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Effects of word-related factors on first and second language English readers’ incidental acquisition of vocabulary through reading an authentic novel

Barry Lee Reynolds (Faculty of Education, University of Macau, Macau SAR, China and Centre for Cognitive and Brain Sciences, University of Macau, Macau SAR, China)
Chen Ding (School of Foreign Studies, Hefei University of Technology, Hefei, China)

English Teaching: Practice & Critique

ISSN: 1175-8708

Article publication date: 25 January 2022

Issue publication date: 17 May 2022

506

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this study was to investigate the effects of word-related factors (i.e. frequency, range, dispersion and cognateness) on first-language English (L1E) readers' (n = 20) and second-language English (L2E) readers' (n = 20) incidental acquisition of vocabulary through the reading of an authentic novel.

Design/methodology/approach

Participants read A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, a 58,686 token (word) English language novel containing Slovos, that is, words from Nadsat, a futuristic, foreignized teen talk invented by Burgess. Upon finishing the novel, the participants took two unexpected vocabulary tests, one for meaning recognition and the other for meaning recall.

Findings

The results of this study indicate that word-related factors significantly correlate with the word meaning recall test scores of both groups. However, the regression models of meaning recall for the two groups showed that dispersion was the most robust predictor, which implies that the participants recalled more word meanings when the novel had a more even distribution of the unknown target words. The meaning recognition test scores showed cognates were a significant predictor for the L1E readers but not for L2E readers.

Originality/value

This study marks the first attempt in the field to investigate the relative contribution of frequency, range and dispersion – a closely bound set of word-related factors – to both L1E and L2E readers' incidental acquisition of vocabulary through reading an authentic novel. Considering the important role of dispersion, the current study suggests that developers of graded readers and children's literature should more evenly distribute unknown target words in their books. Doing so will better facilitate both L1E and L2E readers' acquisition of those words. The study also addresses a fallacy of methodology regarding incidental vocabulary acquisition by examining the effect of the cognateness of the foreignized words embedded in A Clockwork Orange. The L1E readers' sensitivity to cognates implies that cognate-word awareness-raising activities are necessary to learning a foreign language, especially if that language has many cognates in common with English, such as Spanish.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The research reported in this paper was supported by the University of Macau under grant number MYRG2019-0030-FED.

Citation

Reynolds, B.L. and Ding, C. (2022), "Effects of word-related factors on first and second language English readers’ incidental acquisition of vocabulary through reading an authentic novel", English Teaching: Practice & Critique, Vol. 21 No. 2, pp. 171-191. https://doi.org/10.1108/ETPC-05-2021-0049

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2022, Emerald Publishing Limited

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