Islamic Azad University
Shiraz Branch
A Thesis Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of M.A in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL)
The Effect of Reading Comprehension on Three Dimensions of Vocabulary Knowledge
Thesis Advisor:
Ehsan Rasaei (PhD)
By:
Mina Sadat Golpich
Summer 2014
Abstract
Foreign language vocabulary learning and teaching is considered as a major aspect of L2 acquisition by both learners and teachers. It is still a contentious issue how learners acquire vocabulary effectively and efficiently or how it can best be taught. Although much research has been done to examine how vocabulary is learned by English as Foreign Language learners (EFL), few studies have examined how different dimensions of vocabulary knowledge are learned through reading a text. The purpose of this study is to investigate the effects of reading comprehension on three dimensions of vocabulary knowledge, namely form recognition, meaning recognition and production among EFL learners. Furthermore, it investigates which dimension of vocabulary knowledge benefits most from reading comprehension. To conduct the study, two reading texts included 20 target words with their Persian translation were employed as data collection instruments to measure the participants’ vocabulary knowledge. The participants were 40 Iranian male intermediate EFL learners at a language institute in Shiraz. They were asked to read the texts and answer a number of comprehension questions. Their vocabulary knowledge was examined immediately after reading the texts and two weeks later by three tests of form recognition, meaning recognition and production.
One-way repeated measure ANOVA was employed to examine the differential effects of reading a text on different dimensions of vocabulary knowledge. The results indicated that reading comprehension has statistical effects on the acquisition of three dimensions of vocabulary knowledge in both short and long term retention. It also indicated that in short term retention, reading comprehension promoted the acquisition of meaning recognition knowledge more than the form recognition and production in the post-test. However, with regard to long term retention, the findings revealed that reading comprehension promoted the acquisition of form recognition knowledge more than the other two dimensions of vocabulary knowledge.
Key words: EFL learners, reading comprehension, vocabulary knowledge, form recognition, meaning recognition, production
CHAPTER ONE
INTRODUCTION
1.0. Overview
This chapter is concerned with an introduction of the study, statement of the problem, significance of the study, purpose of the study, research questions, research hypotheses, and definition of the key terms.
1.1. Introduction
Vocabulary is one of the significant aspects of language, which plays a great role in L2 learning. As noted by Swan and Walter (1984) vocabulary acquisition is the largest and the most significant task that language learners face.
Furthermore, vocabulary acquisition is crucial for the acquisition of skills: reading, writing, and listening. Without enough vocabulary, listening, reading comprehension, writing and speaking are inefficient. Besides, as noted by Wilson (1986) without grammar very little can be conveyed; without vocabulary nothing can be conveyed. Thus, vocabulary learning is an essential part of language learning. Learning words can be considered as the most important aspect of second language acquisition (Knight, 1994).
Learners, who recognize the communicative power of vocabulary, might reasonably aim to acquire a working knowledge of a large number of words – the more words they have, the more precisely they can express the exact meanings they want to.
Rubin and Thompson (1994) found that vocabulary learning is the heart of mastering a foreign language, since one cannot speak, understand, read, or write a foreign language without knowing many words. In many countries, there are many EFL students who have never had the opportunity to converse with any native speakers even though they have access to different types of materials written in the English language. Therefore, the need for reading and extracting information from these texts seems to be vital. As noted by Sofiyatun (2009), “The success of learning any subject matter depends on the competence of reading comprehension” (P.2). By reading books, magazines, newspapers, and bulletins, people can gain a lot of information. Therefore, it can be assumed that the success of obtaining information depends on the reading itself.
One common belief among first language (L1) researchers is that most of words acquired by children during the process of first language acquisition are acquired incidentally in that words are learned when the child’s attention is focused on an on-going task (e.g., talking to his/her parents or reading or listening to a story) rather than specific lexical items. Specifically, the most common task through which children expand their vocabulary knowledge is reading comprehension (Anderson et al., 1988; Nagy, 1988). For instance, Anderson et al. (1988) claim that, during primary and secondary school years, when children acquire literacy knowledge, they usually read about one million words per year and therefore it would be probable that reading activities are a more important source of L1 vocabulary acquisition than other language skills, particularly the listening skill.
