The Effects of Type, Quantity, and Quality of Context on Adult Vocabulary Learning and Long-term Retention

The Effects of Type, Quantity, and Quality of Context on Adult Vocabulary Learning and Long-term Retention

First Author: Dr. Michal Balass -- Towson University
Keywords: Word Learning, Semantic Processing, Training study, Vocabulary
Abstract / Summary: 

Most vocabulary words learned by adults in their native language are abstract, complex, and difficult to learn (Nagy & Townsend, 2012). Despite this, very little is known about the mechanisms in which adults learn new vocabulary, and the methods of instruction that facilitate long-term retention. In two studies, we examine how varying the type, quantity, and quality of the context in which a learner encounters a new word affects meaning acquisition and long-term retention. Native English speakers were trained on a set of rare English words in which the type of context (definition or sentence), quantity of context (repeated contextual information or varied contextual information), and quality (highly constraining or weakly constraining sentences) were manipulated. Following training, participants were tested immediately, and again one week later. Our results indicated that learners generated and retrained more accurate meanings for words learned with definitions than for words learned with sentences. However, the advantage for definitions was diminished for contextual-based decisions when the learner had to decide if the word was used properly in a novel context. Further, learners generated and retained more accurate meanings for words learned with varied contextual information that was highly constraining than with repeated information that was weakly constraining. We interpret these results within an instance-based framework (i.e., Reichle & Perfetti, 2003; Kwantes, 2005) which argues that encoded features of a word that are repeated during learning are abstracted to construct a word’s semantic representation from context, and thus, the type, quality, and quantity of these features influences meaning acquisition and long-term retention.