Secondary Language Vocabulary Acquisition English Language Essay

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It is obvious that vocabulary acquisition is the crucial part of the acquisition of a second language. However, it seems that most L2 learners find vocabulary the most challenging part in studying the language. According to researchers, except for a certain number of basic words, learners acquire many new words incidentally while they are engaged to other language tasks. Incidental vocabulary acquisition is considered one of the important issues for L2 acquisition. Many researchers have studied in order to build a thourough literature about the issue. In 2001, Laufer and Hulstijin introduced their own model concerning incidental vocabulary acquistion, the Inolvement Load Hypothesis. This essays aims at provide a brief overview on incidental vocabulary acquisition, its theoretical background and empirical supports. The second part of the essay discuss about Task-induced Involvement Load and the Involvement Load Hypothesis, as proposed by Laufer and Hulstijin (2001) and its potential effectiveness on incidental vocabulary acquisition. Finally the essay introduce research questions which are potential for an emperical research and expected solutions are given.

Literature review

Incidental vocabulary acquisition has its root in "incidental learning", which is a popular view on second language learning. The term "incidental" is used as opposite to "intentional" learning. Generally, intentional learning refers to learning which requires an effort of memorizing words and grammar rules; meanwhile, incidental learning involves the acquisition of language knowledge while learners are engaging in other activities. In term of L2 learning theory, it seems that incidental learning "not firmly rooted in a particular theory" (Hulstijin, 2003). According to Schmidt (1994a), there are several ways to characterize the meaning of incidental learning. First, it can be negatively defined as learning "without the intent to learn". Besides, incidental learning can also be understood as the act of learning happens though it is not the learner's main objective; or to be more specific, incidental learning is "learning of one thing when the learner's primary objective is to do something else". Another meaning for incidental learning suggested by Wode (1999) is that language learning can be the "by-product" of language used by others (i.e. teachers and other students) in the classroom environment, in other words, the certain language issue is not the "focus of attention". In all, all the above definitions of incidental learning claims that it is the secondary type of learning in which what is learnt is not intended in the cognitive activity.

In incidental learning research field, most researchers use the term with regards to incidental vocabulary learning, especially through extensive reading activities. It is reasonable as it seems that most people, in the process of both L1 and L2 learning, gain their pool of vocabulary through reading. In this activity of reading, readers focus on the meaning and the context of the text rather than trying to understand and memorize forms and meanings of every word. In L2 learning, incidental vocabulary learning is also more effective than the direct strategies, not only because it includes two activities at the same time (vocabulary learning and another communicative activities), but also because the new words are often put in a certain context, which provides learner with a "richer sense of a word's use and meaning" (Huckin, Coady).

Incidental vocabulary acquisition can be framed within the cognitive approach. In the psychological literature, it is believed that cognitive processing plays an important role in lexical acquisition as it depends on how deep the information is processed and which type of processing involve. According to Craik and Lockhart (1972)'s depth of processing hypothesis, learners remember the word in a longer period if it is processed at a deeper level. For instance, a word meaning which is introduced with an illustrated picture might stays in learner's memory longer than a word with just meaning introduced. In the former case, the participation of visual factor leads to a deeper level of processing. Another cognitive factor that affects incidental acquisition of vocabulary is elaboration, which means if the new word is closely related to other acquired word, the chance of acquisition is higher as the relation strengthens memory traces. To conclude, the depth of processing hypothesis claims "mental activities which require elaborate thought, manipulation or processing of new word will help the learning of that word" (Craik and Tulving, 1975).

Another theory that concerns incidental vocabulary acquisition is Input Hypothesis. In his theory, Krashen proposed that vocabulary is acquired through the exposure to comprehensible input, in other words, comprehension naturally leads to incidental acquisition. Thus, the more interaction with the input learners have, the more vocabulary they acquire. Input hypothesis also mentions the factor of learner's attention in incidental vocabulary acquisition. It is supposed that learners' attention should be focused on meaning in order to make incidental acquisition happen. Furthermore, it is also claimed that learner should focus not only on meaning but also on meaning; Ellis (1994) proposed that a form-meaning connection is necessary in vocabulary learning context. It may lead to confusion and misunderstanding when the notion of incidental acquisition is related to attention as many people may refer the term incidental with something done unknown and unrecognized. However, incidental acquisition does not mean learner acquire the knowledge without any kind of awareness about what they are doing. In fact, they have to notice the information and understand it in order to acquire it. What lacks here is intention, as explained above, rather than attention. In short, it needs to be clear that noticing and attention may be "a practical (though not theoretical) necessity for successful language learning" (Schmidt 2000), thus, crucial to the process of incidental acquisition.