Up to the 1980s, grammar was the central study area for second language acquisition research. However, in the last three decades, vocabulary has become a major focus of linguistic works or, to quote Meara (1995), “has mushroomed enormously” (p.11), even being at the heart of theories such as the Lexical Learning Hypothesis. According to Malvern et al. (2008), “vocabulary knowledge is indispensable to acquire grammar” (p.270).
The heightened interest in L2 vocabulary over the last two or three decades has brought with it a number of suggestions of how vocabulary knowledge should be modeled. It has long been accepted that vocabulary knowledge is instrumental in reading comprehension (Alderson, 2000; Anderson & Freebody, 1981; Mezynski, 1983; Read, 2000).
Indeed, although sometimes L2 learners need only partial knowledge of a word in comprehension, more lexical knowledge is obviously desirable in many situations. Over the years, lexical researchers have developed various criteria for understanding what is involved in knowing a word. An early definition (Cronbach, 1942) divided vocabulary knowledge in to two main categories: knowledge of word meaning (generalization, breadth of meaning, and precision of meaning) and levels of accessibility to this knowledge (availability and application).The obvious weakness in this definition is the lack of a place for other aspects of lexical knowledge, such as spelling, pronunciation, morpho syntactic properties, and collocation. Later on, Richards (1976) offered the following assumptions concerning what is involved in knowing a word: frequency, register, syntax, derivation, association, semantic features, and polysemy. These assumptions of lexical knowledge are more inclusive than Cronbach’s framework, because Richards not only incorporated morphological and syntactic properties into the concept but also considered such aspects as word frequency and register characteristics. However, pronunciation, spelling, and collocation seem to be some obvious missing aspects in the framework.
1.2. Purpose of the Study
This study focuses on two important aspects of language, namely vocabulary and reading comprehension.
More specifically, the present study aims to investigate the effects of reading comprehension on three dimensions of L2 vocabulary knowledge. The three dimensions of vocabulary knowledge which are investigated in the current study are form recognition, meaning recognition and production.

1.3. Significance of the Study
Vocabulary is considered as a major aspect of L2 acquisition. In view of this, vocabulary acquisition is currently receiving attention in second language pedagogy and research. But it is still a contentious issue how learners acquire vocabulary effectively and efficiently or how it can best be taught.
Zimmerman (1997) argues that “the teaching and learning of vocabulary has been undervalued in the field of second language acquisition (SLA) throughout its varying stages and up to the present day” (p. 5). Paribakht and Wesche (1997) pointed out that there still remains an enormous amount of research to be done in the area, as “it is still far from clear how learners acquire vocabulary or how it can best be taught”(p. 174).
Although much research has been done to examine how vocabulary is learned by EFL learners, few researches have examined how different dimensions of vocabulary knowledge are learned through reading a text.
This study investigates L2 learners’ acquisition of three dimensions of vocabulary knowledge namely form recognition, meaning recognition, and production through reading comprehension, whereas previous reading studies used only meaning based vocabulary tests.
Since there is no definitive answer to this question that whether reading comprehension has any effects on these three dimensions of vocabulary knowledge, this study can be significant as it provides EFL teachers with more information about which dimension of vocabulary knowledge benefits most from reading comprehension. Moreover this study motivates EFL teachers to focus on their learners’ vocabulary task more efficiently.

1.4. Statement of the Problem
Over the years, different approaches, methods and procedures, have been employed to help learners learn second language vocabulary. In one period considerable attention was paid to teaching and teacher-oriented classes. Despite new methods and approaches, most of the techniques teachers use for teaching vocabulary are still traditional.
L2 reading has received relatively little research attention and considerably fewer studies have been carried out in the context of reading than listening and speaking. More recently, a few vocabulary studies have measured vocabulary learning from reading directly. Their findings suggest that reading leads to even smaller gains than listening does. The current study uses more sensitive vocabulary tests in order to find how much vocabulary learning really occurs as a result of reading comprehension.
Furthermore, it is not certain what aspects of vocabulary knowledge are promoted by different skills such as reading comprehension. Thus, the current study aims at investigating the extent to which reading comprehension enhance the acquisition of three aspects of vocabulary knowledge.
1.5. Research Questions
The following research questions guide the current study:
1. Does reading comprehension have any statistically significant effect on vocabulary form recognition by EFL learners?
2. Does reading comprehension have any statistically significant effect on vocabulary meaning recognition by EFL learners?
3. Does reading comprehension have any statistically significant effect on productive knowledge of L2 vocabulary by EFL learners?
