Incidental vocabulary acquisition from a contextualized story through extensive reading

A case study of Egyptian EFL learners

Master's Thesis, 2015

54 Pages


Table of Contents



Table of Contents

List of Tables

List of Figures

List of Abbreviations

1. Introduction
1.1. The context of the research
1.2 Statement of the problem
1.3 Research Hypotheses
1.4. Objectives of the research
1.5. Significance of the research
1.6. Organization of the research

2. Literature Review
2.1. Definition of Extensive Reading in the context of ESL/EFL
2.2. Building Vocabulary Knowledge through Extensive Reading
2.3. Incidental Vocabulary Learning from Extensive Reading Context
2.4. Review of Replicated Studies that Investigated Vocabulary Incidental Learning from E Reading
2.5. Measuring Passive-active Word Knowledge to Detect Incidental Learning
2.6. Conclusive summary

3. Methodology
3.1. Research Design
3.2. Participants
3.3 Data Collection
3.3.1. Instruments
3.3.2. Attitudinal Questionnaire
3.4. Data Analysis

4. Results and Findings
4.1. Pre-test Results
4.2. Post-test Results
4.3. Attitudinal Questionnaire Results

5. Conclusion
5.1. Teaching Implications
5.2. Limitations of the Research
5.3. Future Recommendations
5.4. Conclusion


Appendix A: Pre-test (familiarity test)
Appendix B: Post-test (effect test)
Appendix C: Attitudinal Questionnaire


All praise and thanks to God

For giving me patience and health that helped me complete this thesis.

I wish to express my sincere gratitude to my parents

For their continuous support

This thesis would have not been fulfilled without my family and friends’ support

I am indebted to my students in Future University of Egypt

For their assistance and help

I am deeply thankful to my advisor Dr. Stacie Rissmann-Joyce

For her guidance and enthusiasm


The current study aims to investigate the effect of extensive reading as an approach in the EFL classroom to reinforce the natural acquisition of vocabulary (Krashen & Terrell, 1983). The study involved 41 university-level freshmen and sophomores selected from the Schoolsof Engineering, Pharmaceutical Sciences, and Commerce and Business Administration. The study implied using quantitative instruments to measure the learners’ incidental growth of vocabulary through testing the passive and active word knowledge through pre- and post- tests. The pairedsample T-test involved testing the incidental learning of 42 target words (nouns, verbs, and gerunds) from a selected story. The research statistical findings indicated a significant increase of the target words’ knowledge through descriptive statistics. Furthermore, most of the newly identified words after reading were productively used in proper sentences. The attitudinal questionnaire also revealed future recommendations of extensive reading. In general, the results indicated that extensive reading had a notable influence on EFL elementary-learners in learning new vocabulary spontaneously and using it in productive contexts. The research concluded that with providing a proper atmosphere for reading, meaningful goals, and guided discussion, a positive outcome of unintentional learning of new words can be the gain. These outcomes were collected and evaluated through statistical data and an attitudinal questionnaire. Finally, the researcher suggested that some of the implications and recommendations of the study be adapted in further studies.

List of Tables

Table 1: Four degrees of strength of knowledge

Table 2: Overall results of participants’ vocabulary incidental learning (passive and active) by paired samples T-test

Table 3: Interpretation of Participants’ passive vocabulary gains by paired samples T-test

Table 4: Participants’ active knowledge of vocabulary by paired samples T-test

List of Figures

Figure 1: Learning new vocabulary while reading

Figure 2: The ability to use the learned target words in making new sentences

Figure 3: Other words helped as contextual clues to understand the meanings of the target words

Figure 4: The general understanding and the simplicity of the story

Figure 5: Free-time reading as a desired implication of extensive reading outside of class

Figure 6: Suggesting extensive reading as a part of the curriculum

List of Abbreviations

illustration not visible in this excerpt

1. Introduction

1.1. The context of the research

“Language is best taught when it is being used to transmit message, not when it is explicitly taught for conscious learning” (Krashen & Terrel, 1983, p. 55).

As a teacher, there is an inevitable possibilityat some point throughout the academic yearto not achieve a lesson’s outcomes. Those outcomes cannot be realized if there is not an honest selfevaluation and observation maintained on a regular basis. As a result, a consequential notion might emergeasa next step to fix some instructional strategies or investigate the teaching approach that did not meet one’s lesson expectations.

