Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

The Efficacy of Dictionary Use While Reading for Learning New Words

Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

The Efficacy of Dictionary Use While Reading for Learning New Words

Article excerpt

THE RESEARCHER investigated the use of three types of dictionaries while reading by high school students with severe to profound hearing loss. The objective of the study was to determine the effectiveness of each type of dictionary for acquiring the meanings of unknown vocabulary in text. The three types of dictionaries were (a) an online bilingual multimedia English-American Sign Language (ASL) dictionary (OBMEAD), (b) a paper English-ASL dictionary (PBEAD), and (c) an online monolingual English dictionary (OMED). It was found that for immediate recall of target words, the OBMEAD was superior to both the PBEAD and the OMED. For later recall, no significant difference appeared between the OBMEAD and the PBEAD. For both of these, recall was statistically superior to recall for words learned via the OMED.

Keywords: dictionary, bilingual, reading, vocabulary, deaf

The present article describes a study investigating the efficacy of dictionary use by high school students with severe to profound hearing loss during the reading of text passages containing unknown words. The importance of vocabulary, the vocabulary knowledge of deaf and hard of hearing readers (i.e., readers with slight to profound hearing loss), methods of acquiring vocabulary, challenges faced by deaf and hard of hearing readers, and the use of dictionaries provided the background for the study.

The Importance of Vocabulary

Vocabulary is essential for communicating, reading, thinking, and learning.

LUCKNER & COOKE, 2010, p. 38

Learning vocabulary is an incremental process that does not start upon school entrance but is begun in the home; it commences at birth and continues throughout life. Research suggests that average hearing children acquire the meanings of about 860 English root words per year (e.g., desk, sleep, cousin), or about 2.4 root words per day, for a total of approximately 6,000 root words by the end of second grade (e.g., Anglin, 1993; Biemiller, 2005, 2006; Biemiller & Slonim, 2001). As education continues, the need for vocabulary grows exponentially. Nagy and Anderson (1984) estimated that school texts from grades 3 through 9 contain approximately 88,500 distinct word families. In word families, the relationships of words are "semantically transparent." That is, the meaning can be determined by using knowledge of the root word and the context of the text. For example the word family laugh contains the root word laugh and its derivatives laughs, laughed, laughing, and laughter, but not laughingstock. Coady (1997) placed the threshold for independent English reading at 5,000 word families. Clearly, acquiring meanings for this many words is a formidable task. In the lifelong quest to master the estimated 450,000-750,000 words that make up the English language (Stahl, 1999; Tompkins, 2005), this ongoing process of learning word families is necessary in order to ensure the development of reading comprehension and academic success.

General knowledge of spoken words is a strong indicator of reading ability for hearing individuals; this is particularly true for children (Cunningham & Stanovich, 1997; Tabors, Snow, & Dickinson, 2001). Research with hearing individuals indicates that a reader must know 90%-95% of the words in a passage to fully comprehend it (Carver, 1994; Chali, Jacobs, & Baldwin, 1990; Hu & Nation, 2000; Laufer, 1989; Na & Nation, 1985; Nagy & Scott, 2000). Haynes and Baker (1993) suggested that the most significant handicap for second-language (L2) readers of English is not a lack of reading strategies but insufficient English vocabulary. Specifically, one of the most enduring findings in reading research is the extent to which students' vocabulary knowledge relates to reading comprehension (Anderson & Freebody 1981; Baumann, Kame'enui, & Ash, 2003; Becker, 1977; National Reading Panel, 2000; Whipple, 1925). Cobb and Horst (2001) stated that vocabulary is more important than other types of linguistic knowledge, including syntax. …

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