4. Which dimension of vocabulary knowledge benefits most from reading comprehension?
1.6. Research Hypotheses
1. Reading comprehension has no statistically significant effect on vocabulary form recognition by EFL learners.
2. Reading comprehension has no statistically significant effect on vocabulary meaning recognition by EFL learners.
3. Reading comprehension has no statistically significant effect on productive knowledge of L2 vocabulary by EFL learners.
4. The three dimensions of vocabulary knowledge (form recognition, meaning recognition and production) benefit equally from reading comprehension.
1.7. Definition of the Key Terms
1.7.1. Reading Comprehension: reading comprehension is the act of understanding what you are reading. It’s an intentional, active and interactive process that occurs before, during and after a person reads a particular piece of writing.
Reading comprehension is defined as the process of simultaneously extracting and constructing meaning through interaction and involvement with written language.
1.7.2. Vocabulary Knowledge: knowing a word means being able to recognize its spoken and its written form as well as its meaning.
1.7.3. Word recognition: according to Literary information and Communication System (LINCS) word recognition is the ability of a reader to recognize written words correctly and virtually effortlessly. LINCS continues to say that rapid and effortless word recognition is the main component of fluent reading.
1.7.4. Receptive vocabulary knowledge: Receptive vocabulary knowledge refers to the ability to understand a word when it is heard or seen.
1.7.5. Productive vocabulary knowledge: productive vocabulary knowledge is the knowledge to produce a word when one writes or speaks.
1.7.6. Incidental vocabulary learning: Incidental vocabulary learning is defined as learning vocabulary items as a by-product of language use while language- learners’ attention is focused on the meaning to be conveyed. Incidental learning occurs when learners acquire new aspects of their L2 without being focused on doing so.
1.7.7. Intentional vocabulary learning: intentional vocabulary learning refers to the learning of vocabulary by deliberately committing lexical information to memory.
CHAPTER TWO
LITERATURE REVIEW
2.0. Overview
This chapter provides an overview of the effects of reading on L2 vocabulary learning and L2 vocabulary knowledge. It is organized into four parts: L2 vocabulary learning, vocabulary learning and reading comprehension, dimensions of vocabulary knowledge, and different types of vocabulary knowledge.
2.1. L2 vocabulary learning
In the past decades, vocabulary has been undervalued throughout its different stages, despite its crucial importance to language learners (Zimmerman, 1997). Unlike issues such as grammatical competence, contrastive analysis, reading, or writing, which received great attention and interest from scholars and teachers, the teaching and learning of vocabulary was overlooked in research and methodology (Richards, 1976). This evident neglect could be attributed to the idea that second language (L2) vocabulary acquisition would take care of itself or be absorbed naturally like the native language (L1) vocabulary (Schmitt, 2000).
Candlin (1988) stated that at the heart of language teaching is the study of vocabulary in terms of organization of syllabuses, the evaluation of learner performance, and the provision of learning resources.
Many researchers have investigated the process of vocabulary learning. Brown and Payne (1994) identify five steps in the process of learning vocabulary in a foreign language: (a) having sources for encountering new words, (b) getting a clear image, either visual or auditory or both, of the forms of the new words, (c) learning the meaning of the words, (d) making a strong memory connection between the forms and the meanings of the words, and (e) using the words. Consequently, all vocabulary learning strategies, to a greater or lesser extent, should be related to these five steps (Fan, 2003).
Learners do not usually memorize a new word as soon as they first meet the word. Memorizing a new word is a multi-stage process. Kersten defines this process in five stages: encountering new words; getting the word form; getting the word meaning; consolidating word form and meaning in memory; using the word (Kersten, 2010).
According to Aitchison (1994) a learner goes through three stages in vocabulary learning: labeling, packaging, and network building. Specifically at the labeling stage, a learner maps word meanings onto form. Packaging, the second stage, involves the process of categorizing the acquired words under one group, while network building as the third stage functions as grasping the relationship between the words (as cited in Henriksen, 1999)
Henriksen (1999) investigated three dimensions of vocabulary development, relationships among those dimensions, and the way they function in word learning and practice. His study reveals that three dimensions involved in lexical competence are “partial to precise knowledge,” “depth of knowledge,” and “receptive to productive use ability” (p. 304). The dimension of partial to precise knowledge is the concept related to the size of vocabulary words in which the distinct levels of vocabulary knowledge is put into operation. The second dimension, the depth of knowledge, refers to how profound one’s knowledge of vocabulary is. It suggests the concept that one’s level of understanding a word meaning is related to the syntactic and morphological knowledge. The receptive to productive use ability, the third dimension, starts at the distinction of a learner’s ability between comprehension and production.
