, H. M. (1990). vocabulary and Reading Comprehension: An Experimental Study. International Review of Applied Linguistics, 87-88, 43-65. Hu, M., & Nation, I. P. (2000). vocabulary density and reading comprehension. Reading in a Foreign Language, 13(1), 403-430. Kelly, P. (1991). Lexical Ignorance: The Main Obstacle to Listening Comprehension with Advanced Foreign Language Learners. International Review of Applied Linguistics in Language Teaching, 29(2), 135-149. doi:10.1515/iral.1991.29.2.135 Koda, K. (1989). The effects of transferred vocabulary knowledge on the development of L2 reading proficiency. Foreign Language Annals, 22, 529-540. Koda, K. (2005). Insights into second language reading: A crosslinguistic approach. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Kondo-Brown, K. (2010). Curriculum Development for Advancing Heritage Language Competence: Recent Research, Current Practices, and a Future Agenda. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 30, 2441. doi:10.1017/S0267190510000012 Lafford, B. A., Collentine, J. G., & Karp, A. S. (2003). The Acquisition of Lexical Meaning by Second Language Learners: An Analysis of General Research Trends with Evidence from Spanish. In B. Lafford, R. Salaberry (Eds.), Spanish second language acquisition: State of the science (pp. 130-159). Washington, DC: Georgetown UP. Laufer, B. (1989). What Percentage of Text-Lexis Is Essential for Comprehension? In C. Laurén, M. Nordman (Eds.), Special language: From humans thinking to thinking machines (pp. 316323). Clevedon: Multiling. Matters. Laufer, B. (1991). How Much Lexis Is Necessary for Reading Comprehension? In Arnaud, P. & Béjoint, H. (Eds.), Vocabulary and Applied Linguistics (pp. 126-132). Macmillan Academic and Professional. Laufer, B. (1992). Reading in a foreign language: how does L2 lexical knowledge interact with the reader’s general academic ability? Journal of Research in Reading 15(2): 95-103. Laufer, B. (1996). The lexical threshold of L2 reading: where it is and how it relates to L1 reading ability. In K Sajavaara and C. Fairweather, (Eds.), Approaches to second language acquisition (pp. 55-62). Jyvaskyla: Cross Language Studies. Laufer, B. (1997). The lexical plight in second language reading: words you don’t know, words you think you know, and words you can’t guess. In J. Coady, T. Huckin (Eds.), Second language vocabulary (pp. 20-34). Cambridge: Cambridge UP. López-Mezquita, M. (2007). La evaluación de la competencia léxica: tests de vocabulario, su fiabilidad y validez (Doctoral Dissertation). Granada, España: Editorial Universidad de Granada. Mecartty, F. H. (2000). Lexical and grammatical knowledge in reading and listening comprehension by foreign language learners of Spanish. Applied Language Learning, 11(2), 323-348. Mochida, A., & Harrington, M. (2006). The Yes/No test as a measure of receptive vocabulary knowledge. Language Testing, 23(1), 73-98. doi:10.1191/0265532206lt321oa Nation, I. P. (1990). Teaching and learning vocabulary. New York: Newbury House.

Nation, I. P. (2001). Learning vocabulary in another language. Cambridge, England: Cambridge UP. Nation, I. P. (2006). How large a vocabulary is needed for reading and listening? Canadian Modern Language Review/La Revue Canadienne Des Langues Vivantes, 63(1), 59-82. doi:10.1353/ cml.2006.0049 Nation, I. P. (2009). Teaching ESL/EFL reading and writing. New York: Routledge. Polinsky, M, & Kagan, O. (2007). Heritage languages: In the ‘wild’ and in the classroom. Language and Linguistics Compass, 1(5), 368-395. Qian, D. (1999). Assessing the roles of depth and breadth of vocabulary knowledge in reading comprehension. Canadian Modern Language Review, 56(2), 282-308. Read, J. A. S. (2000). Assessing vocabulary. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Richards, J. C. (1976). The role of vocabulary teaching. TESOL Quarterly, 10, 77–89. Rodrigo, v., McQuillan, J., & Krashen, S. (1996). Free voluntary Reading and vocabulary Knowledge in Native Speakers of Spanish. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 83(2), 648-650. Schmitt, N., Jiang, x., & Grabe, W. (2011). The Percentage of Words Known in Text and Reading Comprehension. Modern Language Journal, 95(1), 26-43. doi:10.1111/j.1540 4781.2011.01146.x

How to Cite
Velásquez, E. (2016). Lexical Competence and Reading Comprehension: A Pilot Study with Heritage Language Learners of Spanish. GiST Education and Learning Research Journal, (13), 56-74. https://doi.org/10.26817/16925777.312