Is incidental vocabulary acquisition more effective while watching videos or when reading texts?

Research Paper (postgraduate), 2022

15 Pages, Grade: 1


Table of Contents

1. Incidental vs Intentional vocabulary acquisition

2. Literature review
2.1. Previous studies on incidental vocabulary acquisition
2.1.1. Incidental vocabulary acquisition through texts
2.1.2. Incidental vocabulary acquisition through videos

3. Results
3.1. Discussion
3.2. Implications
3.3. Limitations

4. Conclusion and final thoughts

5. Bibliography


Studies on incidental language acquisition have been conducted for several decades in various formats with English as a native (ENL) second (ESL) and foreign (EFL) language learners of different age groups. This paper aims to determine, whether incidental vocabulary acquisition is more effective while watching videos or when reading texts. In order to do so, existing literature on language acquisition through textual and audio-visual input was analysed. The results show no clear answer to the research question but several key factors that determine successful acquisition in both areas. Findings suggest that language level, the amount of exposure to the target structures, the number of senses included in the task and the overall motivation of the students regarding the task and topic determine incidental vocabulary acquisition. These key factors need to be taken into account by EFL teachers when designing lesson plans. Since this paper is limited toa broad literary analysis of ENL, ESL and EFL students of various age groups, it remains unclear whether the results also apply to Austrian EFL learners. To answer this question further empirical research is needed.

Keywords: incidental language acquisition, textual and audio-visual input, English as a foreign language, language level, exposure, motivation

1. Incidental vs Intentional vocabulary acquisition

To introduce the topic "incidental vocabulary acquisition concerning videos and texts" some important keywords have to be defined. Second Language Acquisition studies usually differentiate between the terms intentional and incidental language acquisition. Intentional language acquisition refers to the “deliberate committing to memory of thousands of words (meaning, sound, and spelling) and dozens of grammar rules” (Hulstijn, 2003, p. 349) whereas incidental language acquisition involves the “picking up of words and structures, simply by engaging in a variety of communicative activities, in particular reading and listening activities, during which the learner's attention is focused on the meaning rather than on the form of language.” (Hulstijn, 2003, p. 349). Speaking from classroom experience, it is clear that both forms of acquisition do not exist as completely independent concepts used apart from each other but are part of everyday conscious and subconscious language learning. In other words, most texts in modern school books highlight the key vocabulary and structures (inducing intentional learning), however, students often also subconsciously pick up words and structures that were not highlighted but can be understood within the context of the whole text (incidental learning). Furthermore, language acquisition is neither black nor white as there exist different stages of the level of acquisition from the mere recognition of words to understanding of their meaning(s) (Arndt & Woore, 2018). As Hulstijn (2003) mentions incidental language acquisition both in written and spoken contexts, this paper aims to find out whether incidental vocabulary acquisition is more effective when given digital audio-visual input (videos) or analogue visual input (texts).

2. Literature review

2.1. Previous studies on incidental vocabulary acquisition

Studies on incidental vocabulary acquisition underlie the theory of incremental growth (Clark, 1973; Sternberg & Powell, 1983). Hereby, it is believed that language content is gradually acquired through repetitive exposure to varied and multiple contexts (Konopak, et al., 1987). This relates to the initially mentioned different stages of language acquisition, which are closely connected to the four skills: listening, reading, speaking and writing. Usually, language acquisition first happens within the receptive skills: students recognize words orally or in written form. However, before words and phrases can be applied to speech or writing, their meaning needs to be fully understood. In other words, students' language acquisition happens as a continuum from reception in the form of mere recognition to active production and full comprehension of meaning (DeKeyser & Sokalski, 1996; Nation, 1990, 2001; as cited in Arndt & Woore, 2018).

This applies to language acquisition through both reading texts and watching videos. First, studies on incidental language acquisition via textual input will be analysed, as audio-visual material has been available for a shorter period.

2.1.1. Incidental vocabulary acquisition through texts

Language acquisition fields have already studied incidental vocabulary acquisition in the 1980s. For example, Konopak et al. (1987) focused on incidental word learning from context via a history text passage containing ten target structures. 65 students were divided into three groups: incidental, intentional and a control group. Through a pre-test post-test format, where the students had to read the history text passage twice, vocabulary acquisition was evaluated. The authors concluded that although the intentional learning group showed the most improvement, also the incidental learning group gained considerable knowledge as well as confidence in it. Importantly, better reading skills correlated with higher scores.

Another study by Jenkins, Stein & Wysocki (1984) analysed whether students acquire unfamiliar words from normal classroom readings, the amount of exposure needed for incidental uptake and the role of prior exposure on vocabulary learning. Their study included 112 subjects with average reading skills. 18 structures were included in paragraphs that implied the meaning; vocabulary acquisition was also evaluated through a pre-test post-test format. Regarding the first question, findings suggest that some meanings of words were derived from the context without explicit hints to the unfamiliar words. Also, repeated exposure to the words in context resulted in better uptake, however, expectations were not met. Findings suggest that the quantity of relevant clues in the context is very relevant for acquisition. Regarding the third question, prior exposure seems to draw students' attention to the target structures resulting in better uptake. Lastly, the authors also mention that better readers acquire structures more easily as they draw their attention to unfamiliar words out of curiosity and can deduct meaning better from the context than less experienced readers.

A study conducted by Nagy, Herman, & Anderson (1985), including 57 participants also assessed students' ability to derive word meaning from context through exposure to natural text. Hereby, a narrative text of 1000 words in length was presented including 15 target structures. Those structures were then reassessed via two vocabulary assessments, an individual interview and a multiple-choice test. Although small gains in vocabulary acquisition were found, the authors conclude that vocabulary uptake in most of the cases requires several encounters with the word, providing support for the findings of Jenkins, Stein & Wysocki (1984). This is because the context seldomly gives much information about the target word (Deighton, 1959, as cited in Nagy, Herman, & Anderson, 1985). In this context, the authors suggest a gradual learning curve through repeated exposure to the target structures providing support for the theory of incremental growth (Clark, 1973; Sternberg & Powell, 1983; Konopak et al., 1987).


Excerpt out of 15 pages


Is incidental vocabulary acquisition more effective while watching videos or when reading texts?
University of Salzburg
Seminar in Advanced English Studies: Educational Technologies in TEFL
Catalog Number
ISBN (Book)
incidental language acquisition, textual and audio-visual input, EFL, language level, exposure, motivation
Quote paper
Axel Kolbeinsson (Author), 2022, Is incidental vocabulary acquisition more effective while watching videos or when reading texts?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: Is incidental vocabulary acquisition more effective while watching videos or when reading texts?

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free