As reviewed by Scherfer (1993), there has been continuous debate on whether L2 vocabulary acquisition should follow more direct methods, e.g. direct teaching and learning of word lists, doing vocabulary exercises, analyzing L2 word formation patterns; or if indirect learning should be preferred, namely, incidental vocabulary learning by inferring meaning from reading and listening contexts.
In the following section a review of different approaches to vocabulary learning is presented.
2.1.1. Different types of vocabulary learning
2.1.1.1. Incidental vs. intentional vocabulary learning
In L2 learning, there are two types of vocabulary learning: incidental learning and intentional learning. There are different definitions for intentional and incidental vocabulary learning.
According to Schmidt (1994), incidental vocabulary acquisition can be defined as the learning of vocabulary when the learner’s primary objective is to do something else, e.g. to communicate.
Nation (1998) points out that incidental vocabulary acquisition implies that learners could acquire vocabulary by paying their attention to other things, especially information carried on by the language, and not to learn vocabulary technically.
Joe (1998) also mentions that incidental/indirect vocabulary acquisition indicates that learners paid their attention to the comprehension of the context, not the vocabulary in the course of their learning.
Paribakht and Wesche (1999) regard incidental vocabulary acquisition as the learning process that happens when learners try to understand the new words they have heard or read in context. Learners could acquire vocabulary when focusing on something else unrelated to vocabulary learning.
Laufer and Hill (2000) define incidental learning as the by-product of other activities, such as reading or communication without the learner’s conscious intention to learn the words. However, they pointed out that even though this kind of learning is incidental or unintentional, it is not unattended, that is, the students are not purposely trying to learn the vocabulary, but their attention is called to the words they do not know.
Laufer and Hulstijn (2001) offer a similar definition, which states that incidental vocabulary learning means learning without the intention to learn, or the learning of one thing (e.g., vocabulary) when the learner’s main concern is with something else (e.g., communication). In contrast, intentional vocabulary learning refers to the learning of vocabulary by deliberately committing lexical information to memory.
Using the framework given by Coady (1997) and Hulstijn, Hollander, and Greidanus (1996), Hunt and Beglar (1998) identified three approaches to enhance vocabulary learning, namely, incidental learning, explicit instruction, and independent strategy development. Among the three, incidental vocabulary learning was viewed as an essential part of L2 vocabulary acquisition.
According to Laufer (2003), incidental vocabulary acquisition can be defined as the acquisition of vocabulary as a by-product of any activity not explicitly geared to lexical acquisition. Incidental learning does not mean that the learners do not attend to the words during the task. They may attend to the words (for example, using them in sentences, or looking them up in the dictionary), but they do not deliberately try to commit these words to memory.
According to Hulstijn (2003), as it was mentioned earlier, incidental and intentional learning can be best distinguished only in the absence or presence of an announcement to the participants in a post-test. Thus, in the case of incidental learning the experiment may not even be explicitly presented as a learning experiment because the word learning itself might make the students use specific strategies unwanted by the experimenter, hence, deviate the objective of the study.
Ellis (1999) distinguished incidental and intentional learning based on the distinction between such cognitive terms as focal and peripheral attention. As he maintains, “intentional learning required focal attention to be placed deliberately on the linguistic code (i. e. on form or on form-meaning connections)” while “incidental learning requires attention to be made on meaning (i.e. message content) but always peripheral attention directed to form” (p.45).
Furthermore, Hulstijn (2003) considers some degrees of noticing and attention to be present in both incidental and intentional learning, the only difference being that during intentional learning they are deliberately geared at committing new information to memory whereas in incidental learning the case is different.
In a study to show the distinctions between intentional and incidental vocabulary learning, Ahmad (2011) administered two sets of tests, i.e. Standard Confirmation Test and a Contrastive Extempore Test of intentional and incidental vocabulary, to twenty Saudi Arabian students. At the end, the researcher concluded that the learners’ performance on incidental vocabulary test had proven to be much better compared to intentional vocabulary test.