In light of conducting this action research, the researcherdiscerns astrong relevancy between the past studies and pilot-experiments, and the incremental improvements of teaching methodologies nowadays. Teachers’ and researchers’ continuous efforts in measuring the gains of reading have led this studyto investigatenew outcomes in dissimilar context, yet within the same scope of reading benefits of English language teaching (ELT).

As the primary goal in the action research is to revise and evaluate the data collected by notable researchers, teachers and educators are enabled to make contributions and investigate a problem progressively. In consideration of the distinguished studies made into the field of teaching English as a second or foreign language, the majority of researchers and linguists have devoted their expertise to explore and go beyond the direct, traditional instructional methods. The researcher’s study implies detecting the benefits of extensivereading in promoting incidental learning of word knowledge. Investigation of major studies reveals incremental improvements and adjustments made to earlier works done in the scope of language acquisition from reading. The researcher always believed that reading textbooks or stories in English on one’s own is a richresource to non-English speakers to naturally improve writing and reading skills.

Considerably, the lack of sufficient and adequate vocabulary to be productively retrieved situations when needed is the significant rationale behind this research. Therefore, the researcher conducted a pilot-experiment thatinvestigated the fertility of extensive reading by measuring the incidental learning of vocabulary in the context of readingafictional story over a period of time.

This study seeks new findings to be reported after assigning a themed fictional story to adult students to read over a period of time. With regard to the reviews found in the literaturewhere English is learned as a foreign language, the adjustments of the current research which investigated new areas of measurements of word knowledge, led to the promising conclusion that better explore. I expect that findings of the quantitative research will allow me to change and suggest strategies for future attempts in the same research area.

1.2 Statement of the problem

Learning vocabulary is fundamental and an essential skill in education. However, insufficiency of vocabulary is undeniable and a critical problem that hinders learners (Nagy, 1988, p. 1). In the context of teaching English as a foreign language, teaching vocabulary is problematic as it highly depends on the introduced context of the followed curriculum. Identically, the absence of practicing extensive reading as an extra-curricular activity in most of the EFL classes in Egypt, has noticeably affected the growth of vocabularythat learners need to support the meaning they delivered in their communications.

Most adult learners, and particularly at the tertiary level where English is being taught as an elective-subject, have limited lexical knowledge when they are asked to speak in English due to the lack of adequate exposure to reading varied texts and materials. Thus, the stories and textbooks brought toa classroomempower them to learn new words in different contexts. By the same token, teaching decontextualized vocabulary lists does not suffice when asking studentsto use learned items later in spoken and written forms of communication. Accordingly, the research is an attempt to measure incidental vocabulary learning which could naturally occur when reading for the purpose of enjoyment.

1.3 Research Hypotheses

In the light of the past studies that addressed the benefits of extensive reading, the currentstudy aims to detect any incidental vocabulary learning resulted from students’ independent pleasure reading. In a hypothetical attempt, it is hoped that the current study measures the natural acquisition of unknown words through the context of reading a fictional novel. The study aims to prove the following hypotheses:

- Learners can infer the target words’ meanings in the introduced context, with the help of some contextual clues that help them detect the meaning of the target words.
- Learners can actively use the target words in makingmeaningful sentences with proper grammatical structures.

It is hoped that learners can naturally and unintentionally learn new words through reading the novel, and actively use them in sentences.

1.4. Objectives of the research

The current research investigates a new technique of practicing extensive reading as a supplementary approach to EFL teaching. The study aims to measure adult English-language learners’ abilities to identify unknown words by relying on contextual clues as prompts, and strengthen the active knowledge of the incidentally learned words through using them in a written context.

1.5. Significance of the research

After having reviewed the results of previous experiments that investigatedvocabulary learning from extensive reading, the researcher examined empirical data that serve the researcher’s evaluation and develop teaching strategies of vocabulary. “Deliberately teaching vocabulary is one of the least efficient ways of developing learners” (Nation, 2001).However, the current study noted an increase in the receptive and productive knowledge of vocabulary by providing students with an interesting novel with graded language. In light of this statement by one of the major figures in applied linguistics and his distinguished contributions to the field of teaching in English,notable attempts and experiments were undertaken by researchers and teachers as they were moved by Nation’s(1990; 2001) creativity. Nation (2001) explained that the low efficiency of direct teaching of vocabulary is due to the small number of learned words. In addition, knowing a word independently is not the only dimension used to learn a word.

