Talk: Assessing the Viability of Foreign Language Acquisition Through a Mixed-Language Novel

Research in vocabulary acquisition has shown that people are able to acquire nonsense words in texts by using contextual clues. Can this method also be applied to real foreign language vocabulary? This study investigated this question by including Spanish vocabulary in an English language novel. Participants who had never studied Spanish read the novel, and their post-test scores showed successful acquisition of Spanish vocabulary compared to control participants who did not read the novel. This finding has important implications for second-language instruction.

This study investigated the feasibility of incidental learning of second-language (L2) vocabulary and grammar for adults with no prior training. Adult English speakers with no training in Spanish read an English-language novel (29,000 words) including Spanish words. These words were gradually introduced, replacing the most frequent English lexical types (e.g. ‘cat’, ‘the’) in the novel. They were introduced without translation or explanation, but their meanings were retrievable through context. Spanish grammatical patterns (e.g. adjective following a noun) were also gradually introduced. The experimental group (n=27) and a control group that did not read the text (n=9) were given a post-test on lexical recall and grammatical construction. The post-test score of the experimental group (x̄=57%) was significantly higher than the score of the control group (x̄=22%). In other words, the experimental group successfully acquired both Spanish vocabulary and grammatical patterns through incidental exposure, as compared to the control group with no exposure. Additionally, results suggest that there may be an optimal L2 vocabulary density for successful incidental learning. Results have implications for acquisition of L2 vocabulary and language pedagogy. They demonstrate that incidental learning is a viable method for vocabulary and even syntactic acquisition for adults with no prior training. Further, this study and its methodology can be utilized to produce concrete instructional materials for L2 learning in the classroom.


Day: 2020-11-21
Start time: 12:45
Duration: 00:30
Room: Clotilde Tambroni
Track: Applied Linguistics
Language: en



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