In terms of empirical studies, a large number of researches have been conducted concerning incidental vocabulary acquisition. One of the most widely accepted argument is that vocabulary is mainly acquired incidentally through extensive reading, which is proved in many researches (e.g. Dupuy & Krashen, 1993; Manson & Krashen, 1997; Wode, 1999, etc. ). One of the typical research is that by Cho and Krashen (1994). In this study, L2 learners acquires a significant amount of vocabulary without attending any L2 classes but through novels as the main source. Moreover, this acquisition of vocabulary subsequently leads to the overall progress in L2 learning. Besides, incidental vocabulary acquisition also happen through extensive listening. It is believed that listening to story is effective for L1 vocabulary learning in children. However, it seems that empirical support for incidental vocabulary acquisition in listening mainly concern L1 learning, while there is a limitation in case of L2 learning or there are only indirect evidences. For example, some researchers state that reading aloud in class may be beneficial as students may incidentally learn the words that they are read to (Nation, 2001). Nevertheless, there are more evidences on another form of incidental vocabulary acquisition in listening, that is combining reading and listening, which is called reading-while-listening. An interesting evidence is given in Van de Poel and d'Ydewalle (2001)'s research on children acquire foreign language by watching subtitled TV programs, which means they read the subtitle and listen to the voice at the same time. In terms of factors that affect the process of incidental vocabulary learning, there is a variety of studies, e.g. researches on the use of dictionary (Knight, 1994), glossing (Hulstijin, 1992), reoccurrence of words (Hulstijin, Hollander and Greidanus, 1996), involvement load, i.e. Need, Search and Evaluation (Laufer and Hulstijin, 2001). All the above researches have provided potential contribution to L2 learning in general and L2 incidental vocabulary acquisition in specific.

In short, it is undeniable that incidental vocabulary acquisition is the indispensible means for L2 learners to build their vocabulary knowledge. Therefore, this potential issue of SLA has to be methodically investigated both in literature and practical field.

Involvement Load Hypothesis and Task-induced Involvement load

The construct of Task induced involvement load and its model, Involvement load hypothesis were introduced by Laufer and hulstijin in 2001. In the hypothesis, they state that along with extensive reading, vocabulary tasks which focuses on form is also very beneficial for incidental vocabulary learning as those tasks help learners process new words at a deeper level. Developed on the basic of Depth of Processing model, the Hypothesis aims at "translate and operationalize" the notions of level of processing and elaboration with regards to vocabulary learning tasks. Moreover, the Involvement Load Hypothesis also includes motivational, a non-cognitive factor. In short, Task Induced involvement load is a motivational cognitive construct that was complied by three components: need (motivational factor), search and evaluation (cognitive factor). Therefore, a task's involvement load can be defined as "the combination of the presence or absence of the involvement factors Need, Search and Evaluation." (Laufer and Hulstijin) Task-induced involvement load refers to the involvement load that is designed in a task so that it is " (almost) identical for all the words targeted for teaching or research". It is hypothesized that the three component of involvement load: Need, Search and Evaluation affect on the retention of words that are learnt incidentally, besides, higher involvement load will lead to better result of word retention and therefore, task which is designed with higher involvement load is more effective than that with lower involvement load. In order to get an insight to these above hypotheses, the three terms Need, Search and Evaluation need to be clearly comprehended.

As mentioned above, need is the only non-cognitive component of the involvement load. In general meaning, need can be understand as the motivation to commit a certain task. Besides the ability to learn, the motivation to learn is also very important because it may affect the effectiveness of processing information. In reality, if learners find themselves a force to achieve a certain goal or the urge to acquire certain knowledge, the result, to some extent is better than those who see no meaning in study. Learner's motivation is built on each person's interest and concern, therefore, it may be affected by the study environment as well as the social environment Similarly, learning a new language also requires learners a good and effective motivation. Therefore, Laufer and Hulstijin included need as an indispensible factor in their involvement load construct.