In other attempts to measure vocabulary learning, the researcher was encouraged to practice Krashen’s (1982) theory which implied that learners of first and second languages can subconsciously acquire the language through reading a comprehensive text that communicates a real message. Similarly, other major studies supported the implication and of this study, such as Prowse (2002) who threw the light on the type of reading we assign to the students through ten notable characteristics. He noted that reading materials are more beneficial when they are easy and pleasurable. He also noted that reading at one’s pace is preferable than reading aloud.

The study’s contribution lies in detecting the learner’s ability to recall the meaning of unknown words through reading a contextualized story for the general meaning and for enjoyment,and recognize the contextual clues to productively use the target words to form sentences.

1.6. Organization of the research

The research is divided into five main chapters. The first chapter introduces the area of research in which notable researchers have empoweredstudies with their findings and experiments. It highlights the definition of extensive reading and its benefits and overall gains by reading textsduringextended periods of time for the purpose of pleasure. Moreover, the researcher will explicitly discuss the relevant literature in the same scope of the current study. Mainly, the first chapter raises the awareness of the necessity to tackle the lack of vocabulary knowledge in the tertiary education. Through previous studies, the researcher will reveal the relevance between reading and vocabulary learning, along with emphasizing the unintentional possibility of learning new vocabulary with reporting of other researchers’ results and limitations. The second chapter starts with shedding light on the necessity of reading as a critical skill to foreign language learners, followed by a focus on the extensive reading approach and its positive impact on learners of English language. Also, the chapter mentions other theories in the literature that contradict the researcher’s hypotheses, while the researcher strengthens the rationale of the study by citing relevant early works and distinguished studies that proved the positive effects of extensive reading on increasing the size and the depth of vocabulary. The third chapter introduces the researcher’sstrategy of conducting this study as an attempt to prove his hypotheses. In chapter four,the researcher explains the used methods as measurement tools in his study and presents the research findings in chronological order. Moreover, he quantitatively analyzes the data as a result of the administered tests and shows positive and negative results. Finally, the last chapter presents a summation of the elements of the study.It highlights the researcher’s interpretation and inference. Moreover, it gives recommendations for further studies based on the limitations that the researcher encountered.

2. Literature Review

This research aims to provide a comprehensive review based on literature and previous notable studies. The research is organized into five themes that show incremental improvements by practicing extensive reading in teaching English as a second and foreign language. The first theme will define extensive reading and its general effect on language acquisition in English language learning, whereas the second theme will shed light on word knowledge gains from extensive reading. The third theme focuses on the incidental learning growth of new lexical items from reading extensively which some researchers’ efforts revealed through empirical results. The fourth theme highlights some major replicated studies after a primitive observation by Saragi (1978). At the end, the researcher will introduce major approaches of measuring word knowledge and their limitations. Furthermore, the researcher willidentify the gap in the existing research literature and will present other researchers’ theories on the outcomes of extensive reading.

2.1. Definition of Extensive Reading in the context of ESL/EFL

Within the last twenty years, extensive reading has been an area of focus by many researchers and linguists. Distinguished studies addressed the importance and the key role of reading and particularly extensive reading which showed positive outcomes in English language teaching. (Grabe, 2009; Day & Bamford, 1998) attributed the term ‘extensive reading’ to Palmer (1964) who first launched the term ‘extensive reading’ while he was teaching English to Japanese students. Palmer (1964) termed this type of reading as extensive [italics added] to contrast it with intensive [italics added] reading. The purpose of the intensive reading is to read carefully and attentively to look new words up in the dictionary, analyze, and compare them with different contexts (Day & Bamford, 1998). Brown (2000) listed three features of extensive reading in learning EFL context that mainly required reading widely longer texts for global understanding. While Waring (2002) emphasized that opportunity resulted from extensive reading to read longer pieces of reading within which students can read at their own pace and reading ability, Jim Scrivener (2013,p. 268) threw the light on books of stories that are designed specifically for learners of English to get more exposure with graded language (vocabulary and grammar) that are suitable for their level Unlike extensive reading which primarily focuses on comprehension and reading large amounts of texts, intensive reading suggests explanation of each vocabulary and structural item that participate in the student’s active language (Tangitau, 1973). Intensive reading involves a slower reading of a small amount of materials and is often accompanied by translation exercises (Sarakham, 2012). Jim Scrivener (2013, p. 264) referred to intensive reading as that type of reading which requires careful and focused reading on every detail and sometimes requires answering comprehension questions.

