Visible words: second language vocabulary learning during reading
A significant proportion of international students in New Zealand who come from East and South East Asia, especially China, speak English as a second language (ESL).
They are expected to achieve academically at a comparable level with native English speakers.
|Dr Irina Elgort
However, for students from non English-speaking backgrounds, especially those whose native language and writing systems are dramatically different from English (such as Chinese speakers), heavily text-based education presents difficult language-related challenges.
Reading is a key source of knowledge and a robust vocabulary is a prerequisite for effective and efficient reading.
Fluent and accurate word recognition and seamless retrieval of context-appropriate meanings during reading create conditions necessary for ideational processes to occur, including higher-level understanding of new concepts and propositions, and the ability to link ideas and evaluate claims.
ESL students often come across words they do not know in their readings. A common approach is to guess the meanings of these words from their context.
Project leader Dr Irina Elgort from Victoria University of Wellington investigated whether focusing on spelling and writing out the new word could significantly improve contextual word learning (i.e., ability to ‘pick up’ new vocabulary from reading) for Chinese speakers.
The participants were native Chinese speakers recruited primarily from the Victoria University English Proficiency Programme (EPP).
A statistically significant advantage was found for the word-writing condition over the meaning-focused elaboration.
Supplementing contextual word learning with word-writing was also the preferred way of learning for 89% of the Chinese-speaking participants.
One common theme in the participants’ comments was “writing makes it easier to remember the word”.
Visit the link below to read the full project report and consider how this approach could be used with your ESOL learners.