The Relation Between Exposure to Sophisticated and Complex Language and Early-Adolescent English-Only and Language Minority Learners’ Vocabulary


  • This research was supported by a William T. Grant Foundation Scholars Award (8054) and a Senior Urban Education Research Fellowship from the Council of the Great City Schools, both awarded to Nonie K. Lesaux. The authors would like to thank Carol Barry, Andrea Anushko, Taralynn Kantor, Amy Griffiths, Phoebe Sloane, Mark Nielsen, Armida Lizarraga, and Julie Russ for their instrumental roles in carrying out the overall study; David J. Francis and Steve Raudenbush for their helpful insights about the design and methods; and Michelle Hastings and Emma Billard for their help with transcription and coding and the anonymous reviewers for their feedback on earlier drafts of this manuscript. We are also grateful to the participating students and teachers.

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This study investigated the relation between teachers’ (N = 22) use of sophisticated and complex language in urban middle-school classrooms and their students’ (mean age at pretest = 11.51 years; N = 782; 568 language minority and 247 English only) vocabulary knowledge. Using videotaped classroom observations, teachers’ speech was transcribed and coded for their total amount of talk, vocabulary usage, and syntactic complexity. Students’ vocabulary skills were assessed at the beginning and end of the school year. Results showed variation in students’ vocabulary skills and teachers’ language use. Hierarchical linear modeling techniques revealed that after controlling for classroom and school composition and students’ beginning-of-the-year scores, students’ end-of-the-year vocabulary skills were positively related to teachers’ use of sophisticated vocabulary and complex syntax, but not teachers’ total amount of talk.