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TitleIncidental vocabulary acquisition in extensive reading
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http://nflrc.hawaii.edu/rfl
Reading in a Foreign Language
October 2008, Volume 20, No. 2
ISSN 1539
-0578
pp. 191
Ð215 Beyond raw frequency: Incidental vocabulary acquisition in extensive reading
Soo-Ok Kweon Pohang University of Science and Technology Korea Hae-Ri Kim Seoul National University of Education Korea Abstract Second language vocabulary can be learned incidentally while the learner is engaged in extensive reading or reading for meaning, inferring the meaning of unknown words (Huckin & Coady, 1999; Hulstijn, 1992; Krashen, 1993; Pigada & Schmitt, 2006). 12 Korean learners of English read authentic literary texts and were tested on their knowledge of vocabulary before reading (pretest), immediately after reading (Posttest 1), and 1 month after Posttest 1 (Posttest 2). The results showed a significant word gain between the pretest and Posttest 1 and that most gained words were retained at Posttest 2. Of the 3 different word classes that were used, nouns were a little easier to retain than verbs and adjectives. More frequent words were more easily learned than less frequent words across all 3 word classes. However, words of lower frequency were better learned than words of higher frequency when the meanings of the lower frequency words were crucial for meaning comprehension. Keywords
: Extensive reading, L2 r
eading, incidental vocabulary acquisition, literature
-based
approach
The past two decades have seen a considerable amount of interest in the cognitive processing of vocabulary acquisition (Arnaud & Bejoint, 1992; Coady & Huckin, 1997; Haastrup, 1991; Hatch & Brown, 1995; Hulstijn & Laufer, 2001; Meara, 1992). Many scholars have agreed that much second language (L2) vocabulary is learned incidentally while learners are engaged in extensive reading (ER) or reading for meaning and in inferring the meanings of unknown words (Huckin & Coady, 1999; Krashen, 1993; Paribakht & Wesche, 1997). In this case, vocabulary learning can be called incidental learning because it is a byproduct rather than the explicit purpose of reading (see Day, Omura, & Hiramatsu, 1991; Dupuy & Krashen, 1993; Hulstijn, 1992; Pigada & Schmitt, 2006; Pitts, White, & Krashen, 1989; Saragi, Nation, & Meister, 1978; Waring & Takaki, 2003). The goal of the present study was to see how and which unknown words can be incidentally learned and retained while Korean learners of English read substantial amounts of authentic text


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Kweon & Kim: Beyond raw frequency
192 Reading in a Foreign Language
20(2)
over a long period of time. More specifically, this study investigated the effect of frequency, but beyond the frequency, examined other factors such as word class. The paper is organized as follows: We introduce the previous studies of incidental vocabulary acquisition through reading in the L2 learning literature, followed by a description of the components of the present study. After reporting the design and results of the experimental study in the method section, we discuss how incidental vocabulary learning occurs, how successfully it is retained, and what the relationship between word frequency and learning might be. We conclude by calling for more efficient development and implementation of ER to enhance vocabulary learning in an L2. Incidental Vocabulary Acquisition Through ER
Vocabulary acquisition occurs chiefly through spoken input in child first language (L1) learning. Lexical acquisition has usually been assumed to develop naturally, as children grow older, with no explicit instruction needed. However, the situation differs in an L2 environment. Here, vocabulary acquisition often occurs more through written text (Grabe, 2004). Of course, explicit instruction in word meanings can facilitate vocabulary acquisition by drawing attention to form and meaning mappings. However, incidental vocabulary learning has some advantages over direct instruction. For one, reading and word learning occur at the same time. For another, a richer sense of a word is learned through contextualized input. Furthermore, the incidental acquirer not only acquires word meanings but also increases his or her chances to get a feel for collocations and colligations that are not easily learned by learners of English as a foreign language (Bahns & Eldaw, 1993); therefore, learning can be facilitated by repeated exposure to words that go together (cf. Lewis, 1993; Nattinger & DeCarrico, 1992, for the importance of learning lexical phrases). Research into L2 vocabulary learning has determined that such incidental vocabulary learning is possible while the learner is engaged in ER (Huckin & Coady, 1999; Krashen, 1993; Wodinsky & Nation, 1988). Based on this research, the incidental vocabulary learning hypothesis (Nagy, Herman, & Anderson, 1985) claims that teachers should promote ER because it can lead to Ògreater vocabulary growth than any program of explicit instruction alone ever couldÓ (Coady, 1997, p. 225). In addition to the vocabulary-expanding effects of reading extensively in an L2, many published L2 studies of ER also reveal general benefits for aspects of language development (see Bell, 2001; Hafiz & Tudor, 1989; Lai, 1993; Mason & Krashen, 1997; Robb & Susser, 1989, for change in reading comprehension ability; Hafiz & Tudor, 1990; Tsang, 1996, for essay writing; Lituanas, Jacobs, & Renandya, 1999; Mason & Krashen, 1997, for oral reading). Unfortunately, the evidence of actual incidental word learning through ER does not unambiguously appear in previous research (Day et al., 1991; Hulstijn, 1992; Pigada & Schmitt, 2006; Waring & Takaki, 2003). This lack of a clear result is not for want of trying. Studies of vocabulary acquisition in L2 reading range from implementations across a whole school district (e.g., Elley, 1991; Lightbown, 1992) to case studies of individual learners (Cho & Krashen, 1994;
Parry, 1991; Pigada & Schimitt, 2006). Overall, regardless of the scales of the studies, many studies on vocabulary learning through ER show that very few words are learned after reading in