In L2 literature, one of the most significant theories on motivation is that by Gardner and Lambert (1972). In the study, they divided motivation into two type, instrumental motivation - learner's need to study the language for their own practical benefit, for example passing the exam or getting a good job, and integrative motivation - learner's desire to study the language in order to integrate into the native environment. In other words, learner's attitude to the language and its cultural and social aspects are very important in achieving that language. Another theory introduced by Gardner (1985) is the construct of language learning motivation that consists of three core components: affect, want and effort. Affect conveys the learner's attitude towards L2 learning, want is the desire to learn, while effort expresses the level of intensity of motivation. Thus, the motivation and strive to study the language are constructed by "desire" and "the satisfaction experience in this activity". However, it is questioned that Gardner's theory cannot indicate the effect of motivation on L2 learning process, to be more specific, the processing of information. In an attempt to specify a link between motivation and information process, Crooks and Schmidt (1991) introduce another model that claims motivation is also supported by the amount of attention paid on input. Although motivation is a quite familiar term in L2 research, need is not frequently mentioned. This term appeared in a motivation theory by Dornyei (2001), in which need for achievement is one of the factors that influence motivation. In this theory, motivation is said to be comprised of three different levels: Language Level, Learning Level and Learning Situation Level. At Language Level, motivation helps learner to set the learning goal; meanwhile at Learner Level, the individual factors of self-confidence and need for achievement are the key effects on motivation. Finally, at Learning Situation Level, course specific, teacher specific and group specific are the motives that influence motivation. It is notable that the course specific components are Interest, Relevance, Expectancy and Satisfaction, which all refer to instrumental needs (Keller, 1983). According to Keller, the instrumental needs are satisfied as learners find in the course what they need to learn. From all above studies, it is observable that motivation, or need in specific, is the beneficial factor of the L2 learning process.

In the construct of involvement load, need is divided into two different level, i.e. moderate and strong, based on the degrees of drive that learners have. According to the researchers, the term need here is understand in its positive meaning, which is the need to achieve success. However, although positive drive is proved to be more beneficial, it is questionable that negative need, such as the fear of failure, the embarrassment of making mistakes are also effective in producing drives to learn. The component need in the construct is narrowly defined as the "drive to comply with the task requirements". Besides, in order to conclude whether the level of need is moderate or strong, the cause of learner's drive should be clear. Laufer and Hulsijin claim that moderate need appears when "it is imposed by external agent" and strong need emerges as it is created by the learners themselves. For example, there is a writing task, in which they are asked to write a paragraph on a certain topic, using a list of words given. So as to finish this task, learners need to understand the meanings of the given words, then need is moderate as it is what the task required instead of what learners really desire to know. On the contrary, with the same task, if learners are not required to use the given words, need becomes strong, as there is a high possibility that they want to express some ideas without knowing the words they have to use. In this case, drive to learn new words is internal.

The other two components of Involvement Load, search and evaluation belong to cognitive concepts. Searching and evaluating means that learners have to process the information, or in other words, they need to build the form-meaning connection of the given words. Search and evaluation play important role in vocabulary acquisition, as in order to understand word meaning, learners have to experience a cognitive process, notice and pay attention to the form-meaning connection (Ellis, N. 1994).

Search in the construct of Involvement Load describe learner's attempt to find meaning of the unknown L2 words or to find a suitable L2 word to express L1 meaning. It can be carried out by looking up the word in dictionary or ask for others' help (e.g.: teacher, partner, etc.). Search appears in a task when learners have to seek for word meaning to complete the task and there is no search in the task if there is no need to find word meaning. This can be exemplified by the above example of writing task that requires learners to write a paragraph using given words. Search is absent if those words come with marginal gloss and appears when there is no provided meaning and learners have to look them up in order to complete the task.

Evaluation refers to the comparison of one word with other words and this happens in several different cases. First, there is evaluation when learner has to compare a given word with other words to decide which word best fits in the certain context. For example, when learners are asked to write a paragraph using a list of given words, they need to compare one word with others to decide in what situation or for what idea that they should use that word. Similarly, this kind of evaluation also happens in a fill-in-the-blank task, when a decision should be made based on comparing different words referring to the context. Another type of evaluation is to differentiate a meaning of a word with its other meanings. Normally a word is provided with several different meanings in the dictionary (homonym), therefore, learner has to refer each meaning to the context and choose the most appropriate one that best meaningful in the text. Beside, as doing a writing task, learners can look up word in thesaurus dictionary, then a list of synonyms are given for one L1 word; thus, they has to decide which sense is suitable to express their idea. Evaluation is also divided into two level, moderate and strong. In the two of the above cases, evaluation is moderate. Evaluation is considered strong when learners have to decide how to combine the new word with additional words in "an original sentence or text."

