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An investigation of incidental vocabulary acquisition in relation to learner proficiency level and word frequency

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2003
Tekmen, Elisabeth Anne Ferrell
Research into vocabulary acquisition in recent years has found that incidental learning represents an important component of acquiring a second language lexicon. However, it is not yet clear how learner proficiency level or frequency of a word in a text affect incidental acquisition. This study examines the relationship between learners' acquisition of vocabulary through reading and their level of proficiency, and between acquisition and the frequency of words in a text. The subject group was comprised of 99 students from the Bilkent University School of English Language (BUSEL), one-third of which were at the intermediate level, one-third at the upper- intermediate level, and one-third at the pre-faculty (advanced) level. Four vocabulary tests and one reading text were administered to the students over a two- week period. The first test measured the students' overall vocabulary inlevel, the second served as a pre-test, the third test, administered after the reading, served as a post-test, and the final post-test measured students' ability to retain the vocabulary over a week's time. An analysis of the data revealed that students' lexical gains from reading the text were significant for each of the three groups (p <.05) and that the groups with a higher level of overall English proficiency were able to acquire more words than lower level groups. Frequency was also found to be a significant factor in students' acquisition (p <.05), with 29% of the Variance in acquisition being accounted for by frequency of occurrence of a word for all three groups combined. However, frequency did not play a greater role in the vocabulary acquisition of lower-level learners than in that of higher-level learners. This may be due to the fact that some intermediate-level participants had only the minimum vocabulary level necessary to comprehend the text.