Latin Vocabulary Acquisition: An Experiment Using Information-Processing Techniques of Chunking and Imagery

By Carter, Terri; Hardy, C. A. et al. | Journal of Instructional Psychology, December 2001 | Go to article overview

Latin Vocabulary Acquisition: An Experiment Using Information-Processing Techniques of Chunking and Imagery


Carter, Terri, Hardy, C. A., Hardy, James C., Journal of Instructional Psychology


This study investigated the effects of chunking and imagery, two information-processing techniques, on Latin vocabulary acquisition and memory retention. A total of 121 students enrolled in high school Latin I classes participated. Following a pretest, study participants were divided into four groups and provided a list of 21 Latin vocabulary words to study. Comparison Group A received the list of words grouped randomly into three groups of seven. Comparison Group B and C received the list of words categorized by related definition into three groups of seven. Comparison Group C received a five minute imagery treatment prior to the immediate posttest. The Control Group X received neither a chunking technique nor an imagery treatment. Immediate and delayed posttests revealed significant differences between the groups. Imagery and chunking instruction were found to improve student performance among study participants.

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The purpose of this study was to investigate chunking and imagery, two information-processing techniques, on students' Latin vocabulary acquisition and memory retention. Much of the research in foreign languages has focused on linguistics and the systematic study of phonology. While this has proven useful for a better understanding of teaching foreign language sound systems and grammatical structures, the manner in which students acquire foreign language vocabulary has received little systematic attention.

One of the more interesting questions in Latin instruction has been the process by which the reader focuses attention on word meanings, word order cues, and cues given by the inflectional endings. How does a skilled reader recall the meanings of Latin words before transferring those words into comprehensible sentences? Classicists need to answer this question before they can understand how one goes about reading Latin as Latin. Given the limited working memory of human beings, skilled reading simply cannot take place until lower level skills such as decoding, lexical access, and parsing become automatic (Hamilton, 1992). The present study addresses the following question. Can the information-processing techniques of chunking and imagery positively affect the automaticity of Latin vocabulary acquisition and retention?

The information-processing model focuses on transformations occurring as sensory impulses enter the human information-processing system. Information is either lost or stored in short-term or long-term memory. This model has proven to have wide applicability to learning, memory organization, and teaching strategies. The theory supports the techniques of imagery and chunking to enhance vocabulary acquisition and memory retention in the learning process (Joyce & Showers, 1991).

Inherent in the information processing model is the assumption that the human mind can process and retain on average seven bits of information at one time. Therefore, the word "chunking" as used in the study refers to the grouping of Latin vocabulary words into chunks or groups of seven. The imagery component of the study refers to the visualization of meanings of Latin words through verbal mnemonics prompted by the teacher (Gredler, 2001).

Methodology

A total of 121 subjects enrolled in eight Latin I classes from three North Texas suburban high schools with a population of more than 1600 students participated in the study. Each subject first took a pretest on 21 Latin vocabulary words taken from Jenney's Fourth Year Latin (Jenny, Scudder & Coffin, 1990) vocabulary list. All subjects were given 10 minutes to complete the pretest. Following the pretest, each subject then received a list of these same 21 Latin vocabulary words to study. Comparison Group A received a list of 21 words grouped randomly into three groups of seven. Comparison Group B and C received the sane list of 21 words grouped into three groups of seven based on related definitional categories. …

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