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Vocabulary Learning Through Computer Assisted Language English Language Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 5139 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The importance of learning English as an international language requires the acquisition of vocabulary as the basic and necessary skill. By the improvement of technology, and computer in particular, many researches are done to show the influence of technology on vocabulary learning. This literary review is done to show the importance as well.


Michael Levy defined Computer-assisted Language Learning (CALL) in his book “as ‘the search for and study of applications of the computer in language teaching and learning” (p.1). It is recognizable in the academic literature for about the last thirty years. CALL has been made possible by invention and development of the computer. They developed from large mainframe computers to smaller, faster, and easier ones. For all those who whish to create new CALL materials, points of departure range dramatically from top-down approaches centered perhaps upon a theory of language or language learning, or a curriculum specification, while others might develop CALL materials from the bottom up, perhaps by using the computer to address a particular classroom problem. Other points of departure might include a learning strategy , a macroskill, computer conferencing, or an exploration of aspects of the technology itself. There are practical issues to consider–for example, the selection of the hardware and software development tools for the project, Hypercard, Authorware, Toolbook, CALIS, C, and Visual Basic, or a mark-up language to enable publishing on the World Wide Web such as Hypertext or Virtual Reality Mark-up Languages (HTML and VRML), are just a handful of many options now available.” (Michael Levy, Oxford Linguistic Computer-Assisted Language Learning Context and Conceptualization, p.3)

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“an interdisciplinary perspective on CALL shows it to be a relatively new field of study that has been subject to the influence of a number of other discipline. In addition to the fields of computing and language teaching and learning, real and potential influences in the development of CALL included aspects of psychology, artificial intelligence, computational linguistics, instructional design, and human-computer interaction. Many of these disciplines are relatively new in themselves, having developed significantly since World War II. They each have their own perspective and frame of reference, they often overlap and interrelate, and the extent to which any one discipline should influence the development of CALL has not been determined. At various times, CALL workers have called upon each of these fields to guide their own work in some way.” (the same, p.7)

Development of CALL

Jing-hua suggested in his paper presented “It is commonly known that the development of CALL mainly experiences three phases, namely, behavioristic CALL, communicative CALL, and integrative CALL. Each phrase is marked by distinct language teaching theories. For example, Behaviousristic CALL is based on the dominant behaviorist theories of learning and teaching of that time, which emphasizes the formation of speaking habit, thus, courseware mainly focuses on practice and drill of language patterns. After behaviorism lost its dominance, cognitive psychology began to gain popularity. Communicative CALL rejects the notion of habit-formation and focuses more on creative language use. So software at that time stressed the importance of communication and creative use of language instead of manipulation of language forms. Under the influence of constructivism, integrative CALL began to gain prominence. Constructivism focuses more on the connection between old knowledge and new knowledge and learners are taken as active participators who can engage in creative thinking rather than follow ready made knowledge. The development of internet provides learners with enormous amount of authentic materials and also a platform where they can have a real conversation with peers, teachers or native speakers. The integration of the four skills becomes possible and learners’ individual needs are satisfied to some extent. Studies on computer assisted vocabulary learning have touched upon different aspects of vocabulary learning, among which a line of research is to examine the effects of electronic or online dictionary use or the effects of look-up behavior or the click behavior on word retention” (p.60,61).

What Does Vocabulary Mean?

“Vocabulary ….. is an essential means of interchanging ideas and of acquiring

new experiences… Man’s growth in ideas has always been accompanied by a

corresponding expansion of his vocabulary.” (Gray 1939, p.1).

“When a pupil reads and learns the meaning of familiar words by context, there is

reason to believe that the knowledge will be genuine and important.” (Thorndike 1934, p.11).

“…The commonest way and perhaps the best way to promote growth of content in

words is to allow the child to infer the meaning from context” (Chambers 1904, p.50).

Vocabulary Acquisition and L2/FL Reading Comprehension

Reading is an active skill that involves the reader, the text, and the interaction between the two. Reading in a L2 or FL is a dynamic and interactive process, during which learners make use of a variety of skills and strategies, combined with background knowledge, L1-related knowledge and real-world knowledge to arrive at an understanding of written material (Aebersold and Field, 1997: ix).