In another study, Brown (1993) focused on both intentional (or instructed) and incidental (no instructed) vocabulary acquisition by learners using an interactive video disc program based on the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark. Brown found that an average of 12.6 students (out of a total of 85) acquired each of the words she tested that occurred in the film but not in the accompanying instructional portions of the program. In other words, about 13 students acquired each word that was available only incidentally. A slightly higher average of 15.4 students acquired each of the tested words that also appeared in the instructional exercises.
A number of studies have shown that incidental vocabulary acquisition can take place through extensive reading (e.g. Shelton and Newhouse, 1981; Krashen, 1989; Coady, 1997; Fukkink et al., 2001; Konopak et al., 1987; Nagy et al., 1985; Nation & Coady, 1988; Prince, 1996; Joe, 1995; Newton, 1995; Swanborn and de Glopper, 2002; Alavi & Keyvanshekouh, 2012; Ghabanchi & Ayoubi, 2012)
Shelton and Newhouse (1981), for example, observe that learners who were exposed to the stimulus material in an incidental learning situation significantly performed better in a subsequent recall test than subjects who were simply instructed to learn the same material.
Krashen (1989) in a review of 144 studies argued that incidental acquisition of vocabulary occurs through the operation of his Input Hypothesis, with reading providing the comprehensible input that leads naturally to acquisition. Although only 3 of these studies deal with L2 acquisition, Krashen’s claim (1989) that comprehension leads naturally to acquisition seems to have gone unquestioned by many L2 vocabulary researchers and theorists.
Krashen (1989) quotes the most frequently example of vocabulary learning as the by-product of reading. He argues that language learners acquire vocabulary and spelling most efficiently by receiving comprehensible input in reading, a result conforming to his Input Hypothesis, which ascribes successful language learning exclusively to a substantial amount of comprehensible input. The uncontested view of the effectiveness of reading stimulated rigorous interest in examining the relationship between reading and incidental vocabulary learning from context (Coady, 1997; Fukkink et al., 2001; Konopak et al., 1987; Nagy et al., 1985; Nation & Coady, 1988; Prince, 1996; Swanborn & de Glopper, 2002). A unanimous conclusion drawn from these studies is that incidental learning from context accounts for a substantial proportion of vocabulary acquisition on the part of the subjects.
Pitts, White and Krashen (1989) report that intermediate level students were able to acquire a measurable amount of words after reading Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange for 60 minutes.
Joe (1995) investigated vocabulary knowledge gains by an adult learner who was required to perform a read and retell task. She found that the task demands (specifically, attention, retrieval, and generation) led to a significantly higher level of incidental vocabulary learning.
Newton (1995) also found evidence of oral input (mixed with written input) leading to incidental vocabulary acquisition. In his study, subjects performed either split information or shared information tasks in which they were given instructions in writing and then interacted orally in groups of four nonnative speakers to accomplish the tasks. Newton found little incidental learning of words appearing only on the worksheet, but he found considerable incidental learning of words used orally in the interactions. Newton’s results suggested that personal use of a word in the interaction did not seem to increase an individual’s chance of acquiring the word and that split information tasks seemed to produce more incidental learning than shared information tasks.
Swanborn and de Glopper (2002) investigated the impact of reading purpose on incidental vocabulary learning from context. They specified three purposes for the reading tasks, namely, reading texts for fun, to learn about the topic and for text comprehension. They found out that properties of words learned incidentally while reading ranged from .06 for free reading, .08when reading for text comprehension to .10 when reading to learn about the topic. However, the texts they used were various informative texts about animals, science, etc.
In a recent study Alavi and Keyvanshekouh (2012) examined the impact of extensive reading via the use of Moodle Reader – a database of over 1600 online quizzes on graded readers – on Iranian EFL learners’ acquisition of incidental vocabulary. Benefiting from thirty eight sophomores as the participants of the research, and assigning Production and Recognition Vocabulary Levels Tests (as pre-test and post-test) to both groups, they found that the exerted treatment had led to better learning of vocabulary on the part of experimental group participants, particularly in terms of production rather than recognition. Furthermore, based on linear regression analyses, they came up with a significant go-togetherness between experimental group learners’ vocabulary production and their utilization of vocabulary learning strategies.
