Retention of Inferred and Given Word Meanings: Experiments in Incidental Vocabulary Learning

  • Jan H. Hulstijn


One of the much debated issues in foreign/second language (henceforth L2) pedagogy presently is the following question: What is more effective and efficient for L2 vocabulary acquisition: (a) letting L2 learners infer the meaning of an unknown word occurring in an L2 text, using the information contained in the context, or (b) simply giving learners the meaning of the unknown word right away, e.g. by providing a translation in the mother tongue (Ll) or a synonym in L2? Some researchers (e.g. Bialystok, 1983; Nation, 1982; Nation and Coady, 1988; Schouten-van Parreren, 1985, 1986) have suggested that new words can best be learnt when presented in texts and when their meaning must be inferred from context by learners themselves. This point of view is based on two assumptions (Craik and Tulving, 1975; Jacoby, 1978; Jacoby and Craik, 1979; Jacoby, Craik and Begg, 1979):
  1. (a)

    When subjects have to infer or induce the solution of a problem, they will invest more mental effort than when they are given the solution to the problem.

  2. (b)

    Information that has been attained with more mental effort can later be better retrieved and recalled than information that has been attained with less mental effort.



Target Word Incidental Learning Unknown Word Meaning Test Incidental Learning Task 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1992

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  • Jan H. Hulstijn

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