The purpose of extensive reading or as Day & Bamford (1998) named, ‘supplementary reading’ is to encourage learners of foreign language (FL) to read for enjoyment. Krashen (1993) used another term for extensive reading free voluntary reading as cited in (Day & Bamford, 1998). As opposed to intensive and academic reading, extensive reading motivates language learners to select the kinds of books that suit their interest. It is an approach to teach language classes through which learners can meaningfully acquire the language by reading short and interesting materials on their own. Furthermore, Horst (2009) emphasizes the importance of extensive reading in developing a second language (L2) proficiency level. In general, they are encouraged to read for enjoyment and understanding the overall meaning of the book or the text they feel interested in (Bamford & Day, 2004). Another group of studies analyzed the outgrowth of language gain through a natural, comprehensible approach. Language acquisition principally occurs when the content is comprehensible (Coady&Huckin, 1996).

Grabe&Stoller (2002) highlighted the importance of being able to read L2, especially in English language, which they considered a language of science and technology. They emphasized the increasing necessity of reading skill in a second language particularly English as a wide-spreading and global language. Perhaps the idea behind incorporating extensive reading as Day & Bamford (1998) claimed that the students who generally learn English as a second language (ESL), are not interested in reading, which is problematic. (Horst, 2009; Krashen, 1982, Gambrell, 2008) identified extensive reading as the approach through which students read large amount of reading on their own for a longer period of time for the aim of obtaining the general meaning and pleasure.

Horst (2005) mentioned that several studies addressed the importance of implementing extensive reading approach and its effects on general language acquisition. (Bamford & Day, 2004; Bell, 1998; Day &Bamford, 1998; Gambrell, 2008; Grabe, 2009; Krashen, 1982; Krashen, 2004; Milton, 2009; Palmer 1964; Smith, 1996; Waren&Takki, 2003) comprehensively addressed the positive outcomes and benefits that result from practicing extensive reading in a second language classroom.

Considering the mentioned definitions related to extensive reading and examining the studies that investigated the outcomes of extensive reading in the context of teaching ESL, the researcher in this study seeks to find the gain of extensive reading in the context of teaching English as a foreign language (EFL), which Day and Bamford (1998) believe can be practiced in the context of ESL when learning English as a second language when non-English speakers learn English in a native-English speaking country e.g., Italian students who learn English in the United States, or as a foreign language which is in a country whose first language is not English e.g., learning English language in Egypt.

2.2. Building Vocabulary Knowledge through Extensive Reading

One of the language areas that attracted researchers and linguists in the field of teaching English, is the vocabulary growth as a consequence resulting from extensive reading, such as Day et al. (1991) who were encouraged to investigate whether there is vocabulary growth after extensive reading in the context of EFL where English is not the first language. Vocabulary knowledge is crucial to reading a comprehensive input. Insufficient vocabulary is one of the challenges encountered by English language learners (ELLs) at their grade level (Christopher, 2007). Waren&Takki (2003) shed light on the benefits of reading, especially in terms of vocabulary building in the context of learning English as a foreign language In the matter of applying second language research into classroom teaching research, few researchers and teachers acknowledged that there was not much attention paid to vocabulary learning in a second language until the middle 1990’s. Thus, extensive reading is considered appropriate environment to increase vocabulary knowledge for ESL/EFL learners (Folse, 2004). Folse noted that further researchers assumingly inferred that people acquire and maximize second language (L2) vocabulary in the same way they learn first language (L1) vocabulary, particularly through comprehensible input.

It is clear from the above discussion that not many studies have recommended extensive reading for learning English as a second and foreign language. Aresearch conducted between 1980 and 2009 showed that few experimental studies focused on vocabulary outcomes for English Language Learners (ELLs) (Clouston, 2013). Smith (1996) suggested that extensive reading is not only restricted to language proficiency development, rather it participates in developing literacy abilities. Similarly, Bell (1998) stands in favor of reading instead of direct teaching to build vocabulary knowledge.

One of the greatest challenges encountered by English language learnersis having a limited vocabulary. Thus, extensive reading is beneficial and crucial for comprehensive reading (Christopher, 2007). Such a problem has encouraged linguists to conduct studies to detect any vocabulary knowledge increase after reading extensively. Moreover, Christopher acknowledges the correlation between the ability to read extensively and the size of vocabulary expansion.

