How Far Can Elearning Help Vocabulary Development English Language Essay

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1 Introduction

As science and technology develops rapidly, computer and internet have started its impact on different aspects of people's life. The influence of them on education is also clearly seen. More computer or internet based courses are offered by schools and educational institution. Educational websites and software are also designed with a large number. In the field of second language (L2) learning and teaching, computer and internet are also changing the way of teaching and study in different areas. When it comes to vocabulary development, eLearning plays a role that cannot be neglected. With more and more schools and educators employ eLearning in vocabulary teaching, a question is put forward that to what extent eLearning can help or hinder L2 vocabulary development. This paper is written with the intention of analyzing the effects of eLearning on vocabulary development and providing an answer to the question about the influence eLearning has on second language development.

1.1 Structure of the paper

The paper is based on related theories and researches and it consists of four parts, introduction, related theories and researches, eLearning and vocabulary development and conclusion. Introduction is a brief overview of the whole paper together with a stress on the importance of vocabulary in second language learning. Related theories and researches section introduces theories on vocabulary development and internet-based vocabulary learning. ELearning and vocabulary analyzes the characteristics of internet and the effects of them on vocabulary teaching and learning. Conclusion is a review of the analysis in this paper and an answer is provided to the question "How far can eLearning help or hinder L2 vocabulary development?"

Importance of vocabulary in L2 learning

As one of the main parts of language, the importance of vocabulary is agreed on by most of the educators and learners and it has been stressed by different linguists. Wilkins (1972) sees vocabulary as a must in terms of conveying meaning. "Without grammar very little can be conveyed;without vocabulary nothing can be conveyed".According to the understanding of a number of language teachers, McCarthy (1997) stresses that "No matter how well the student learns grammar, no matter how successful the sounds of L2 are mastered,without words to express a wide range of meanings,communication in an L2 just cannot happen in any meaningful way". Therefore, a large vocabulary or a fairly enough one is necessary in learning language. Vocabulary is the foundation of language and it is the basic of the developing of all the other language skills, listening, speaking, reading, writing and translation. In words of Nation (1993), vocabulary is closed related to the skillful use of any language. Hence, an effective vocabulary learning strategy becomes fairly important in terms of language learning. In the field of eLearning, instruction delivered on a computer via internet or CD-ROM (Clark & Mayer, 2007), it is also an on-spot task to find an effective way of vocabulary enlargement and developing learner's vocabulary strategies. A large number of researches on it have been under taken under the field of computer-assisted language learning (CALL).

2 Related theories and researches

In this part, related theories and researches are introduced along with analysis of its application on vocabulary learning.

2.1 Learning theories

When it comes to vocabulary learning, effective strategies are always something that learners want to develop and teachers put emphasis on. The interests of some researchers are also aroused and theories relating to vocabulary learning are given by different linguists or expert in hope of providing some hints on vocabulary development and strategy gaining.

Bruner's constructive Learning Theory refers to learning as a process of active discovery (Wilson, 1996). The acquisition of knowledge is the result of the interacting between the learner and its environment. This environment includes not only the teachers but also other available materials. Being emphasized in this theory is student-centeredness, the use of context, cooperation, conversations and meaning, and the inner relationship between knowledge. ELearning can provide different types of materials, images, sound or texts. Using computers and internet, students also have access to more authentic language. They interact with the material and then a better understanding of the vocabulary and use them more freely. Cognitive learning theory indicates that human beings process auditory information prior to visual information (Mayer & Moreno, 1998). Through eLearning students can always find words and the material coming with audio tracks and pictures or even video clips. Learners process the information in different areas of their brain and combine them together to gain knowledge. The effectiveness of information processing is hence increased along with a relatively all-sided understanding of the vocabulary.

2.2 Memory process

As learning is greatly related to memory, especial vocabulary learning, understanding the how information is memorized for further use seems to be of great importance. Thus, it is necessary to have certain knowledge of memory process. The related area of it in linguistic study is psycholinguistic.

