Vocabulary depth and reading comprehension: Activation and association of one versus multiple lexical entries

Vocabulary depth and reading comprehension: Activation and association of one versus multiple lexical entries

First Author: Carsten Elbro -- University of Copenhagen
Additional authors/chairs: 
Vibeke S. Asmussen
Abstract / Summary: 

Purpose. A reader needs knowledge of the meaning of the words of a text to understand it. Superficial knowledge, as measured in standard tests of receptive vocabulary may not suffice. However, it is not clear what kinds of deeper vocabulary knowledge are required. The present study was concerned with the possibility that richness of lexical semantic associations is a key component of vocabulary ‘depth’. Consequently, the study investigated the importance of vocabulary measures that require activation and comparison of single vs. multiple semantic entries.

Method. Reading comprehension and several types of vocabulary knowledge were assessed in 119 adults attending reading courses. The vocabulary measures comprised (1) word-picture selection (one lexical entry), (2) synonym selection (two lexical entries), and (3) a semantic selection task with sets of four words, out of which three were associated and the fourth, odd one, was to be identified (e.g. hat, coat, dress, _chair_). Measures of both accuracy and latency were taken. These oral vocabulary measures were used to predict advanced reading comprehension while controlling for word decoding and verbal working memory.

Results. Vocabulary measures with both single and multiple lexical entries were found to contribute unique variance to reading comprehension. This was found in analyses of both accuracy and efficiency of reading comprehension (total R² of .73 for efficiency).

Conclusions. The richness of lexical semantic associations appears to be one aspect of ‘deep’ vocabulary knowledge that is relevant for reading comprehension. This finding may inform further experimental studies and practice.