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Kweon & Kim: Beyond raw frequency
202 Reading in a Foreign Language
20(2)
Results Based on Frequency in Each Word Class In general, the mean differences between the pretest and Posttest 1 were statistically significant, but those between Posttests 1 and 2 were not, which means that incidental vocabulary learning occurred after reading and was retained for at least 1 month. The studentsÕ self-reported pretest knowledge increased with word frequency. Overall, learning and retention rates were higher for more frequent words than for less frequent words in all three word classes. This supports the intuitively obvious assumption that the more frequently one encounters a content word, the more easily that word may be acquired. The mean word knowledge of all three word classes according to the three tests in all frequency bands is presented in Figure 1. The results of a one-way ANOVA with repeated measures show that the mean differences between the tests were statistically significant, and post hoc multiple comparisons using an LSD multiple-range test revealed that the mean difference between the pretest and Posttest 1 was significant, but the mean difference between Posttests 1 and 2 was not throughout the frequency bands and word classes (pretest < Posttest 1 = Posttest 2). These results suggest that incidental vocabulary learning occurred after reading and that the words learned were retained regardless of the word classes.4 However, one case was an exception for this acquisition pattern (see Table 7). The mean differences between the tests were statistically significant for nouns in Band II, F(1,11) = 418.32, p < .001. A post hoc LSD test revealed that the mean difference between the pretest and Posttest 1 was significant and that the mean difference between Posttests 1 and 2 was also significant: pretest < Posttest 2 < Posttest 1 (MSE = 246.57, p < .05). Better performance on Posttest 1 than on Posttest 2 indicates that words learned immediately after reading attrited in 1 month. Table 7.
Mean self
-reported understanding of words in three classes in each band and ANOVA results
Word
class
Band
Pretest
Posttest 1
Posttest
F I 13.33 (4.39)
25.92 (1.44)
23.83 (3.38)
776.0
1** II 38.25 (11.24)
63.08 (7.57)
59.25 (10.29)
418.32**
Noun
III 77.17 (25.87)
125.92 (25.47)
124.67 (28.19)
220.63**
I 9.17 (2.72)
12.42 (1.08)
12.00 (4.53)
264.47**
II 31.92 (13.87)
46.67 (8.35)
47.00 (12.76)
190.86**
Verb
III 107.58 (31.07)
142.58
(32.49)
150.17 (29.79)
275.28**
II 11.83 (1.69)
13.83 (1.74)
13.92 (1.73)
1,169.04**
Adjective
III 56.83 (16.77)
79.00 (16.10)
78.67 (20.15)
223.58**
Note.
Standard deviations are in parentheses.
**p < .001.
The mean self-reported understanding of nouns (% of maximum possible understanding score) is shown in Figure 2. We see a strong frequency effect in word growth in the figure: Nouns in the highest frequency band (I) were less known on the pretest than the nouns in the lower frequency band (II); however, at the times of Posttests 1 and 2, the higher-frequency nouns show a higher learning rate than the lower-frequency nouns in contrast to the pretest.


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Kweon & Kim: Beyond raw frequency
203 Reading in a Foreign Language
20(2)
Figure 2
. Self
-reported understanding of nouns in each frequency band.
The mean self
-reported u
nderstanding of verbs (% of maximum possible understanding score) is
summarized in Figure 3, and it shows that the more frequent words were already known to a
greater degree and consequently, learned and retained more than the less frequent words. Those
verbs with higher frequency seem to be easier to learn incidentally and retain than do the less
frequent ones. Figure 3
. Self
-reported understanding of verbs in each frequency band.
The mean percentages of the adjectives learned in Bands II and III according to the three tests is summarized in Figure 4. Only one adjective was in Band I, and this was already known to the learners on the pretest; so the results for the adjective in Band I are not reported here. The participants reported higher levels of knowledge for the more frequent adjectives on all of the tests. The results for all of the word classes demonstrate that the understanding of the words increased


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Kweon & Kim: Beyond raw frequency
214 Reading in a Foreign Language
20(2)
2. Number of
Yes
responses in three word classes on the three tests
The figure shows that the number of
Yes
responses in three word classes across the three tests increased
significantly. Nouns increased on Posttest 1 by about 85%; verbs, 46%; and adjectives, 43%, which
suggests that the learners acquired word knowledge on Posttest 1. This supports the hypothesis that nouns
are easier to learn than verbs. Interestingly, however
, the studentsÕ word knowledge had increased at the
time of Posttest 2 compared to Posttest 1. Based on the enormous increase of
Yes
answers on Posttest1,
vocabulary was possibly acquired through extensive reading.
3. Number of
NS response in the three wo
rd classes on the three tests
The numbers of
NS responses in the three word classes across the three tests are shown in the figure.
Between the pretest and Posttest 1 is not a big change; however, on Posttest 2, the
NS responses decreased.
The consiste
nt NS response between the pretest and Posttest 1 suggests that if change occurred between
these two tests, it was between the
Yes
and
No responses, and in fact, as the
Yes
responses increased, the
No responses decreased proportionally (see the figure belo
w).



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Kweon & Kim: Beyond raw frequency
215 Reading in a Foreign Language
20(2)
4. Number of
No responses in the three word classes on the three tests
About the Authors Soo-Ok Kweon teaches at Pohang University of Science and Technology in Korea. She received her PhD in linguistics from the University of HawaiÔi at M#noa. Her primary research interests include SLA theory and practice, psycholinguistics, and corpus linguistics. She is currently working on L2 reading research using literature with Korean university students. E-mail: [email protected] Hae-Ri Kim teaches at Seoul National University of Education in Korea. She received her EdD from Arizona State University. Her research interests include language teaching methodology, curriculum and materials development, and literacy. She is working with teachers to develop and implement a literature-based program in EFL elementary schools across Korea.

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