Constantinescu (2007) suggests that several researchers have argued that vocabulary plays a major part in reading proficiency

Aside from knowing how to use the appropriate reading strategies, Grabe (1991, as cited in Butler-Pascoe and Wiburg, 2003: 124) argues that fluent L2/FL readers need to know about 2,000 to 7,000 words and sometimes even more if they want to reach native-like fluency. Similarly, Groot (2000: 62) argues that an adequate understanding of academic texts requires a vocabulary of at least 7,000 words. Generally, L2/FL readers need to recognize approximately 95 per cent of the words in a given text in order to comprehend its meaning and they need to know the different meanings of words according to context, as well as words’ grammatical properties.

What are Language Learning Strategies?

Seglar (2001) remarked, “Language Learning Strategies could be any set of operations, steps, plans, routines used by the learner which affect this process” (p,26).

There are two ways for the second language vocabulary acquisition.

S. Prell suggested in his articles wo ways for the second language vocabulary acquisition (p.2):

The first method, the experimental method, is CAVOCA.

The second method is a more familiar approach to the students, called the bilingual word list.

Prell remarked, “The first method is the bilingual word list presentation. The second is the Computer Assisted Vocabulary Acquisition (CAVOCA) program”.The CAVOCA method attempts to replicate the way the first language is acquired, which is through an incremental process that gradually develops with repeated exposure and constant interaction between the various stages (Groot, 2000, p. 64). The program has four sections, which include storing the word in memory; using the word in several sentences to learn the spelling and meaning; giving examples for long-term memory; and a self-assessment.

The second method is a more familiar approach to the students, called the bilingual word list. This method takes less time and produces favorable short-term results (Prell). Prell conducted some experiments and found that both of them wre valuable, yet through some experiments it was proved that they were different from each other:

In the first two experiments, the bilingual word list yielded substantially higher results with the immediate tests given than the CAVOCA program. However, in testing the students two to three weeks later, the CAVOCA method produced better results for the retention of the vocabulary. In the third and fourth experiments, the bilingual word list did not show significant differences in the immediate tests from the first two experiments. However, the CAVOCA method showed higher rates of retention for the tests given two to three weeks after the initial test.

Information Processing

Iheanacho (1997) remarked in his research suggests that “cognitive theorists assume that any complete theory of human cognition must include an analysis of the plans or strategies people use for thinking, remembering, understanding and producing language” (p.18).

Iheanacho (1997) remarked in his research “The memory system explains the interrelationship among the three main storage structures of the brain: Sensory register, Short term memory (STM), and Longterm memory (LTM)” (p.2).

According to Schwartz and Reisberg (1991), the STM provides a small storage

repository where the information is repeated over and over through a maintenance

rehearsal process. When a piece of information is repeated and rehearsed, the probability

of retaining that information can increase. But the STM is limited in how much

information it can hold. The maintenance rehearsal helps to transfer the excess

information which is not yet needed to another storage called Long-Term Memory

(LTM). LTM provides a storage place of great size containing information that is not

immediately active so that the information can be retrieved when needed. According to

Miller (1989), LTM helps people to recall events, solve problems and recognize patterns.

It is the repository in which we carry out all that we know (Schwartz & Reisberg 1991).

The interrelationship between STM and LTM explains how visual information

can enhance retention and recall. According to Posner (1969), visual information can

persist in STM after the stimulus is diminished. Additionally, visual information can be

activated and retrieved from the LTM. The information processing model can account for

the effectiveness of visuals in learning.

Visual research

Heinich, Molenda and Russell (1993) proposed that learning is facilitated when instruction follows a sequence from actual experience to iconic representation, and then to symbolic or abstract representation. Visuals make abstract information more concrete and are suited for analogical reasoning (Levie, 1987).

Pictures and prose can be used to help both skilled and unskilled readers to enhance their reading skills ( Holmes, 1987). Holmes studied the ability of 116 fifth and sixth grade students to answer inferential questions. Three groups were established. The first group used pictures, the second group used prints, and the third group used a combination of prints and pictures. His purpose was to examine skilled and unskilled readers to see if there would be a significant difference in their ability to answer questions in each approach. He found that pictures enabled both skilled and unskilled readers to answer inferential questions. Holmes therefore suggested using pictures to initially improve inferential reading, and then gradually advancing to using print only.

Imagery and vocabulary acquisition

Furthermore, a study conducted by Paivio and his associates (1971) revealed that

when learners are instructed to use images to commit a list of words to memory, recall is

facilitated dramatically. In the study, subjects were required to learn pairs of words by

rehearsing each pair, by making up a sentence for each pair of words, and by forming a

mental image for each pair of words, with the image combining the words. They found

that subjects who learned through imagery performed better on a recall test.

