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The Role Of Vocabulary English Language Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 2439 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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However, nowadays, the importance of vocabulary as also learning a language has become more accepted. Vocabulary is a basic component of language proficiency which provides the basis for learners ‘performance in other skills, such as speaking, reading, listening and writing. (Nation, 2008) Therefore, acquiring vocabulary it is a fundamental process when learning an L2 because it will not only develop the writing skills, but also the remaining ones. As a consequence, learners will become competent on their level of language because it seems that the four skills will be hand in hand.

Between many forms or learning vocabulary, it is the possibility of learning vocabulary incidentally.

Hunt and Beglar (1998) point out that “many vocabularies are learned incidentally through extensive reading and listening”. For this reason, motivating learners to read and listen extensively can provide them with great opportunities to learn new vocabularies.

According to Except for the first few thousand most common words, vocabulary learning predominantly occurs through extensive reading with the learner guessing the meaning of unknown words. This process is incidental learning of vocabulary for the acquisition of new words and is the by-product of the reading.

Most of the papers in the special issue of incidental vocabulary learning (Wesche & Paribakht, 1999) refer to incidental learning as something that is learned without specific focus of attention in a classroom context.

Research on both first and second language development supports the conclusion that most vocabulary learning occurs naturally when learners try to understand new words they hear or read in context. This process is called “incidental” because it occurs as learners are focused on something other than word learning itself. (T. Sima)

Wode is the most specific author about this topic when he provides the following operational definition: “language learning as a by-product of language use by the teacher or anybody else in the classroom, without the linguistic structure itself being the focus of attention or the target of teaching maneuvers”

In the process of incidental vocabulary learning, word knowledge is thought to be cumulated and developed gradually through multiple exposures in various reading contexts. Extensive reading, as a form of comprehensible input, has the effect of providing learners with rich contexts ideal for vocabulary learning. During the reciprocal process of extensive reading, the acquisition of words is the result of successes in inferring word meanings from a meaningful context and through more reading experiences the developed and matured vocabulary inference ability could in turn contributes to reading level.

As believed by Huckin and Coady (1999), incidental vocabulary learning can be really advantageous for learners because it is a more learner based process, in which learners select the reading materials to study according to their personal preferences. Therefore, reading will be more interesting for each person.

Another advantage of this process is that it can be pedagogically efficient, since it leads two activities at the same time: vocabulary acquisition and reading comprehension. Learners acquire new vocabulary, language learning, and grammatical knowledge as also develop their critical thinking when reading and comprehending the main ideas.

Finally, since it is contextualized, the readers can understand the meaning and the use of the word within the context established in the text. For this reason, “enrich their knowledge of the words they already know, increase lexical access speeds, build network linkages between words, and a few words will be acquired” Horst, Cobb and Meara (1998) (p. 221)

Although having these favorable situations in order that it is easier for students to acquire new vocabulary, Ellis proposes some factors that may affect the process when learning an L2.

These factors are grouped in four and are classified in: Intrinsic word properties, Input factors, Interactional factors and Learner factors.

Intrinsic word properties

Some words have a higher grade of difficulty in order to be learnt from oral input; R. Ellis considered four intrinsic word properties which appear to influence acquisition:

a) Pronounceability: It takes a long time to students to pronounce an L2 word; thereby their ability to produce it will take a long time also. Laufer (1997) cites a number of sources that suggest that pronounceable words are more likely to be perceived accurately, and that learners may avoid attending to phonologically problematic words. While there is a major similarity between the learners’ first language and the target language functions, there will be a bigger determinant of difficulty.

b) Part of speech: There are some researches that suggest that learners learn nouns faster than other parts of speech, at least in the early stages.

There are a few explanations for these researches. Nation (1990) suggests that the meaning of nouns can be guessed from context more easily than the meaning of verbs. Other explanation is that learners initially concentrate on nouns because they are more useful when decoding and encoding messages. Ellis (1984) says that verbs are omitted more frequently than nouns because they are not so important when receiving a message. Finally, Ellis and Beaton (1993) suggest that nouns may be easier to learn than other parts of speech because they are more imageable.

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c)Distinctiveness of word form: learning a word that has its own uniqueness is easier than learning a word that is similar to some other word. According to a study made by Huckin and Bloch (1993) learners allowed word shape to override contextual factors. For instance, one learner misread “optimal” as “optional”. It is interesting to note that the words causing the problem begin and end with the same letters being differentiated by letters in medial position.

d) Length of word form: It is easy to believe that for learners it is better to remember monosyllabic than polysyllabic words. Meara (1984) reports that Chinese learners of L2 English were found to have an unexpected difficulty with long words. However, Meara suggests that the reason of this is that there is a need of putting more effort and time to process and remember polysyllabic words.

Other factors are that long words may be less pronounceable than short words. Also, as Laufer (1997) says, in a language as English, shorter words tend to be more frequent in the input.

Input factors

Krashen (1994) expressed that comprehensible input is all that is necessary for second-language acquisition (Krashen, Stephen (1994). “The input hypothesis and its rivals”. In Ellis, Nick. Implicit and Explicit Learning of Languages. London: Academic Press. pp. 45-77. ISBN 978-0-12-237475-3.)

Krashen (1981) also said from some of his studies that the length of time a person stays in a foreign country is closely linked with his level of language acquisition. Cook, Vivian (2008). Second Language Learning and Language Teaching. London: Arnold. ISBN 978-0-340-95876-6.

