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Teachers' Perceptions of Learner
Difficulty in Vocabulary Learning
by Craig Smith and Akira Tajino
- 3

Results and Discussion

1. Do teachers agree which words their students will find difficult? Tables 1 and 2 show how the words were ranked.

Table 1 Difficulty Ranking of Words at the 2,000 Word Level*
(1 is the most difficult and 5 is the easiest)

ranking

adopt

climb

examine

pour

satisfy

1

78.0

0.0

2.4

12.2

7.3

2

19.5

0.0

12.2

44.0

24.4

3

2.4

7.3

34.2

17.1

39.0

4

0.0

12.2

36.6

22.0

29.3

5

0.0

80.5

14.6

4.9

0.0

* percentage of 41 teachers answering in each case is shown correct to the first decimal place

Table 2 Difficulty Ranking of Words at the 5,000 Word Level*
(1 is the most difficult and 5 is the easiest)

ranking

blend

devise

hug

lease

reject

1

2.4

65.9

7.3

4.9

19.5

2

2.4

17.1

12.2

17.1

51.5

3

4.9

12.2

22.0

53.7

7.3

4

26.8

4.9

29.3

22.0

17.1

5

63.4

0.0

29.3

2.4

4.9

* percentage of 41 teachers answering in each case is shown correct to the first decimal place

At both word levels, there were similar patterns of agreement: there was a general consensus (somewhat less at the lower frequency level of words not usually included in secondary school text books) on which words were the most difficult and the easiest; there were different opinions on how difficult the other three words would be for the students to learn with numbers of teachers holding opposite opinions; and the overall patterns of ranking also showed that even though there was some consensus on the order of the whole list, there were many different views. At the 2,000 word level, the most common ranking pattern, chosen by 19.5% of the teachers, from the easiest to the most difficult was climb, examine, satisfy, pour, and adopt. 17.1% ranked the words in a similar order by reversing the order of examine and satisfy. The remaining 63.4% of the teachers ranked the words in eighteen different patterns, 29.3% chose unique orders. At the 5,000 word level, there were several common patterns of ranking. 17.1% of the teachers ranked the words from the easiest to the most difficult as hug, blend, lease, reject, and devise. Another 14.6% had similar views but reversed the order of hug and blend. 12.2% also put blend in the easiest position, and then, reversed the order of hug and lease, placing lease in the second easiest position. The remaining 56.1% had other patterns of ordering the words; slightly more than one third of the teachers’ patterns were unique.

An adequate answer to the question whether the teachers agree is simply that although there is some agreement, there are also diverse views on the relative difficulty of the same words. Our main interest is in the reasons teachers gave for their decisions about difficulty. Why did they sometimes agree? Why was there disagreement?

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