Dual-coding theory

Dual-coding theory contends that pictures and words activate independent visual codes (imagens) and verbal codes (logogens). The verbal system is language-like and specializes in linguistic activities associated with words and sentences, whereas, the visual system is thought of as a code for images and other picture-like representations (Rieber, 1994; Rieber, 1992). Rieber further explains that both verbal and visual subsystems have unique properties. Whereas logogens are stored in the verbal system as discrete elements, resembling words and sentences, imagens are stored as continuous units in the visual system.

According to (Paivio, 1986; Rieber, 1992; Rieber, 1994), dual coding theory

assumes that three levels of processing can occur within the verbal and visual systems.

These are: representational connections, associative structure, and referential connections. Representational connections occur between incoming stimuli and either the verbal or visual system. Whereas verbal stimuli activate verbal memory codes, visual stimuli activate visual memory codes.

Rieber (1994) explained that the important aspect of referential connections between the verbal and visual systems are not one to one, but can be one to many. For example, seeing a picture of a computer may invoke many verbal responses, such as an Applecomputer, an IBM computer or a Laptop computer. This concept can be applied when using pictures to learn vocabulary.

Associative structures refer to activation or processing of information within any

of the systems. The processing of information in the verbal system is assumed to be

sequential or linear; whereas, processing of information in the visual system is believed to be parallel or synchronous. The separate coding systems, however, can aid each other so that something coded in both picture and verbal forms can be easily remembered (Rieber, 1994).

The probability of recall is increased due to the availability of two mental representations instead of one. If one memory trace is lost, the other is still available (Rieber & Kini, 1991).

Multimedia CALL and vocabulary acquisition

Studies (Reid, 1996; Davis & Lyman-Hager, 1997; Zimmerman, 1997) showed the

effectiveness of multimedia CALL on vocabulary learning in particular and language

learning in general. Based upon this review, multimedia CALL programs that use motion

pictures, still pictures, and text can help ESL students to improve their vocabulary skills.

But it is not clear if a multimedia program with motion pictures or the one with still

pictures will be more effective for intermediate level ESL students. More empirical

studies to investigate the effectiveness of multimedia CALL with motion pictures and still pictures on vocabulary acquisition of ESL students can lead to the development of more effective methods for vocabulary acquisition.

Motion graphics and still graphics

Many studies (Rieber & Kini 1991; Siribodhi, 1995; Rieber, 1990; Rieber, 1996) have shown that computer graphics are effective for gaining attention. Furthermore, Iheanacho (1997) suggested that computer graphics can encourage students to create mental images that in turn make it easier for them to learn certain types of information. The difference between motion graphics and still graphics is that motion creates the illusion of movement which helps to explain abstract concepts (Bricken, 1991; Rieber, 1994).

In 1996, Rieber conducted a study to explore how users interact and learn during a computer-based simulation given graphical and textual forms of feedback. He found that subjects learned more when provided with animated graphical feedback than with textual feedback. Rieber hypothesized that interactive forms of multimedia, such as computer.

simulations will promote different levels of processing depending on the type of

representation used (e.g. text, graphics, motion and sound). In an earlier study, Rieber &

Kini (1991) contended that in contrast to static graphics, animated graphics can provide

users with additional information through two important visual attributes: motion and

trajectory. They also added that animation can provide information about whether the

object is moving or whether the object’s motion changes over time. Still or static

pictures, on the other hand, lack motion and are more abstract than motion pictures. Still

pictures suggest motion whereas motion pictures show life in action, can be used to study

specific elements, and can bring us close to the point of visual contact (Dale, 1969).



Pelletreau (2006) conducted an experiment Of chief importance in this study was the degree to which students would take advantage of computer-assisted opportunities for incidental vocabulary learning while performing online reading tasks. The study necessarily addressed a more fundamental question: How would students learn new words in the course of completing computer-based reading tasks? Lastly, and most importantly for this study, how was the learning of non-target words related to the learning of target words? (p.16).

