We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Exercises*: Listening to Stories is More Efficient Than Direct Instruction for Vocabulary Acquisition

Study reviewed: Loftus-Rattan, S. M., Mitchell, A. M., & Coyne, M. D. (2016). Direct vocabulary instruction in preschool: A comparison of extended instruction, embedded instruction, and incidental exposure. The Elementary School Journal, 116(3), 391-410. (pay wall) Everyone agrees that reading storybooks to young children helps them build vocabulary. But lots of researchers think they can […]

How Reading ‘The Martian Chronicles’ Can Improve Your Scientific Vocabulary: Rolls & Rodgers (2017)

Rolls, H., & Rodgers, M. P. (2017). Science-specific technical vocabulary in science fiction-fantasy texts: A case for ‘language through literature’. English for Specific Purposes, 48, 44-56. In my last post, I presented evidence that when high school students read books for pleasure related to their school subjects, their test scores in those subjects go up. Rolls and Rodgers […]

Academic Vocabulary Instruction II: Learning 1 Word in 5 Hours Shouldn’t Count as a Success

Study reviewed: Townsend, D., & Collins, P. (2009). Academic vocabulary and middle school English learners: An intervention study. Reading and Writing, 22(9), 993-1019. In a previous post, I noted that one of the studies often cited for the success of academic vocabulary instruction, Snow, Lawrence, and White (2009), is in fact an example of its questionable effectiveness. […]

Academic Vocabulary Instruction: Does Word Generation Really Teach You Two Years’ Worth of Words in 22 Weeks?

Study reviewed: Snow, C., Lawrence, J., & White, C. (2009). Generating knowledge of academic language among urban middle school students. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 2(4), 325-344. One of the hot topics of the past decade or so in language education research has been the teaching of “academic language” and “academic vocabulary.” I have […]

Carpe Vinum: Does Drinking Help Vocabulary Retention?

Carlyle, M., Dumay, N., Roberts, K., McAndrew, A., Lawn, W., & Morgan, C. (2017). Improved memory for information learnt before alcohol use in social drinkers tested in a naturalistic setting. Nature. (Open Access) If you thought my previous discussion on the benefits of sleeping on vocabulary acquisition was a bit “out there,” consider the latest […]

Carpe Noctem: Is it Time for Chronolinguistics?

Williams, S. E., & Horst, J. S. (2014). Goodnight book: Sleep consolidation improves word learning via storybooks. Frontiers in psychology, 5. (open access) A few months ago, I read a wonderfully-written and informative book called Rest by Alex Pang. Pang reviews recent research on the benefits of taking breaks, napping, and sleeping on learning, creativity, and productivity. So […]

The Goldilocks Corollary to the Input Hypothesis

Zoe M. Flack, Jessica S. Horst. Two sides to every story: Children learn words better from one storybook page at a time. Infant and Child Development, 2017; e2047 DOI: 10.1002/icd.2047 (paywall) The Input Hypothesis (more generally referred to now as the Comprehension Hypothesis) states that we acquire language by understanding messages (Krashen, 1981, 1982). How exactly do we […]

College ESL Students “Don’t Have Time” to Read in English, Researchers Claim

From a recent issue of Language Teaching Research (open access) dedicated to vocabulary teaching: For the past decade, we have been witnessing a heated debate between the advocates of ‘vocabulary-through-input’ position and the proponents of word-focused instruction. The most recent example is the discussion between Cobb, Nation, and McQuillan in the October 2016 issue of Reading in […]

Converging Evidence on Vocabulary Acquisition: Another Look at Reynolds (2016)

In a previous post, I reviewed a recent study by Reynolds (2016) on the impact of frequency and “congnativeness” in vocabulary acquisition. It is worth discussing his data a bit further in order to compare his findings with Paul Nation’s (2014) estimates on the time efficiency of vocabulary acquisition through reading. Nation analyzed a series […]

Frequency and Cognate Effects in Vocabulary Acquisition

Reynolds, B. (2016). The effects of target word properties on the incidental acquisition of vocabulary through reading. TESL-EJ, 20(3), 1-31. Reading is the most powerful tool available to language acquirers for expanding and broadening vocabulary knowledge. Studies have found that while you have a low probability (around 5-15%) of picking up the meaning of an unknown […]

Does Vocabulary Instruction Improve Reading Comprehension?

Elleman, A. M., Lindo, E. J., Morphy, P., & Compton, D. L. (2009). The impact of vocabulary instruction on passage-level comprehension of school-age children: A meta-analysis. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 2(1), 1-44. One of the most widely-cited articles in the past 40 years on the impact of first-language vocabulary instruction on English reading […]

The IBM Computer Cloud of Unknowing

This press release is making the rounds this week, announcing a collaboration between Sesame Street and the letters I, B, and M. Big Bird and Big Blue are teaming up to do “learning in the cloud” with Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings Watson the Super-Computer. Their first project together is called a “cognitive vocabulary learning app”: Watson’s augmented […]

Rakuten, Japan’s 21st Century Online Powerhouse, to Launch 19th Century Language School

One of the leading online retailers in Japan, Rakuten, is getting into the English-teaching business. According to their press release, their “Super English” lessons will use software developed by a new startup in the language teaching “space,” Lingvist.io. Here’s how Lingvist summarizes its system: Lingvist applies mathematical optimization and statistics to make the language-learning process as fast as it can theoretically […]

How Many Words Can You Acquire in a Year?

There is an exchange in the current issue of Reading in a Foreign Language regarding papers that Paul Nation and I published on the number of words one can acquire through free reading. The original papers are here: Nation (2014) McQuillan (2016) The exchange is here: Tom Cobb’s critique Paul Nation’s response My response I will add […]

In Case You Missed It: What Can Readers Read After Graded Readers?

Earlier this year I published an article in Reading in a Foreign Language about reading your way to fluency in English. Check it out here (free!). Print PDF

Do You Need to Read 8,000,000 Words to Acquire 2,000?

Study Reviewed: Hill, M., & Laufer, B. (2003). Type of task, time-on-task and electronic dictionaries in incidental vocabulary acquisition. International Review of Applied Linguistics, 41(2), 87–106. I recently came across a reference to a claim related to vocabulary acquisition that struck me as rather usual: Hill & Laufer (2003) stated that a second language reader […]

Even Better Than You Think: More Good News for Incidental Vocabulary Acquisition

Study Reviewed Frishkoff, G., K Collins-Thompson, C. Perfetti, and J. Callan. (2008).  Measuring incremental changes in word knowledge: Experimental validation and implications for learning and assessment.  Behavior Research Methods, 40(4), 907-925. We have long known that we acquire most of our vocabulary, in both a first and second language, through reading (Krashen, 1989).  Our knowledge […]