Zayed University partners with Diglossia to advance students' English vocabulary

From left to right: Diglossia’s Co-Founder and CEO, Mimi Jett, and Marilyn Roberts, acting provost at Zayed University.
From left to right: Diglossia’s Co-Founder and CEO, Mimi Jett, and Marilyn Roberts, acting provost at Zayed University.

With the United Arab Emirates' (UAE) declaring 2016 as the "Year of Reading," Zayed University recently signed an agreement with Diglossia meant to strengthen its ongoing commitment to student success. 

Diglossia offers the Lexica English Placement and Vocabulary Test, an online English vocabulary test that is constantly adapting the difficulty level of words given to each test taker based on correct or incorrect responses, giving a unique testing experience to each student. The aim of the test is to measure students’ receptive vocabulary knowledge using a simple yes/no test format, with pseudo words included throughout to identify when a student is merely guessing.

The test is offered through Zayed University's Academic Bridge Program (ABP), which is tasked with  developing students' academic language skills to enhance their success in the baccalaureate program. 

"Zayed University is pleased to join a growing list of key collaborators with Diglossia that include IBM, Emirates National Schools, University of Bahrain Teachers College, Arab Thought Foundation and several well-known linguistic researchers," Wayne Jones, director of the Academic Bridge Program at Zayed University, told Gulf News Journal recently. "The university's collaboration with Diglossia is one example of the ABP's response to the announcement by His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, president of the UAE, of ...  the ‘Year of Reading.'"

Since vocabulary development is fundamental to students being able to access academic texts, the ABP places considerable emphasis on the teaching and learning of vocabulary, and has recently developed its own language app to support students' learning in this area.

"The Academic Bridge Program is assisting in the field-testing of the Lexica test,” Jones said. "Signing a (memorandum of understanding) with the company not only gives us access to this tool and actionable data, but also provides collaborative research opportunities between Diglossia and Zayed University in the future."

Diglossia's test currently draws on a word list based on the 3,000 most frequent words from the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) and British National Corpus (BNC).  

"By combining the corpora and filtering out any words that are strictly British or American, we have a bank of words (that) are appropriate for the diversity of language in our region," Jones said. "Diglossia's ‘Lexica' test of vocabulary provides us with a fast, reliable and cost-effective way of assessing students' vocabulary development throughout the program. More specifically, the use of this tool provides us with an opportunity of assessing the effectiveness of the (ABP's) newly created app in developing students' vocabulary."

The test will be delivered at the beginning of the semester as an indicator of students' initial vocabulary levels. It will then be given at the end of the semester to show any improvements made by students after targeted vocabulary instruction using the Zayed University vocabulary app.

The test is delivered via iPads. Students are given a 3-minute video tutorial in Arabic at the beginning of the test, which clearly explains how to take the test. The actual test only takes about 10 minutes to complete.

"The Lexica tool allows us to identify a baseline of our students' current receptive vocabulary knowledge and to conduct follow-up studies after various interventions to see if there has been any improvement or not in the vocabulary," Jones said. "The scores could also be used to supplement the (International English Language Testing System) results and internal exams to assess whether students have enough English to progress to their university degree courses."

Jones said that there is also a critical need for Arabic language assessment in the Middle East and North Africa  region, and Diglossia is in the process of building the first benchmarked tests for the Arabic language aimed at testing vocabulary, reading and writing against the World Languages Initiative Arabic standards.

"Students at Zayed University are expected to graduate with strong Arabic and English language skills, and the addition of an Arabic vocabulary test could be beneficial for assessing students' Arabic language proficiency levels," Jones said.

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