For further more evidence, Cook (2008) suggests that input comes from studies on reading: large amounts of free voluntary reading have a significant positive effect on learners’ vocabulary, grammar, and writing. Input is also the mechanism by which people learn languages according to the universal grammar model. Krashen, Stephen (1981a). Second Language Acquisition and Second Language Learning. New York: Pergamon Press. ISBN 0-08-025338-5. Retrieved 2011-02-28.

Interactional factors

Ellis refers to interactional factors when the interaction provides more input that becomes more prominent to learners, and also she says that learners can acquire vocabulary from non-interactional input through different techniques, as teacher-discourse, which includes definition, conjunction, elaboration, among others.

Learner factors

Ellis suggests that the factors that are related directly with learners may be combined with different variations while the acquisition occurs, due to their background knowledge, procedural knowledge, second language vocabulary size, morphological knowledge, and learner’s L1.


In the past, it was believed in the proposition that most vocabulary was learned incidentally through the argument that learning from context is the only way to account for most vocabulary acquisition and for the close relationship between the growth of vocabulary knowledge and reading comprehension ability. (e.g., Nagy & Anderson, 1984; Sternberg, 1987).

Some researchers have investigated the subject matter and have shown evidence that vocabulary can be incidentally learnt through the exposure to reading comprehension texts.

On one hand evidence presented from a case study of a Japanese ESL speaker studying anthropology at an American university (Parry, 1993) demonstrated her incremental vocabulary growth over time through repeated encounters with given words in the course textbook. Experimental evidence of incidental vocabulary growth has been reported in research on secondary school students learning pseudo- L1 words and rare L2 words (Hulstijn, 1992), in which significant-if quite low-incidental learning of target words occurred from a single encounter in a 900-word text. Similarly, an experiment that required adult ESL learners to read and subsequently recall stories demonstrated retention of some low-frequency L2 words first encountered in a 300-word expository text (Joe, 1995).

A more complete study by Paribakht & Wesche, 1997 was based on tracked vocabulary learning by 38 intermediate-level university ESL learners in a thematic reading program under Reading Only and Reading Plus instructional conditions, each program requiring equivalent class time.

Learners experienced two thematic units for each treatment, thus acting as their own controls. In Reading Only, learners read selected texts on two themes (a total of four texts) and had to answer comprehension questions. The texts provided multiple exposures to a number of nouns, verbs, and discourse connectors that had been identified as generally unfamiliar to students at this level of ESL proficiency.

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In the Reading Plus treatment, students had to read four texts on two themes and then carried out text-based vocabulary activities targeting the same set of words. Gains in both treatments were measured by pre and post-administration of the target word list using the Vocabulary Knowledge Scale (VKS; Paribakht & Wesche, 1993; Wesche & Paribakht, 1996), an instrument that was developed not only to measure the number of words learners knew to some extent but also to identify different levels of knowledge ranging from the recognition of the word; its meaning and also the ability of learners to use the word grammatically correct in a sentence.

The results between known versus unknown words before and after instruction on the VKS indicated significant gains in both treatments, although Reading Plus led to greater gains.

After the Reading Only treatment, learners’ knowledge of target words tended to remain at the recognition level, whereas after the Reading Plus treatment many learners were able to write sentences using the new words. These findings were interpreted to mean that, although multiple encounters with given words during reading leads to increased knowledge of the words, a combination of reading and text-based exercises demanding different kinds of analysis and practice of the words is more effective for vocabulary learning.

Despite the more favorable results of Reading Plus, the significant gains in Reading Only are arguably of greater practical significance for language learn Reading and “Incidental” L2 Vocabulary Acquisition.

The concept of glosses dates back to the Middle Ages, but it has been largely studied by researchers until late in this century. Glosses provide a short definition or an image in order to facilitate reading and comprehension processes for L2 learners. Nation (1983) defined glosses as short definitions; Pak (1986) refers to them as explanations of the meanings of words. Glosses are usually located in the side or bottom margins, and they are most often supplied for “unfamiliar” words, which may help to limit continual dictionary consultation that may hinder and interrupt the L2 reading comprehension process.

Many studies have confirmed that a gloss is more useful than no gloss for incidental

vocabulary learning. Hulstijin, Hollander and Greidanus (1996) have examined the effectiveness of glosses on incidental vocabulary learning. They studied the influence of

marginal glosses, dictionary use, and the reoccurrence of unknown words on incidental

vocabulary learning.

Recently, researchers have become interested in which gloss type is more effective,

and whether there are any differences between different glosses, for example, between

single glosses and multiple-choice glosses (Duan & Yan, 2004; Miyasako, 2002). Miyasako (2002) compared multiple-choice glosses and single glosses and found there was no difference between the multiple-choice and single glosses in their effect on vocabulary learning. Duan & Yan (2004) also examined the effects of multiple-choice glosses, single glosses and no glosses. The results indicated that both multiple-choice glosses and single glosses significantly promoted incidental vocabulary learning, while multiple-choice glosses were better than single glosses in incidental vocabulary learning.

Others studied the effects of sentence-level L1 translations on incidental vocabulary

learning. Grace (1998, 2000) tested the effects of sentence-level L1 translations on

incidental vocabulary learning, while Gettys et al. (2001) compared the glosses of sentence level L1 translation with the glosses of dictionary form L1. Grace used sentence-level L1 translations to replace word definitions or explanations and found that the translation glosses were very effective, while Gettys et al. found that the dictionary form glosses were more effective than sentence-level translation glosses.


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