Memory process is composed of three parts, encoding information, storing it, and retrieving it for utilization. These three stages are not only essential to the process of memory of English knowledge, but also important to the efficiency of memorizing English.Each of them represents a different process during memorizing. Encoding is when information is initially recorded in usable form for memorizing. Storage refers to the maintenance of information saved in the memory system. Retrieval indicates the process of locating of the stored information in memory, bringing it into awareness and then making use of it (Sperling, 1960). When learning material or other information is presented, encoding starts to work. The result of encoding is that certain percentage of the information is stored in the memory system. This is when storing takes place. Then, retrieval happens when the stored information is needed which usually involves recovering or extracting.

According to memory process, in the field of language learning, psycholinguists produce a corresponding process or language learning and using. This process also includes three stages, which are input, central processing and output. Input is when encoding in memory process happens. Central processing is related to storing of information. Output equals to the retrieving of the language. Whether the retrieving can succeed or not is linked to what type that piece memory is, working memory or permanent memory. Information falls into permanent memory, or long-term memory, can mostly be recalled successfully. That in working memory, which is often referred to as short-term memory, however, can be retrieved only within a short period of time. The reason behind it is that the capacity of short-term memory is rather small, with a size of approximately five to nine units of information, which differs from one individual to another. Hence, if short-term memory happens during vocabulary learning, students, without any recycling, would not be able to retrieve the words after certain period of time.

2.3 Studies on L2 word knowledge framework

Studies on L2 word knowledge mainly follow three approaches: The first approach is to construct descriptive criteria to answer what knowing a word entails. The second approach is the receptive-productive dimension, which is used as a bridging dimension between lexical competence and performance. The third is to distinguish the word knowledge into breadth and depth. In this paper, only depth of vocabulary knowledge will be discussed in details later.

Dale (1965) proposed four levels of knowing a word: (1) never saw it before, (2) has heard it but doesn't know what it means, (3) recognizes it in context and knows generally what it has to do with, and (4) knows it well. While Stahl (1985; 1986) proposed three levels of word knowledge: association, comprehension, and generation. Knowledge of a word at the association level means that when presented with a word, students can make accurate associations even though they might not understand the meaning of the word. Knowledge of a word at the comprehension level means that students understand the commonly accepted meaning of the word. Knowledge of a word at the generation level means that students can provide the target word in a novel context.

Among these theories,the classification of word knowledge type by Richards (1976) and Nation (2001) are most influential and set standards for the following researches. Richards' proposed eight assumptions, which have been adopted by his followers as a framework for describing vocabulary knowledge. On the basis of Richards' contribution, Nation (2001) provided us a workable and systematic framework of word knowledge types, which grouped word knowledge into three dimensions: Form, Meaning and Use.

Also needed to be introduced is depth of vocabulary knowledge. The distinction of breadth and depth of vocabulary knowledge has been frequently used in the recent literature on L2 vocabulary testing. Anderson and Freebody (1981) gave the definition of these two aspects of vocabulary knowledge. 'Breadth' of vocabulary knowledge refers to the number of words which the person knows at least some of the significant aspects of meaning. While the 'depth' is the quality of understanding, distinguished when a person has a sufficiently deep understanding of a word.

Therefore depth of vocabulary knowledge has been used to refer to the quality of lexical knowledge, or how well the learner knows a word (Meara, 1996; Read, 1998, 2000). Researchers have noted the complexity and multidimensionality of word knowledge and have suggested that knowing a word well should mean more than knowing its individual meanings in particular contexts. Various kinds of knowledge are associated with a word that a learner must know, ranging from knowledge related to its pronunciation, spelling, register, stylistic, and morphological features (Haastrup & Henriksen, 2000; Meara, 1996; Nation, 1990; Richards, 1976) to knowledge of the word's syntactic and semantic relationships with other words in the language, including collocational meanings and knowledge of antonym, synonymy, and hyponymy (Chapelle, 1994; Henriksen, 1999; Read, 2000). It is acknowledged that there is a great deal more involved in knowing a word in a second language than being able to match it with an L2 synonym or provide an L1 translation equivalent.

Read (1998) classifies three distinct lines of development in the application of depth to L2 vocabulary acquisition:

The difference between having a limited, vague idea of what a word means and having much more elaborated and specific knowledge of its meaning, which he refers to as precision of meaning.

Knowledge of a word which includes not only its semantic features but also its orthographic, phonological, morphological, syntactic, collocational and pragmatic characteristics: comprehensive word knowledge.