In a quite recent article, Ghabanchi and Ayoubi (2012) investigated the impact of four different reading conditions on the process of incidental vocabulary learning and recall. The participants of this study were 120 intermediate EFL learners, and as the treatment they were asked to read two short texts under four disparate reading conditions (L1 Marginal Glosses, L2 Marginal Glosses, Dictionary Use, and Summary Writing). As the results of their study revealed, “Support was found for the hypothesis that the four vocabulary learning conditions and the time interval between the two tests have a meaningful influence on the retention of the meaning of unfamiliar target words.” Further, it was found that, “All of the four reading conditions had a significant effect on incidental learning and recall of the words, but neither the immediate nor the delayed tests revealed significant differences among the four types” (p. 85).
Some other researches have demonstrated that learners can gain knowledge of meaning and form through incidental reading tasks (see for example, Day et al., 1991; Dupuy and Krashen, 1993; Hulstijn, 1992; Nagy et al., 1985),and intentional reading tasks (Gipe & Arnold, 1979).
There are, however, disadvantages for incidental vocabulary learning compared to more direct learning. According to (Hulstijn, 1992; Mondria & Wit-de Boer, 1991) incidental vocabulary learning is not always effective or efficient.
As Lawson and Hogben (1996) noted, many such analysts “do not always clearly draw the distinction between comprehension of word meaning in context and the acquisition of word meaning from context” (p.105).
According to Sternberg (1987), even if most vocabulary is learned from context, one should not conclude that this “is the fastest or most efficient way of learning specific vocabulary” (p.94). In research on instructed second language vocabulary acquisition it has been argued that intentional word learning based on ‘focus on form’ vocabulary teaching is more efficient than incidental, meaning-focused word learning (de la Fuente, 2006; Laufer, 2005).
Also the meta-analysis of nearly one hundred independent studies by Stahl and Fairbanks (1986) demonstrates that vocabulary intentional instruction is a useful adjunct to natural learning from context.
2.1.1.2. Implicit vs. Explicit vocabulary learning
Another type of vocabulary learning is implicit and explicit learning.
According to Ellis (1994) “implicit learning is the acquisition of knowledge about the underlying structure of a complex stimulus environment by a process which takes place naturally, simply and without conscious operations” (pp. 1-2).
Reber (1976) defines it in another way: “Implicit learning refers to a primitive process of apprehending structure by attending to frequency cues” (p.93). Therefore, implicit learning is well identified by the lack of consciousness of the structure to be learned. Explicit learning, on the other hand, is a more conscious operation where the individual makes and tests hypothesis in a search for structure (Ellis, 1994).

2.2. Vocabulary learning and reading comprehension
There are two elements that make up the process of reading comprehension: vocabulary knowledge and text comprehension. In order to understand a text a reader must be able to comprehend the vocabulary used in the piece of writing.
McCarthy (1990) argues that a word learned in a meaningful context is best assimilated and remembered. It is received wisdom that people learn most of their vocabulary from reading (e.g., Sternberg, 1987).
Krashen (1993) states that ” reading is the only way, the only way we become good readers, develop a good writing style, an adequate vocabulary, advanced grammar, and the only way we become good spellers” (p.23). In addition, reading is seen to be beneficial for foreign language learning and especially for vocabulary learning.
Ellis (1995) considered reading the “ideal medium” for vocabulary acquisition: Print material allows learners more time for processing a new word, “whereas in speech it passes ephemerally” (p. 106).
According to Huckin and Coady (1999), many studies seem to indicate that vocabulary learning dominantly occurs through extensive reading, with the learner guessing at meaning of unknown words.
Nation (2001) defines learning from context as:
“…the incidental learning of vocabulary from reading or listening to normal language use while the main focus of the learners’ attention is on the message of the text. Learning from context thus includes learning from extensive reading, learning from taking part in conversations, and learning from listening. Learning from context does not include deliberately learning words and their definitions or translations even if these words are presented in isolated sentence contexts” (pp. 232-33).
Most research into vocabulary learning from context has focused on learning from intensive and extensive reading, learning from taking part in conversations, and learning from listening to stories, films, television, or radio (e.g., Brown, Waring, & Donkaewbua, 2008; Elley, 1989). Results have shown that theme-related texts, which allow for repetition of unknown vocabulary in varied contexts, provide favorable conditions for learning (Nation, 2001).
As noted by Swanborn and de Glopper (2002) “During reading, new word meanings are derived and learned even though the purpose is not the learning new vocabulary” (pp.95-6).
