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Spanish L1 EFL learners’ recognition knowledge of English academic vocabulary: The role of cognateness, word frequency and length

  • Raquel Perez Urdaniz and Sophia Skoufaki ORCID logo EMAIL logo


Academic vocabulary knowledge predicts students’ academic achievement across educational levels. English academic vocabulary knowledge is especially valuable because English is used in academia worldwide. Therefore, examining the factors that can predict English academic vocabulary knowledge can inform pedagogy, thus indirectly boosting students’ chances of academic success around the world. This study examines the extent to which cognateness, word frequency and length predict the ability of English as a Foreign Language (EFL) learners who have Spanish as their first language (L1) to recognise written English academic words. 38 Spanish L1 university students’ recognition knowledge of English cognates was measured via a Yes/No test containing words sampled from the most frequent 1,000 lemmas of the Academic Vocabulary List (Gardner and Davies 2014). 34 participants’ data were retained in the final analysis, a multiple regression with item facility (IF) as the outcome variable and word frequency, cognateness and word length as predictors. Most of the IF variance is explained by word frequency, followed by cognateness and finally a frequency by cognateness interaction whereby word frequency is more predictive of IF for non-cognates than cognates. These findings indicate that academic cognate-word awareness raising activities can be worthwhile. Implications for research and pedagogy are discussed.

Appendix A: Items in the English Yes/No test

Cognate words SUBTLEX-UK frequency-matched non-cognate words
university (S: universidad)

require (S: requerir)

response (S: respuesta)

central (S: central)

apply (S: aplicar)

association (S: asociación)

attitude (S: actitud)

interaction (S: interacción)

interpretation (S: interpretación)

evaluate (S: evaluar)

definition (S: definición)

percentage (S: porcentaje)

typical (S: típico)

discovery (S: descubrimiento)

myth (S: mito)

discrimination (S: discriminación)

restriction (S: restricción)

specify (S: especificar)

infrastructure (S: infraestructura)

inclusion (S: inclusión)

hierarchy (S: jerarquía)

conversion (S: conversión)

flexibility (S: flexibilidad)

substantially (S: substancialmente)

considerably (S: considerablemente)

justification (S: justificación)

























  1. Note: Spanish cognates appear within parentheses.


haddy, nitch, dreas, cag, halm, dracer, cround, cround, bood, stad, jolder, sping, kile, totle, hode, craddock, sporly, verden, poot, cridge, plany, pernicate, treak, repow, witten, earch, enruy, skelding, gurl, jink, lannery, casning, sistence, thint, snurley.

Appendix B: Example and practice items for the Spanish word Yes/No test

Note: The feedback about the practice items appeared on a different page in the handout.

If you know this word___√__ perro

If you do not know this word_____imperceptible

If you do not know this word_____ mintar

(Good, because it is a non-word)

If you check a non-word, you will lose points __√__ mintar

Now try some practice words

_____ coche

_____ remojado

_____ tinfeta

_____ fealdad

_____ chismear

_____ erto

_____ día

_____ fasmoso

_____ conocer

_____ obsequiar

After completing the practice words above, you might have checked any of 7 real words that you know. But you should not have checked “tinfeta,” “erto” o “fasmoso” because they are not real words in Spanish.

Appendix C: Language Background Questionnaire

In this short questionnaire you will be asked about your personal details and about your experience learning English as a foreign language. This test is comprised by 15 questions which do not require long answers. You must answer all the questions that are applicable to you. There are not right or wrong answers to these questions as each person may have a different language learning experience. Completing this questionnaire will not take you more than 3–4 minutes.

Please answer the following questions.

Personal details

1. Name and surname:

2. Age (in years): _____

3. Sex (circle one): Male/Female

4. Education (degree obtained or school level attended/ if you are currently studying specify what):

5. Country of origin:

6. Country of Residence:

7. If your answers to questions 5 and 6 are the same, have you travelled or lived abroad in a country where your second language (English) is spoken? Where? How long for?

8. If your answers to questions 5 and 6 are different, how long have you been in the country of your current residence (in years)?

Language background and experience

9. What is your native language, that is, the language you first spoke? If there is more than one, please list them.

10. Do you know any other languages in addition to your native language(s) and English?

11. If you answered ‘Yes’ to question 10, please list this language or these languages.

Appendix D: Figure 1 in Elgort (2013: 267), reproduced with permission

Appendix E: Summary of multiple regression assumption tests conducted for the stepwise multiple regression analysis reported in Section 7

The Kolmogorov-Smirnov test conducted on the residuals (D(48) = 0.07, p = 0.2) and the histogram of the standardised residuals indicated that the data contained approximately normally distributed errors. Tolerance statistics for all predictor variables were higher than 0.2, thus indicating that the assumption of no multicollinearity was met (Centred log of SUBTLEX-UK frequency, Tolerance = 0.51; Cognateness, Tolerance = 1; Centred log of SUBTLEX-UK frequency by Cognateness, Tolerance = 0.51). The loading of predictors on the smallest eigenvalue also indicated that the assumption of multicollinearity was met because most of the variance of only the cognateness variable was related to this eigenvalue (Centred log of SUBTLEX-UK frequency, variance proportion: 0.35; Cognateness, variance proportion: 0.54; Centred log of SUBTLEX-UK frequency by Cognateness, variance proportion: 0.34). The assumption of independent errors was also met (Durbin-Watson = 1.65). The scatterplot between the studentised residuals and the predicted standardised residuals indicates randomly scattered data points without any curvature or funnel shape; therefore, this scatterplot suggests that the assumptions of homoscedasticity and linearity were met. Finally, according to the power analysis reported in Section 5, the optimal sample size for a regression analysis with six predictors, expected R2 of 0.496, α level of 0.05 and 80% power is 21; therefore, 26 participants are more than sufficient for this regression analysis.


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Published Online: 2019-11-22
Published in Print: 2022-07-26

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