The incorporation of the word into a lexical network in the mental lexicon, together with the ability to link it to - and distinguish it from - related words, which we can call network knowledge.

We may find out that the three approaches overlap to a considerable extent. But actually each one has been the basis for various authors' accounts of what depth of vocabulary knowledge means.

2.3 Motivation

All the factors---such as age, aptitude, cognitive style, and personality---remain more or less out of the control of the individual learner. But probably the most powerful factor in determining a learner's ultimate language achievement, one which is much more under a learner's control, is motivation.

In the book Foreign and Second Language Learning, William Littlewood (2000) examined some of the factors, which might help to explain why some second language learners are more successful than others. Classification is made among these factors according to whether they relate primarily to the learners' motivation, their opportunities to learning, or their learning abilities. Motivation in need theories is commonly thought of as an inner drive, impulse, emotion, or desire that moves on to a particular action. It has been largely studied by psychologists. Most language teachers and researchers agree that motivation is central for student language learning. (Gardner 1985; Oxford & Shearin, 1994; Williams & Burden 1997) It is considered by many to be one of the key factors that influence the rate and success of a student's second language learning (Dornyei, 1998) They hold the belief that students who are highly motivated are likely to participate more actively in the learning activities, and hence usually learn with better performance. Conversely, lowly motivated students are insufficiently involved and therefore unable to develop their potential skills. Researches show that motivation directly influences how often students use second language strategies, how much input they receive in the language learning how well they do on curriculum-related achievement tests, and how high their general language proficiency becomes. (Oxford & Shearin, 1994) Be it integrative, which refers to the learner's desire to integrate into that language's discourse community, or instrumental, which refers to the learner's desire to learn the new language in order to accomplish some other goal as considering the language only as a tool, the internal drive to learn is always profound to achieve a successful learner, while also in this case, a successful writer. Robert Gardner and Wallace Lambert (1972) found through their research in the Philippines that the level of the learner's instrumental motivation correlated best with their successful in second language learning. Yasmeen Lukamani (1972) found the same when she studied learners of English in India. The result may be the same in China, where English is not so dominant, but only learnt as an international language.

3 ELearning and vocabulary development

This part provides analysis of how eLearning affects way of vocabulary learning and teaching and hence helps or hinders vocabulary development in certain ways. Since eLearning is closely related to computer and internet, the analysis is undertaken in terms of features of computer and internet and some tools and functions they provide.

3.1 Features of computer and internet and the effects

In recent decades, computer and internet have greatly influenced language teaching and learning because of their features. The following part intends to discuss some of the features and their influence of vocabulary learning,

3.1.1 Abundant information

One of the features of computer and internet is that they provide abundant information. This makes it easier for users to find information they want. If a student wants to get information about a word, he or she can refer to internet and get a detailed explanation in both their mother tongue and second language within several clicks. Pictures, pronunciation and the origin of the word are also available. With the help of corpus on the internet, thousands of authentic sentences indicating the usage of the word can also be found which ensure students master the word with its developing (Barlow, M., 1992). What cannot be neglected however is that with a bombard of examples, learners may be confused with the use of the word since misused sentences are also included in corpus.

3.1.2 Interactive

Another feature is a strong sense of interaction computer and internet bring which allows learners to be highly involved in the process of learning instead of passively receiving the knowledge. Without computer and internet, people can use tapes or videos to aid their study but this is usually passive. With computer and internet, on the other hand, their study can become active. Quite a number of websites and software like New Dynamic English have been already designed on an interactive base. Users can choose texts, sound tracks, pictures and video clips freely and even pick up a role form the clips and interact with characters in it. Vocabulary learning becomes also easier with the word games included in the software or websites. Meanwhile, communication with people from other part of the world through chat rooms or chat software like Windows Live Messenger offers learners opportunity of communicate with people from other parts of the world. Through communication they can see how other people use their vocabulary in real life. This is especially helpful for mastering vocabulary in terms of pronunciation and using the words in context. Through communication vocabulary enlargement becomes easier and less monotonous as learners are learning through communication, which concurs with ideas from communicative language approach. What's more, they have access to words not available in books or magazines. For example, "Jihad" is nominated as one of the top 10 popular words in the United States. This is a word from Arabic and it means "holy war" or "to fight for something" which cannot be found in English dictionaries or books but is accessible through internet. With the benefits brings by the feature, however, it needs to be addressed that language used on internet can be different from that used outside internet in terms of spelling. Abbreviations or symbols can be seen commonly to increase the speed of communication or make the conversation more interesting.