Krashen’s (2003) comprehension hypothesis claimed that comprehensible input is a necessary and sufficient condition for language development and extensive reading provides this condition. Through the provision of engaging language learner literature, extensive reading programs aim to develop reading fluency, and reading skills in general, while at the same time consolidate knowledge of previously met grammatical structures and vocabulary.
Based on the related literature, a number of researchers investigated the effects of reading on vocabulary learning but the findings were inconsistent. Although there is no consistency on in recent literature, reading is generally accepted as an aid for many foreign language text books. The present study will review the studies on the reading and vocabulary acquisition which is divided into two groups. In the first group, the findings showed that there was a significant difference between the effects of reading on vocabulary learning. In the second group, it was reported that there was no significant difference between the effects of reading on vocabulary learning.
There are now quite a number of studies, which have looked at how much vocabulary is learned from reading in a foreign language. Examples include, Collins (2010); Day, Omura and Hiramatsu (1991); Dupuy and Krashen (1993); Elley and Mangubai (1981); Grabe and Stoller (1997); Horst, Cobb and Meara (1998); Pitts, White and Krashen, (1989); Rott (1997); Swanborn and de Glopper (2002); and Webb (2008) among others.
A number of researchers predicted that using reading could have a positive effect on vocabulary acquisition. Elley & Mangubai (1981) looked at the effect of a “book flood” of 250 high interest children’s books on 380 students, in comparison with a control group of 234 students over a 20 month period and found that the oral reading of children’s stories to elementary school children learning English as a second language led to large, long term gains in vocabulary (twice the rate of the control group).
As it was stated by Krashen (1989) that the most effective way for learners to acquire new vocabulary and develop their spelling ability is through exposure to large amounts of “comprehensible input” via extensive reading. Since free reading of materials that students like is also a low-anxiety activity, Krashen (1989) argues that such reading activities are the most efficient means by which a learner can acquire new vocabulary.
More indirect support for Krashen’s Input Hypothesis can be found in Grabe and Stoller’s (1997) case study of Grabe’s attempt to learn Portuguese primarily via extensive reading of materials that were of specific interest to the subject. One of the chief goals of the study was to “explore the extent to which extensive reading practice without formal instruction would promote reading ability and vocabulary development in Portuguese. The authors found that it was “clear that Bill made reasonably good progress learning to read with the primary input being through extensive reading…” (p. 113) the study also found that “reading and vocabulary are reciprocally causal… that reading improves vocabulary knowledge and vocabulary knowledge supports reading development” (p. 119), and that the study “strongly suggests that reading and vocabulary will develop as the result of extensive reading practice” (p.119).
In another study, Rott (1997) examined the relationship between text comprehension and vocabulary gains and retention with intermediate learners of German, also determined by enrollment in a 4th semester course. She used brief narrative passages (60words). The results demonstrated mode rate to strong significant positive correlations between immediate text recall and gain and retention of target words, as measured by an L2 L1 translation task (r= .55.86) and also a multiple choice translation recognition task (r=.60.95). She also found that the relationship between text recall and incidental vocabulary acquisition strengthened over time: Participants who achieved greater levels of text comprehension retained new vocabulary over an extended period of time (i.e., 4weeks).
In another study conducted by Webb (2008), fifty Japanese-speaking university students who had learned English as a foreign language participated in the experiment. The participants were randomly separated into two groups, an experimental and a comparison group, and 10 target words were given in short contexts to both groups. The short context comprised of one or two sentences. The experimental group was assigned to the context where they had more informative clues for the target word than the comparison group. After the treatments, participants in both groups administered a vocabulary quiz that evaluated recall of form, recognition of form, recall of meaning, and recognition of meaning. The result revealed that context – whether it contains enough contextual clues to guess the target word – plays a significant role in understanding and recalling a word meaning. However, it was found that the context does not significant affect recognizing and recalling a word form.
Rich explanation, initial vocabulary, and reading practices positively affect vocabulary acquisition (Collins, 2010). In this research the participants were 80 preschoolers whose native language was Portuguese, learning English as a Second language. The experiment was designed to evaluate different effects of treatment on target words. Findings showed that rich explanation, initial L2 vocabulary, and frequency of home reading significantly contributed to vocabulary acquisition.