To conclude, need, search and evaluation are three core components of involvement load. Each component can be absent or present at different degree in either natural or designed task. Besides, each component can operate individually or can work together in several different ways. Thus, in order to make out the involvement load of a task, the total contribution of the components needs to be considered. For example, a listening task requires learners to do answer comprehension questions after listening to a passage. The target words, which are relevant to the questions, are given in the marginal gloss with L1 meaning. Therefore, the involvement load of this task include moderate need (emerged from the task's requirement), no search (L1 meaning is provided) and no evaluation (no context for words comparison). Another task with that same listening passage which requires student to do fill in the blank exercise using the target words without L1 meaning will induce a different involvement load. In this task, search is present as L1 meaning is not given, need is moderate like the first task, and evaluation is moderate as learner have to compare between words to find the best suitable answer for each blank. In total, task 2 (search, moderate need, moderate evaluation) induced higher involvement load than task 1 (no search, moderate need, no evaluation).

Task-induced involvement load is proved to be effective in both indirect and direct empirical researches. The effects of each component Need, Search and Evaluation are supported by several studies. Need and search appear to be effective in vocabulary acquisition. Using dictionary means that learner has the need to learn the word and that they have an attempt to find the meaning. Therefore, need and search are proved to be effective regarding to Cho and Krashen (1994)'s research, in which they claim that retention of new words is better when those words are looked up in dictionary than when they are ignored. Another research contributes to this conclusion is that of Newton (1995). This study concerns of negotiation, which appears only when learners feel a strong need to understand word meaning and negotiate to find out that meaning. The result of this study is that new words negotiated in communicative tasks are learned better than words that are not negotiated.

A number of studies on reading tasks and communicative tasks can also be considered supports for the role of evaluation. As explained in previous part, evaluation appears when there is a comparison between words. Moderate evaluation is more effective than no evaluation as retention of new words is better when their meanings are chosen in a text from several synonyms in comparison to when meaning is explained with one synonym (Hulstijin, 1992). Besides, using words to compose text also leads to better vocabulary learning than just reading for comprehension (Laufer, 2003). In term of communicative task, interactionally modified output, which contains strong evaluation, is proved to be more effective than modified input, which only emerges moderate evaluation. (Ellis & He, 1999).

In all, all the above studies suggest that the higher the level of need, search and evaluation involve in task, the better the result of vocabulary learning.

Involvement Load Hypothesis is tested directly through a number of researches. As proposing the Hypothesis, Laufer and Hulstijin carried out two parallel experiments among two English learners groups with different L1 languages, Dutch and Hebrew. In both two experiments, students were chosen randomly to assign one of three tasks which have different level of involvement load. In all three tasks, meaning of the target words were provided; therefore, search was absent. The first task was reading comprehension with marginal glosses, in which 10 target words were highlighted in both the text and given in the glosses, then students had to answer multiple choice questions. In this task, need was moderate as it came from the drive to finish the task, while both search and evaluation were absent as the target words were listed and given in the gloss. The second task used the same reading text and comprehension questions with the first 1, however, instead of being in the gloss, target words were omitted from the text and students had to fill in the blank using a list of 15 words given. This task had a higher involvement load than task 1 as evaluation was moderate. Students had to refer to the text and compare the provided words to find the best suitable answer. In task 3, students were asked to use target words to write a letter (original composition); therefore, this task had the highest involvement load with strong evaluation. Students in both two experiments were not instructed to learn the target words. Results of word retention were measured immediately after the treatment, as well as in a delayed posttest one or two weeks later. In Hebrew group experiment, task 2 appeared to be more effective than task 1; meanwhile, the results revealed that task 3 is more effective than task 1 and task 2 in both two experiments. This results lead to the conclusion that the three factors Need, Search and Evaluation does affect the retention of words that learnt incidentally; however, it is still not very clear whether task with higher Involvement Load appears to be superior than that with lower Involvement Load, as in Dutch - English experiment, this hypothesis is only partly supported.