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In an earlier study (see Juffs et al., April, 2006), students frequently used the online dictionary to look up the meanings of target words. In fact, students accessed 71% of all the definitions available to them on average, and yet, such behavior did not correlate with mastery of words (r = .16, n.s.). The best predictor of word mastery (as defined by 2 correctly answered post-reading vocabulary questions) was number of texts read (r = .86, p ≤ .0001). In other words, students reading more texts mastered more words, though the time spent clicking on hints had almost no effect on word mastery (Juffs et al., April, 2006). If students were not benefiting from looking up target words, it may have been because they were not actually making use of target-word definitions. But what were they doing while reading? They were either unable or unwilling to learn target-word definitions. It became apparent that students were not gaining a substantial learning advantage by using the online dictionary. In other words, students were not achieving a desired learning outcome. They resisted their language-learning task and instead participated in a ‘counter-task’ (Lantolf & Thorne, 2006, p. 238)

In this context, a decision was made to allow students to look up any word in the online dictionary. Perhaps students had been focusing their attention on non-target words, or maybe they had other preferred (and unknown) methods of using the program. It was clear that students were likely not using the REAP program the way they had been expected to, and it was also apparent that the instruments to gather data about students’ behavior in the LMC were lacking. As a result, REAP was modified to allow students to look up the meaning of any word, and the number of clicks of both target and non-target words was recorded.

Because quantitative data alone would provide an incomplete picture of student vocabulary-learning behavior, qualitative data collection instruments were introduced. Students could be valuable sources of information about their own vocabulary-learning techniques. The acquisition of target vocabulary was thought to depend on student comprehension of non-target words. It was hypothesized that students would use information about non-target words to assist them in their target-vocabulary tasks. It may have been the case that knowledge of non-target words surrounding target words would aid students in making lexical and semantic connections that facilitated target-word acquisition. In line with such reasoning, a strong positive correlation between non-target and target-vocabulary acquisition was posited, at least up to a particular critical threshold. For those students who knew the meanings of very few of the words surrounding target words, it was reasoned, target-word acquisition would be minimal. In such a scenario, such students would have too many gaps in their word knowledge and too few resources to be able to acquire a considerable number of target words.

In effect, students learning more non-target words were predicted to learn more target words, though only up to a point. Student accuracy on measures of target vocabulary knowledge should have correlated strongly with non-target vocabulary acquisition up to some critical point.

After a certain threshold, the acquisition of additional non-target words might have led to a decrease in the number of target words acquired. Such a threshold may have depended in part on the general language proficiency of the student (measured in this case by the MTELP score). The finite nature of the student’s language-learning resources, including processing power, attention and memory, may also have been important.

It was thought that students spending much of their time learning as many non-target words as they possibly could would likely perform as poorly with respect to target-word acquisition as those who paid little or no attention to non-target words. In such cases, it was plausible that temporal and cognitive constraints (Sweller, 1988; 1994) would lead to students’ acquiring relatively fewer target words.

In effect, the distribution of target words acquired versus non-target words acquired should have been more or less nonlinear. That is, target-word learning should have reached some maximum value for a moderate value of non-target word learning. Additionally, the amount of non-target word acquisition occurring in the study should have been much less, on average, than that of target-word acquisition. While there may have been some exceptions, the explicit instructions to focus on target words coupled with the way the words appeared should have led to relatively greater student attention to target words. It should also be pointed out that students answered cloze questions testing their knowledge of target words (for which they received feedback) after each reading, while they answered no such questions and received no feedback pertaining to non-target words. Greater attention and in general, more cognitive resources devoted to target words should have translated to differential target and non-target vocabulary learning. In terms of predicting how many target and non-target words students learned, general language proficiency should have provided some indication of such information.

Pelletreau (2006) concluded in this experimenr, “Non-target word lookups did not correlate with target word acquisition. Students did not appear to learn target words faster or better by attending to non-target words. As a result, the relationship between the explicit and incidental learning students engaged in remains unclear. The relative effectiveness of each, as well as the optimal balance of explicit and incidental learning in such a context, is an open question”.

Benefits of CALL for Vocabulary Acquisition and Reading Comprehension

According to Constantinescu (2007) Multimedia refers to computer-based systems that use various types of content, such as text, audio, video, graphics, animation, and interactivity.

Constantinescu (2007) mentioned in his article “Most research on vocabulary acquisition and CALL has focused on the effects of multimedia glosses, and the same is true for reading comprehension, since vocabulary and reading are closely and reciprocally related. This reciprocal relationship also accounts for the fact that many research studies on vocabulary development and CALL also examine reading comprehension, and vice versa.”

Multimedia Glosses and Vocabulary Development

One of the first to examine the effects of multimedia glosses for vocabulary development were Lyman-Hager and Davis (1996), who integrated a computer program into the French foreign language curriculum and discussed vocabulary acquisition and students’ glossing choices for 262 intermediate level students studying French. Two conditions were used in this study: computerized reading and non-computerized reading using an excerpt of Oyono’s ‘Une Vie de Boy’. Both groups had access to glosses: the computer group had access to multimedia annotations, whereas the control group could consult printed text with the same glosses. As to whether or not computer treatment offered significant benefits to FL students, the results of the written recall protocol indicated that the experimental group who used the computer program to read the text significantly outperformed the control group who used the glossed reading in the print form.