A few researchers reported that there was no significant difference between the effects of reading on vocabulary learning. In a related study, Horst, Cobb and Meara (1998) claimed that through extensive reading learners can “enrich their knowledge of the words they already know, increase lexical access speeds, build network linkages between words, and…a few words will be acquired” (p. 221). In their vocabulary study, a multiple-choice, immediate post-test measure indicated that of 23 new words available for learning in the graded reader The Mayor of Caster Bridge, 5 words were learned, which is a gain of 22%.
In a similar study conducted by Waring and Takaki (2003), a multiple-choice, immediate post-test measure indicated that of 25 new words available for learning in the graded reader A Little Princess, 11 words were learned (as measured by success on these tests), which is a gain of 42%.
In another study, Waring and Takaki (2003) found that relatively little vocabulary was remembered after three months, for example, of twenty five words correctly answered in the immediate post-test, only one was remembered in the delayed post-test.
Some studies have failed to find evidence of learning vocabulary through reading (e.g. Tudor & Hafiz 1989). Also, as Hulstijn (1992) points out, “the retention of word meanings in a true incidental learning task is very low” (p. 122).
Horst, Cobb and Meara (1998) have pointed out that these studies are methodologically limited in that the amount of text the learners were exposed to was small (e.g. only 907 words in the case of Hulstijn’s study) with the result that the frequency of exposure to the target items was very low.
Some researchers point out that contextual information is often ambiguous and not sufficiently reliable for L1 and L2 learners to be able to make the correct inference (Hulstijn, 1992; Mondria & Wit-de Boer, 1991).
Several researchers have commented on the inadequacies of the body of research claim to show positive benefits for vocabulary acquisition within foreign language reading. For example, Coady (1997), referring to oft-cited research, says, “There appears to be a serious methodological problem with these studies.” (p. 226). Nation (1999) says that many studies “generally lacked careful control of the research design.” (p.124). Horst, Cobb and Meara (1998) also point out that some of the incidental learning from exposure experiments are “methodologically flawed” (p. 210). Waring (in preparation), in a meta-analysis of some 28 studies of reading in a foreign language, also found that many of these studies lacked careful control.
Moreover, in recent literature dealing with vocabulary acquisition, there can be seen increasing advocacy for explicitly teaching words out of context at an early stage of language acquisition, with more context-based vocabulary learning taking place at later stages of language development (e.g. Coady, 1997; Nation & Newton, 1997). To justify their position, these advocates often draw attention to the paradoxical situation facing the novice L2 learner of having to learn vocabulary through extensive reading or listening when they don’t know enough words to read or listen well. This suggests the logical importance of helping beginners explicitly learn the basic 3,000 word families, thought to represent the fundamental lexical competence by which learners can read independently and acquire language in a natural manner (Laufer, 1997).
While the debate concerning learning words in context vs. learning words out of context has yet to be resolved, a potentially effective third approach to teaching vocabulary is beginning to emerge through research findings. This approach combines decontextualized vocabulary instruction with contextualized reading. Two studies have found learning that involves both contextual reading and explicit vocabulary instruction results in much greater gains in vocabulary knowledge than does contextualized learning through reading alone (Paribakht & Wesche, 1997; Zimmerman, 1994).
Several studies have used the vocabulary dimensions framework to explore the acquisition of vocabulary from reading. Waring and Takaki (2003) explored learning from graded readers and found small gains overall: immediately after reading, learners recognized and recalled the meaning of 10.6 (42.4%) and 4.6 (18.4%) of the 26 target words, while they managed to recognize the form of 15.3 (61.2%). Three months later most of this knowledge was forgotten: learners generally remembered the meaning of only one word. Regarding the role of frequency, learners needed fewer encounters with a word to learn and retain form recognition (spelling) and prompted meaning recognition than unprompted meaning recognition. If learners had encountered a word 4 – 5 times, the chances of word form recognition were 24%, meaning recognition 16% and meaning recall 0%. With 15 – 18 occurrences, these chances of form and meaning recognition about doubled, while the chance of meaning recall increased to 6%. The authors suggest that more than 20 encounters maybe required gaining full knowledge of a new word through reading.
Pigada and Schmitt (2006) explored one participant’s acquisition of word meaning, spelling and grammatical characteristics from reading graded readers. Of all 133 target words, knowledge of 97 (65.4%) was improved in one or more dimensions. As also found by Waring and Takaki (2003), the acquisition of spelling required very few exposures. The acquisition of meaning did not



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