3.1.3 Up-to-date

Materials' being updated in time is also one of the characteristics of computer and internet which is a big difference from materials available in libraries or on the market. The materials on internet are always updated frequently within short period of times including newspaper and magazine like The Post and Times. For people outside Britain or the States, the paper versions are usually hard to get or available after quite a few days to English learners. With internet however they have access to the online versions. This ensures knowledge of most up-to-date language, which includes newly-coined words and new meaning and usage attaching to existing ones. For example, the word "in" has been attached with a meaning of "up-to-date or popular" in recent years. This meaning hasn't been included in dictionaries. With the help of internet however, learners can get the new meaning of the word.

3.1.4 Motivating

Computer and internet can also be used to make learning more interesting. A lot of vocabulary learning webpages or websites can be found nowadays. A common feature of them is that they relate words to pictures and sounds. Learners can learn the words by clicking on the picture to get the meaning and the pronunciation of it. Sometimes flashes or video clips designed around several words are available as well. This can be very motivating in term of language learning (Mayer, R. E, 2003). Also being frequently included are different kinds of games. These games are designed according to what learners have just learnt and aim at providing practice of the words or testing on the learning results, whether learners have remembered the vocabulary and are able to use them in sentences or conversations. One good example of this kind of websites is the website named SHOCKWAVE providing games of vocabulary, grammar, etc. (http://www.shockwave.com/online/word-games.jsp) Another example is the British languages (http://www.italki.com/url/229.htm), which provides video clips and interactive activities for language learning. A lot of EFL websites also have the feature of making learning interesting and attractive. Besides websites with motivating design, songs and movies are also approval second language learning sources. They usually not only have a high level of authentic but also are interesting enough to cater the taste of learners. In other words, learners can learn the language as well as enjoying the process.

3.2 Some tools and functions provided by computer and internet and the effects

As a result of the development of technology, computer and internet includes some tools and functions that cannot be found in other places. These tools or functions contribute to making eLearning distinguished from other way of learning. They are part of the reasons for which eLearning has changed second language vocabulary development. This part introduces some of the tools and functions of computer and internet, search engine, corpus and hypertext link. Based on them, analysis is undertaken with another aspect.

3.2.1Search engine

In language learning, it is of great importance for learners to obtain language learning resources or information. Buying or borrowing related books or magazines all the time is not possible and practical. This is both a money-consuming and a time-consuming task. With the internet, however, the problem is solved with ease, thanking to search engines provided by different websites. By using these search engines students can find resources for enlarging their vocabulary with seconds. The material they obtain can have a large variety of forms as well, visual, auditory or both. Using search engines is especially helpful when it comes to finding synonyms or antonyms because quite a few online dictionaries have included the function of automatically listing of the antonyms and synonyms, an example is an online dictionary from China dict.cn (http://dict.cn). Learners can also use search engines to locate a website that provides words having different kinds of lexical relationship with the given words. This can be realized by using search engines as well. Among the searching results I get, one website is especially recommended, Lexical FreeNet (http://www.lexfn.com/). A search engine can be found on this website and it offers seven functions, show related, connection, show reachable, intersection, rhyme coercion, spell check and substring with their functions explained briefly. In show related, generalizes can help learners find the hyponyms of a word while specializes can lead to the subordinates of a word. Using other functions would show other information about the given word. If a learner uses this website to learn a word, he or she thus can get quite a lot of information and link the knowledge he or she has in mind. The benefits of search engines computer and websites provide can thus be clearly seen. On the other hand, though, a problem also comes. Using search engines can always lead to thousands of links for users to choose from. To pick out a proper one from all of them can be time-consuming and tiring. A suggestion is that learners can get help from teachers for a good collection of useful websites. They should also use "favorites" function of different internet browsers to build up their own collections for later use.

