Learning vocabulary through reading


I have found an article that might be interesting for some of you: “The effects of word exposure frequency and elaboration of word processing on incidental L2 vocabulary acquisition through reading”, Eckerth et al., 2012.

It is about learning new words through reading. The authors write that “[…] subsequent word retention was more contingent on elaborate processing of form–meaning relationships than on word frequency. These results, together with those of the studies reviewed, suggest that processing words again after reading (input–output cycles) is superior to reading-only tasks.”

Basically, it means that you should not only rely on reading to memorize a new word (like “If I read the word ten times I will not forget it anymore”). A much better word retention is achieved when you try to actively use the new word.

This might sound obvious, but there are so many “obvious” learning advices… :wink:

There are a lot of useful learning peaces of advice, but without our great efforts in learning of the language all best advice would be in vain.

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Yes, absolutely true. And consequently, if somebody does not have much time to spend on learning, it is even more important to learn efficiently.
For example, the above article cites another paper where it is said that word retention is not significantly improved if reading frequency is increased from 7 to 15 times, whereas actively using a word once helps more than reading it 5 times.

What is the paper’s definition of “word processing”? I find the process of creating a LingQ helps me to remember - first thinking about the new word, guessing the meaning, seeing suggestions, looking up in online dictionaries, selecting and reformatting the definition, adding a tag etc.

Or does “processing” here mean using the word in writing or other production (speech)?

In the above paper, they studied three methods of “word processing”:

  1. Reading a text where explanations of new words were provided in marginal glosses.
  2. Reading a text with gaps that had to be filled from a provided word list. The word list also included an explanation of the words.
  3. Reading a text with explanations in marginal glosses. Afterwards, the students were asked to write a brief summary of the text using the new words.

No surprise, method 3 was the most effective one for medium-term word retention. It was clearly better than methods 1 and 2. It was even better than increasing word frequency. Interestingly, there was no significant difference between method 1 and 2.

As you can see, there is no fixed definition of “word processing”. There are good and not so good activities. In a different paper, “word processing” was defined as “answering comprehension questions”.
I am not a linguist, but intuitively, I would locate your process of creating LingQs somewhere near method 2. What do you think?


I think researchers will eventually find that a good balanced learning plan works best. One that includes reading, listening, writing, conversing, grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary studies. Methods like “read and listen for a long time until you finally feel comfortable enough to do everything else” aren’t as effective, imo.

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Thanks for this. I agree, number two is what I do for new words.

So for “leeches”, i.e. words which I have difficulty remembering, I should try to use the word in writing.

Very good. I am working at a university, and it is sometimes difficult for me to see whether people from “outside” can access a paper or not.
I hope others will read the paper, too, to check whether I understood things correctly :slight_smile:

You are right, but maybe ‘reading and listening’ are the minimal things that must be done by learning a new laguage.