Sometimes it is interesting to look at what the academic research is telling us. I happened to find this on the web.
Vocabulary acquisition from extensive reading: A case study
University of Nottingham
A number of studies have shown that second language learners acquire vocabulary through reading, but only relatively small amounts. However, most of these studies used only short texts, measured only the acquisition of meaning, and did not credit partial learning of words. This case study of a learner of French explores whether an extensive reading program can enhance lexical knowledge. The study assessed a relatively large number of words (133), and examined whether one month of extensive reading enhanced knowledge of these target words’ spelling, meaning, and grammatical characteristics. The measurement procedure was a one-on-one interview that allowed a very good indication of whether learning occurred. The study also explores how vocabulary acquisition varies according to how often words are encountered in the texts. The results showed that knowledge of 65% of the target words was enhanced in some way, for a pickup rate of about 1 of every 1.5 words tested. Spelling was strongly enhanced, even from a small number of exposures. Meaning and grammatical knowledge were also enhanced, but not to the same extent. Overall, the study indicates that more vocabulary acquisition is possible from extensive reading than previous studies have suggested.
keywords: vocabulary acquisition, extensive reading, incidental learning, word frequency, testing, French as a foreign language
A number of studies during the last two decades have confirmed the widespread belief that second language learners can acquire vocabulary through reading. However, the same findings suggest that incidental vocabulary acquisition is a time-consuming and unpredictable process and, hence, raise questions about the suitability of the approach for second language (L2) learners (Paribakht and Wesche, 1997; Zimmerman, 1997). At the same time, Meara (1997) comments that most of these studies do not contribute to the understanding of the acquisition process, since they do not investigate the factors that lead to word retention. As a result, the process of incidental vocabulary acquisition is not yet understood to any great degree (Paribakht and Wesche, 1997; Paribakht and Wesche, 1999; Schmitt, 1998), and therefore, it cannot be fully exploited by teachers and learners.
In an attempt to further this understanding, this case study investigates the relationship between incidental vocabulary acquisition and extensive reading, with a particular focus on a variable that is commonly assumed to affect the retention of words; that is, the number of times a word occurs in the text (Horst, 2005). Few reading studies have actually examined this factor (exceptions include Horst, Cobb and Meara, 1998 and Saragi, Nation and Meister, 1978). Moreover, reading and vocabulary studies have almost exclusively focused on word meaning in determining vocabulary acquisition. However, it has been acknowledged by a large number of lexically-minded researchers that knowing a word involves much more than just understanding its meaning (Aitchison, 1994; Laufer, 1997; McCarthy, 1990; Nation, 1990; Nation, 2001; Richards, 1976; Schmitt, 1998; Schmitt, 2000). Therefore, our aim is to examine the effects of text frequency on the acquisition of word meaning, spelling and grammatical behaviour. This study, as far as we know, is the first to relate the number of encounters with a word during extensive reading with multiple types of word knowledge other than meaning. It also endeavours to capture partial knowledge of those aspects since, as Newton (1995: 171) comments, “there is a need to develop instruments which are more sensitive to degrees of acquisition.” Finally, it is one of the few studies on this topic that has been conducted in a non-English language, i.e., French.