A computer-based strategy for foreign-language vocabulary-learning

Goodfellow, Robin (1995). A computer-based strategy for foreign-language vocabulary-learning. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000dc88


This work sets out to establish principles for the design and evaluation of a computer-based vocabulary-learning strategy for foreign language learners. The strategy is intended to assist non-beginner learners who are working on their own, to acquire new words in such a way that they will be available when needed in subsequent communicative situations.

The nature of vocabulary-learning is examined from linguistic, psychological and educational perspectives, and a strategy for autonomous learning is derived which emphasizes the processes of: selection of new items from text, mental lexicon- building through the association of items on the basis of their lexical-structural features, and practising productive recall of items by activating the same associations as were used to build the mental network. This strategy is considered from the point of view of the support it would need from a computer-based interaction, and the field of Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL) for vocabulary is reviewed for examples of system design which meet the strategic and interactional requirements. Specifications are produced, based on general principles for the design of computer-assisted learning, and on current technological capability to integrate large text-databases and on-line lexical tools such as dictionaries etc., within an interface which facilitates learner control and exploration. Questions of evaluation are considered, in the light of the computer's ability to record interaction data, and a psycholinguistic model of word production is proposed as a basis for assessing the learner's performance in terms of processes as well as quantitative 'end product'. A general model of deep and surface approaches to learning is then adduced to provide a way of interpreting learner subjective data, and an independent means of evaluating the quality of the learning outcome.

A system implementing the strategy is tested with learners of Spanish and English, and the quantitative and qualitative data on learning process and outcome is analyzed in depth. The system is shown to support the learning objectives for learners who adopt a deep approach, or whose approach complements the assumptions of the design in some way, and the general design principles are therefore considered as validated. Some aspects of the strategy related to lexicon-building, however, are shown to be inadequately supported, as is the capability of the system to help learners remediate surface approaches. The main conclusion of the study is that, whilst learner exploration of powerful lexical information resources is essential for autonomous vocabulary-learning, on-line tutorial help of the kind that will encourage deep rather than surface approaches, is needed to optimise the quality of the learning outcome.

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