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Keywords:

  • television;
  • coverage of text;
  • listening comprehension;
  • incidental vocabulary learning;
  • corpus studies;
  • vocabulary frequency

This study investigated vocabulary coverage and the number of encounters of low-frequency vocabulary in television programs. Eighty-eight television programs consisting of 264,384 running words were categorized according to genre. Television shows were classified as either British or American and then put into the following genres: news, drama, situation comedy, older programs, children's programs, and science fiction. The results showed that knowledge of the most frequent 3,000 word families plus proper nouns and marginal words provided 95.45% coverage, and knowledge of the most frequent 7,000 word families plus proper nouns and marginal words provided 98.27% coverage. The vocabulary size necessary to gain 95% coverage of the different genres ranged from 2,000 to 4,000 word families plus proper nouns and marginal words; 5,000 to 9,000 word families plus proper nouns and marginal words to gain 98% coverage. The analysis also indicated that there was great variation in coverage between episodes. The results showed that there were relatively few encounters with low-frequency vocabulary. However, if learners knew the most frequent 3,000 word families and they watched at least an hour of television a day, there is the potential for significant incidental vocabulary learning.