Lexical sophistication across languages: a preliminary study of undergraduate writing in Arabic (L1) and English (L2)

Source of Publication

International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism


© 2017, © 2017 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. Recent multilingual perspectives view second language writing as part of a language user’s dynamic multilingual repertoire, always occurring in the (cognitive and social) context of some first language(s), and often of first language literacy and/or use of other languages. This paper focuses on one element of written language (lexical sophistication), and examines preliminary findings about this variable across languages in a sample of undergraduate student writers in two quite divergent languages: Arabic (L1) and English (L2). Significant differences were found in students’ use of vocabulary from different frequency bands of vocabulary in their L1 writing, their writing in L2, and a sample of expert native speaker writing in each language. There was, however, little evidence for development in lexical sophistication in either language over sixteen weeks of a semester. Overall, lexical sophistication did not seem to bear a clear relation to academic achievement in either writing course, nor to previous language learning experience, except in one measure of English vocabulary. There is the possibility of a positive correlation between lexical sophistication in the two languages, although this was not significant in this study. Implications for further research are discussed.

Document Type


First Page


Last Page


Publication Date




Author First name, Last name, Institution

David M. Palfreyman, Zayed University
Suha Karaki, Zayed University