3.2.2 Corpus

With the important role it plays in language learning, vocabulary learning is nevertheless seen as one of the most difficult process. A titanic range of words and the problem of forgetting are all contributors to the reaching of this situation. One other reason comes to the collocations of words. The co complexity of collocations in English often leads to learners' confusion while learning and later on to their misusing of words, which would easily result in a situation that they cannot express themselves exactly or even fail to convey their meaning. In case of students who are usually assessed with exams, questions on collocations of words are always among those they lose marks on. It is true that students can learn about the collocations using dictionaries, but this is always boring and time-consuming. With the internet an computer, however, their learning can be more interesting and efficient. This is due to the on-line corpus and well-designed dictionary websites (for example, www.hyperdic.net and http://www.globalwordnet.org/gwa/wordnet_table.htm). The advantage of referring to corpus during vocabulary study is that the definitions of a word are not defined to the dictionaries. Also it is not limited by personal experience and memory. Corpus is a dictionary that always changes with people's use and these changes are endless. There is no final version of this dictionary and the definitions of words are enlarged or minimized along with people's use of them in real life. Individuals can always attach new meanings to the words (Sincclair, 1997).By using corpus, learners are able to gain a relatively all-sided understanding of the vocabulary and this would help them in recalling and using of the words. On the other hand, it needs to be accepted that as sentences in which some words are misused are included in corpus as well, a worry comes as some learners may memorized the wrong information of certain words and this can be hard to correct. Learners with a lower level in language learning tend to have more problems of this kind.

3.2.3 Hypertext Link

Hypertext refers to a text and the links within it that lead to other documents like texts, audio tracks, flashes, etc. Hypertext links are used to realize the changing from one text to other documents. This is probably one of the most common functions of internet-based resources. This is a self-evident advantage of eLearning compared to the traditional way of learning, which confines learners to the books or other materials being used. Trying to refer to other information can always be time-consuming. With the help of computer and internet, learners can expand their study easily. When someone looks up a word using online dictionary, hypertext links are always provides leading to related words or other information of the given word, such as the synonyms or antonyms of the word, collocations of it, origin of it etc. Sometimes related theories or materials for further reading are also accessible if words like task-based, communicative are typed in, especially when online encyclopedias are used.

4 Conclusion

Based on the analysis made above, it can be said that the rapid developing of technology, computer and internet, has brought language learning and vocabulary development. Problems of traditional vocabulary development are partly solved, like difficulty in gaining fairly enough material, lacking of interaction, having no access to authentic language, lacking of interests, etc. ELearning ensures learners with a strong back of the language resources which can be easily accessed and allow them to collect as much as possible the related information about the words they are learning. With different types of resources internet provides, learners' vocabulary developing process is not as monotonous as it used to be. Pictures, auditory and visual aids from internet made vocabulary learning more attractive as well as effective. Games designed for vocabulary learning and reviewing have motivated learners and made them willing to spare time of development their vocabulary since they are learning through playing when they use games provided by different websites. Along with the abundant vocabulary developing resources and interest-arousing ways of studying eLearning brings, the speed of material updating on internet allows learners to keep up with the development of language and changing within the vocabulary. Furthermore, there is always a problem that second language learner cannot apply their vocabulary knowledge into writing or speaking authentically. ELearning provides multimedia aids to learners and thus constructs a relatively authentic context for vocabulary learning. This, to some extent, can increase learners' understanding the meaning and using of the words and hence raises the possibility of learners' using their vocabulary with a fairly acceptable level of authenticity.

As a census of learners and educators, there is no perfect way of either learning or vocabulary developing. ELearning has greatly improved second language vocabulary learning and development. However, on the other hand, there are some problems being brought by ELearning as well. That it provides a large amount of information makes material easier to access has made it hard to choose the most appropriate resources to use from a great number of choices. A worry is that the material may not all be trustworthy. For learners who are at relatively lower levels, the overflow of resources can easily confuse them and lead to a wrong selection of information. This would hinder their learning of vocabulary and the effects can last long if learners' misunderstanding of the words is not corrected in time.

Undeniably, although there are some problems when eLearning is applied to second language vocabulary development, the help learners can get from it overweighs the problems. The helpfulness of eLearning on vocabulary development can be found thought the whole process of learning. In order to benefit more from eLearning in terms of second language vocabulary developing, it is suggested that learners seek for aims from successful learners and teachers. Websites listing learning strategies and skills are also recommended.

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