Warren Matsuoka


PhD candidate




Building.Room: A36.206


vocabulary studies, corpus linguistics

Research project description

L2 studies examining the relationship between vocabulary knowledge and reading comprehension have found that many EFL students entering university lack the vocabulary knowledge to comprehend L1 academic texts even after at least six years of English language study (e.g., Barrow, Nakanishi, & Ishino, 1999; Hui, 2004; Joyce, 2003; Li, 2008). Science-oriented undergraduate students and other non-English major students in particular have been found to have relatively small vocabulary sizes: knowledge of only the first 1,000 to 2,000 most frequent words of English (e.g., Cobb & Horst, 2001; Hsu, 2014; Nurweni & Read, 1999; Ward, 2009a, 2009b). However, the reason for this difficulty in comprehending texts at the tertiary level may not only be due to the students’ poor vocabulary size but also specifically to the types of English words they had been exposed to and learned in the EFL secondary school classroom. In other words, the problem may be both a matter of not knowing enough words as well as of not knowing enough of the ‘right’ or most useful words.

Therefore, in order to inform EFL teaching of science-oriented, university-bound students, the present study aimed to 1) determine the vocabulary demands of L1 senior secondary (i.e., Year 11 and Year 12; for students aged 16 to 18 years) biology, chemistry and physics textbooks written to prepare students in Australia for Year 12 exams which in general must be taken in order to apply for university admission; 2) identify the most frequent, wide-range words occurring across and within the biology, chemistry and physics textbooks (also referred to as pure science textbooks in the present study) in order to create a science specific and three subject specific word lists; 3) evaluate the coverage of the lists over various pure science and non-pure science text types; and 4) compare the lists to existing academic and science specific word lists made for use in TESOL. The main instrument used to accomplish the goals of the present study was the computer program Range and its 29 word-family lists, 25 of which represent the 25,000 most frequent words of English based on both the British National Corpus (BNC) and Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA).

The 3.9 million-token corpus, from which the resulting science specific word list and the three subject specific word lists were compiled, comprises eight biology, eight chemistry and eight physics textbooks. This study has found, inter alia, that knowledge of the words making up the science specific and subject specific word lists may enable the L2 reader to obtain the minimal lexical coverage needed for assisted comprehension of pure science textbooks at the senior secondary level and to a lesser extent at the tertiary level.


Warren Matsuoka is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Sydney. He has previously taught English in Tokyo, Taipei and Sydney and has also tutored 'Literacy and Language Teaching' for the Masters of Education (TESOL) program here at the University of Sydney.


Conference presentations:

  • Matsuoka, W. (2012). Creating word lists to inform ELT pedagogy. Research Students Forum. The University of Sydney, 25 October 2012.
  • Matsuoka, W. (2010). Vocabulary development in an EFL context: Defining a model for China. TESOL Research Network Colloquium. The University of Sydney, 23 October 2010.
  • Matsuoka, W. (2009). Vocabulary learning through reading: Does an ELT course book provide good opportunities? TESOL Research Network Colloquium. The University of Sydney, 5 September 2009.



  • Thomas and Ethel Mary Ewing Scholarship in Education 2010

  • Alexander Mackie Research Fellowship 2011

  • Postgraduate Research Support Scheme Fund 2011

Thesis work

Project title Degree Supervisor
Creating word lists to inform ELT pedagogy PhD Dr David Hirsh

Selected publications

Book chapters

  • Matsuoka, W. (2012). Searching for the right words: Creating word lists to inform EFL learning. In Hirsh, D. (Ed.), Current Perspectives in Second Language Vocabulary Research (pp. 151–177), Bern: Peter Lang.

Journal articles

  • Matsuoka, W., & Hirsh, D. (2010). Vocabulary learning through reading: Does an ELT course book provide good opportunities?. Reading in a Foreign Language, 22(1), 56–70.