Besides those experiments of Laufer and Hulstijin, some other researchers have tried to test the effectiveness of task-induced involvement load. Among them, there is negative evidence on the Involvement Load Hypothesis, proposed by Fernandez. In the study, the researcher claimed that although task with higher involvement load induced learner's awareness but it did not result in better vocabulary acquisition. However, there are also many positive support for the task induced involvement model. Keating pointed out three limitations in Laufer and Hulstijin's empirical research that the population of their tests are only advanced learner, the research only tested learner's passive knowledge of words and finally, time on task might have been a contribution to the superior result of task 3 (this task was given the longest time to finish). Consequently, Keating carried out another empirical research in order to solve these three problems and the results revealed that learners at a lower level also benefits from the task-induced involvement in vocabulary learning, besides task-induced involvement is also effective for both passive and active knowledge of words, and time should be taken into consideration when measuring the effectiveness of tasks. Another test aims at students with different proficiency is that of Kim, which also provides a support for this model.

Hypotheses, Research questions and expectations

In the task induced involvement, the overall load is contributed by the absence or presence of the three components. However, it is hypothesized that tasks with equal load but with different contribution of each component are equal in effectiveness. For example, whether a task with the presence of need and evaluation and absence of search is as effective as a task with the presence of need and search and the absence of evaluation. As described in the previous part, in all three tasks used in Laufer and Hulstijin's experiments, search is absent and they also suggested that the impact of search might be lower than that of need and evaluation. Therefore, the relative impact of three components Need, Search, and Evaluation should be investigated.

Besides, experiments that test the model of involvement load, as well as researches on incidental vocabulary mostly concern writing and reading task. In fact, besides reading and writing, learners also enrich their vocabulary through listening, and in most case, these vocabulary is learnt incidentally. Therefore, it is suggested that listening task also should be taken into consideration, whether listening task with higher involvement load results in better word retention in incidental learning.

From the above hypotheses, an empirical research needs to be conducted in order to investigate the effects of tasks that induce involvement load, as well as the differences among the effectiveness of each task factors in incidental vocabulary acquisition. The research questions are:

Do listening tasks with higher involvement load result in better incidental vocabulary acquisition than that with lower involvement load?

What is the relative impact of need, search, and evaluation in tasks with involvement load?

Task 1: listening task with target words given in the marginal glosses. These target words only appear both in listening passage and in the following fill in the blank exercise. Therefore, students need to understand the word meanings in order to finish the task. In this task, there is no search as new words are given in the gloss, evaluation and need are moderate.

Task 2: After listening to the passage, students are asked to fill in the blank using the list of target words. Those target words are not given L1 meaning. In this task, search is present as word meaning are not provided, evaluation and need are moderate.

Task 3: After listening to the passage, students are asked to finish the fill in the blank task as well as compose a short paragraph using the target word. The list of target words also provided for fill in the blank exercise but without L1 meaning. In this task, search is presence, need is moderate and evaluation is strong.

It is expected that Task 3 will appear superior to the other two, while task 1 and task 2 may not result in different level of word retention. This result may reveal that among the three components, search is not as important as need and evaluation and task with higher involvement load results in better retention of incidentally learnt words than task with lower involvement load. The above tasks are only briefly scripted due to the limitation of this essay. It is also questioned whether need is more or less effective than evaluation, it is expected that other tasks can be designed to answer this question.


In the nutshell, the essay has covered two main purposes. Firstly, the mini literature review of incidental vocabulary acquisition and Involvement Load Hypothesis. In this part, a brief overview of incidental learning in general and incidental vocabulary acquisition in specific have been introduced with both theoretical and empirical background. Besides, the model of Involvement Load Hypothesis and Task-induced Involvement are described in detail. It can be concluded that incidental vocabulary acquisition is a potential issue that need further investigation for the sake of L2 learning. In addition, Involvement Load Hypothesis is an effective tool for vocabulary learning. From the above conclusions, research questions which can be solved in an experimental study are proposed together with expected answer for each questions. An empirical research is going to be conducted in the near future to test the effectiveness involvement load hypothesis in L2 listening tasks, and to measure the relative effectiveness of the three components Need Search and Evaluation.