On the other hand, researchers de-emphasized the value of learning vocabulary value in the field of second language acquisition (Coady&Huckin, 1996). Language acquisition principally occurs when the content is comprehensible, and so vocabulary relies on the comprehensibility of the materials (Coady&Huckin, 1996). Coady and Huckin proposed that language is acquired when the content is interesting and adequate or slightly higher than the learner’s level of competence. (Coady&Huckin, 1996; Krashen, 1982) affirmed that students unintentionally learn and acquire vocabulary if they are introduced to comprehensible input. They are likely to acquire vocabulary through comprehensible input, by focusing on the message through an interesting context. However, Folse (2004) suggests that second language learners may not define the clues referred to as ‘surrounding words in a context’ which accordingly undermine guessing new words. Another inference by Folse is to ensure that L2 learners do not acquire vocabulary as easily as L1 learners.

(Clouston, 2013; Coudy&Huckin, 1996; Grabe, 1991; Grabe&Stoller, 2002; Horst, 2009; Krashen, 1982; Nagy, 1988; Nation, 1990; Wang, 2013; Warren &Takki, 2003) considerably discussed and studied the vocabulary growth resulted from extensive reading in the context of learning a foreign language. However, TESOL International Association (2013) recognized that few studies have addressed vocabulary outcomes for English language learners (ELLs).

In contrast to what extensive reading studies proposed from importance of vocabulary gains, Christopher (2007) advanced the importance of vocabulary knowledge before starting to reading extensively. Furthermore, Christopher suggested direct teaching and teaching word meanings strategies as they proved their effectiveness in reading performance.

Wang (2013) conducted a guided test to measure lexical growth after students completed 15-week extensive reading program; whereas, Horst (2009) claims that extensive reading expands the vocabulary size. Consequently, learners of a second language can maximize their vocabulary by starting to read extensively on their own (Milton, 2009,p. 77). Bell (1998) proposed 10 principle roles of Extensive Reading in acquiring English as a foreign language. Bell comprehensively studied various outcomes from applying the ER program. One of the roles is increasing the vocabulary size from simply reading interesting books in the context of EFL,which proves to be more effective than teaching vocabulary using traditional methods.

2.3. Incidental Vocabulary Learning from Extensive Reading Context

Kerka (2000) defined incidental learning as the unintentional or unplanned learning that results from other activities. However, she doubted the consistent effectiveness of all unplanned learning cases. In addition to the field of this study, researchers adopted the notion of incidental learning occurrence such as (McFerrin, 1999) who reinforced the idea of fostering incidental learning in the context of self-development that will potentially reflect on students’ abilities and self-knowledge as they conducted experiments in different contexts, such as McFerrin (1999) who revealed that adult students at State University of Louisiana were able to develop their utilization of technology in an online course. Additionally, McFerrin noticed an increasedoverall improvement of students’ self-development. Nevertheless, there is undeniable fact regarding assessing and validating incidental learning as Bettina (n.d.) shed more light on the difficulty of assessing incidental learning as it is not anticipated within the process of doing something, learners unpredictably discover or learn something else. She clarifies that the main aim of activities is to get them accomplished; whereas, incidental learning surprisingly occurs and this justifies why researchers intentionally assign different goals than what they are actually seeking to measure and observe.To solve this issue, researchers have proposed a new method of assessment. As incidental learning surprisingly occurs, the learner is intentionally assigned a distinct goal for reading than that of acquiring vocabulary knowledge. In other words, even though the researcher’s purpose of assessment is evaluating vocabulary gain, the learner’s purpose for reading is enjoyment.

Day et al. (1991) were motivated to investigate whether there is vocabulary growth after extensive reading in the context of EFL where English is not the first language; whereas,Krashen (1982) claimed that students learn and acquire vocabulary in an unintentional way if they are introduced to a comprehensible input. He highlighted the importance that second language students need to read an enormous amount of reading materials for pleasure over a long period. Recently, researchers became more concerned with the incidental learning gain from reading. Thus, research seems to indicate that incidental vocabulary learning is a plausible strategy (Gu, 2003). Day et al. (1991) suggested that there is a similarity between learning new words indirectly from reading English as a foreign language and vocabulary learning by children in their first language.

TESOL International Association (2013) claimed that the majority of students read in English; therefore, they are more proficient when recognizing meaning in terms of context. Consequently, less exposure or no prior knowledge of the word can validate the possibility of being not able to recognize them.


Excerpt out of 54 pages


Incidental vocabulary acquisition from a contextualized story through extensive reading
A case study of Egyptian EFL learners
American International College
Master of Educatione - Reading specialization
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
885 KB
EFL, ESL, English language teaching, Reading stories, extensive reading
Quote paper
Mahmud Shafik (Author), 2015, Incidental vocabulary acquisition from a contextualized story through extensive reading, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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