Academic journal article Modern Journal of Language Teaching Methods

Variables Affecting L2 Vocabulary Acquisition and Retention; Call for a Holistic View of L2 Vocabulary Learning

Academic journal article Modern Journal of Language Teaching Methods

Variables Affecting L2 Vocabulary Acquisition and Retention; Call for a Holistic View of L2 Vocabulary Learning

Article excerpt


Vocabulary is a necessary component of learners' development (David, 2008, Ko, 2012). It is central to reading ability, writing ability and listening ability. Clearly, word knowledge is equally crucial in all aspects of language learning (Kim, 2011; Read, 2000). In the past decade or so, there has been a burgeoning interest in the nature of vocabulary knowledge and its acquisition (Hamada & Koda, 2008; Kim, 2011; Min, 2008). Because word knowledge is the by-product of certain psycholinguistic processes involving recognition, production, and memory of linguistic information, there is a serious need for a pedagogically effective model showing how this knowledge is best acquired, retained, and accessed (Hamada & Koda, 2008). Second-language learners often see L2 vocabulary learning as the greatest source of problems (David, 2008). Moreover, lexical errors are judged by native speakers to be more serious and to impede comprehension more than grammatical errors (Schmitt, 2000).

Although a great number of factors contributing to the acquisition of L2 words have been investigated by SLA researchers and scholars; the overall picture is too blurred and fuzzy to achieve a comprehensive and clear view of the whole picture underlying the nature of L2 vocabulary acquisition and mechanisms governing it. With this in mind, in what follows, the literature on a number of the factors and variables affecting L2 vocabulary acquisition will be illustrated in details in order to portray how the multiplicity of the factors would prevent us from observing the realities related to L2 lexical acquisition.

Review of the Literature

Incidental Vs. intentional Vocabulary Acquisition

Nagi and his colleagues evolved a theory which was widely quoted in L1 and L2 acquisition. According to this theory incidental vocabulary learning is a gradual process in which gains are made in small increments with repeated encounters needed to gain full knowledge of a word (Nagy et al. 1985; Nagy et al. 1987). A number of studies have been conducted on the issue of on incidental word learning from listening (Barcroft and Sommers, 2005; Mason & Krashen, 2004; Vidal, 2003). The questions of how new L2 words are learned incidentally and what factors affect this learning are key in building our understanding of L2 lexical development from reading (Elgort & warren, 2014).

In intentional learning, on the other hand, learners try to commit new information to memory by using strategies, such as mnemonic devices (Paradis, 1994). In other words, intentional learning is a learning vocabulary out of context by using, for instance, word lists or word cards. A number of researchers (e.g. Ellis, 2008; Laufer, 2005) argued that naturalistic usage-based learning is insufficient to acquire L2 vocabulary and needs to be supplemented by deliberate form-focused learning (Hulstijn, 2003; Nation, 2007). Deliberate learning (DL) provides an efficient and convenient way of memorizing vocabulary. Learning from word lists and flashcards can be done outside of the language classroom and target vocabulary can be personalized to the needs and learning goals of individual learners (Elgort, 2010). Deliberate vocabulary learning is the attempt to intentionally commit new words to memory (Hulstijn, 2003). Furthermore, retention rates under intentional learning are on average, much higher than under incidental conditions (Hulstijn, 2003). The findings of Elgort (2010) provided evidence that deliberate learning triggered the acquisition of representational and functional aspects of vocabulary knowledge. The benefits of vocabulary-list learning are to gain not only receptive vocabulary knowledge, but also productive vocabulary knowledge as well as to increase learners' breadth and depth of vocabulary knowledge (Yamamoto ,2013). The explicit teaching of contextualized lexical word items has been claimed to be superior to word learning that occurs as a by-product of second language (L2) use during listening or reading (Barcroft, 2009; Sonbul and Schmitt, 2010). …

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