Learning new vocabulary items from reading versus listening to stories: does the presentation of orthography benefit learning?

Learning new vocabulary items from reading versus listening to stories: does the presentation of orthography benefit learning?

First Author: Sanne van der Kleij -- Aston University
Additional authors/chairs: 
Jessie Ricketts; Laura Shapiro
Keywords: vocabulary learning, Adolescence, Lexical Quality, Orthography, Individual Differences
Abstract / Summary: 

Purpose
Reading fiction is known to be beneficial for vocabulary learning. However, is reading essential, or can the same benefit can be gained from listening (e.g., audiobooks)? According to the Lexical Quality hypothesis, reading provides both the orthography and phonology of the new words, enabling tighter orthographic-phonological links to hang meaning on. In addition, the orthographic skeleton hypothesis suggests that children’s reading skill will moderate the benefit of the reading condition. Specifically, more able readers will be better at forming orthographic representations for stimuli presented in the listening condition, reducing the benefit for the reading condition. In this study, we tested whether individual differences in reading ability and vocabulary predicted learning from reading versus listening.

Method
150 participants aged 12-13 read and listened to stories containing unfamiliar words (e.g., ventured). Participants were tested on their vocabulary knowledge (before and after) and comprehension of the story. Standardised reading and vocabulary measures were also taken, as well as participant’s preference for listening or reading.

Results
Mixed-effects modelling showed significant learning in both conditions, Δχ2(1)=12.55, p<.001, but there was no difference in word learning between the conditions, Δχ2(1)=1.29, p=.26. Children with better previous vocabulary were better at learning than children with lower vocabulary, Δχ2(1)=22.99, p<.001 but reading ability did not moderate vocabulary learning.

Conclusion
For 12-13-year-olds, listening is as effective as reading for vocabulary learning, motivating the use of audiobooks for reluctant readers. Further research is needed to examine the limits of this: is learning less effective for words with less predictable orthography?