Using Multimedia for Vocabulary-building

Constantinescu (2007) mentioned in his article “However, multimedia is not used only for glossing texts. Multimedia is a central component of good computer-assisted skill-building software”. Thus, Chanier and Selva (1998) stressed the benefits of multimedia support for learning L2/FL vocabulary and presented ALEXIA, a lexical learning environment for French as a L2/FL, which includes a corpus of texts, a general and a personal dictionary, and a lexical activities unit. After reviewing various viewpoints about the effectiveness of multimedia for vocabulary learning, they propose useful criteria for evaluating the quality of a visual representation in a lexical environment. Groot (2000) presented another multimedia-enhanced computer-assisted word acquisition program, called CAVOCA, whose aim was to speed up the vocabulary acquisition process. CAVOCA is an interactive program that takes learners through different stages of vocabulary development: deduction, consolidation, and long-term retention.

Benefits of Multimedia-enhanced Dictionaries

Other research that focused on vocabulary development with technology argued for the increased effectiveness of multimedia-enhanced electronic dictionaries designed specifically for English language learners, and which have several built-in aids that their book counterparts cannot provide (e.g. the Longman Interactive English Dictionary, the Oxford Picture Dictionary Interactive, etc.) (Butler-Pascoe and Wiburg, 2003: 126-12)

Benefits of Multimedia for Reading Comprehension

The positive effect that multimedia has on reading comprehension comes, according to Busch (2003: 278), from the great advantage that online readers have over traditional printed readers: the possibility to enhance computerized texts with glosses in multimedia format.

The effects of multimedia glossing received increased attention as researchers considered the possibility that computer-aided reading could create more proficient readers by offering a choice of various types of glosses to develop better vocabularies, greater background knowledge surrounding the text, and more effective reading strategies (Lyman-Hager and Davis, 1996: 775).

Constantinescu (2007) remarked some principles for instructors to increase the efficiency of the introduced strategies:

First Principle: Instructors Should Pay More Attention to the Existence of Various Teaching Tools

For vocabulary acquisition, instructors could make great use of technology by using multimedia glossed texts, electronic dictionaries, corpora and concordance software, as well as various vocabulary-building software.

Second Principle: Instructors Should Introduce Multimedia-glossed Texts into Their Vocabulary/Reading Classes

Multimedia glossing triggers better results when compared to print glosses. Moreover, full glossing seems to be the best facilitator of vocabulary acquisition and reading comprehension, as opposed to little or non-glossed texts. In addition, best results in retention are triggered by picture + text annotations, whereas pronunciation, video, and audio glosses seem to correlate negatively with reading comprehension.

Third Principle: Instructors Should Be Acquainted with the Criteria for Software and Courseware Evaluation (e.g. goals, presentation, appropriateness, outcomes), As Well As Take Into Consideration Two Very Important Factors: Time and Effort

Teachers must be aware that there are many different types of software or online materials available for ESL / EFL, however, not all of them are valuable for classroom instruction. Some materials focus on specific skills, while others focus on a wide range of skills and strategies. Moreover, instructors should also ensure that the materials used in class are motivating for students and are at an optimum, ‘i+1′ difficulty level, so that progress can be attained. Teachers should also pay attention to students’ level of familiarity with computers and keep in mind whether the chosen software will trigger the desired outcomes.

Fourth Principle: Instructors Should Keep Up with Current Methodology and Make Best Use of Visuals and Multimedia

Good CALL programs should make best use of visual elements and multimedia glossing, as well as generate students’ participation. The programs should be interactive, allowing the students to make choices. Also, they should consist of a wide range of different types of exercises in which students not only choose the right answers but also type in answers.


L2 comprehention depends mostly on acquiring vocabulary at least 7,000 words as was mentioned by Groot (2000: 62). Due to the importance of vocabulary acquisition some ways were discussed, and through some experiments by Prell it becomes clear taht the CAVOCA method produced better results for the retention of the vocabulary (p,3). So, in continuation, my research focused on the influence of different models of Call strategies on accelerating vocabulary learning and how the instructors should use them in the best way to increase their efficiencies.


Among different forms of computerized ways of vocabulary learning, some ways were mentioned. While being different from each other, it is proved that some of them are more efficient that others. All in all, CALL can be a useful instrument for both teachers and students in regard to the priority it has to the difficult traditional ways.


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