Incidental Vocabulary Acquisition through Reading : A Literature Review Examining Vocabulary Acquisition, Reading Comprehension and their Connection
Abstract: In order to learn a language, it is important to develop a vocabulary because it facilitates the language skills: reading, listening, writing and speaking. According to the Swedish curriculum, students must be able to develop these skills in English. However, the national tests show that students have poor results in reading and reading comprehension in English. Therefore, as future teachers of languages in Sweden, we chose to investigate how students can develop and strengthen their vocabulary through reading. Our research questions are: What cognitive processes and strategies are used when learning vocabulary? What does research say about incidental vocabulary learning through reading? What relationship does vocabulary have with reading comprehension? We have answered our questions by synthesizing and analyzing empirical studies which have been divided into two categories: cognitive processes and strategies, and vocabulary acquisition through reading. The findings show that, when encountering new vocabulary, learners use memory, determination, social and metacognitive strategies. Learning vocabulary happens both incidentally and intentionally and during this procedure words go through cognitive processes that determine where in our knowledge system they belong but this procedure can be affected by both internal and external factors. Results show that learners find reading and reading while listening to be a good method of learning vocabulary and these approaches also show good results in incidental vocabulary acquisition. Learners acquire new vocabulary incidentally through reading but the number of words they learn varies greatly. Learner’s prior vocabulary knowledge and the level of the target text is important for the outcome of new vocabulary acquisition. If the learner does not have an adequate prior vocabulary, associations and connections cannot be made and coherence not completed. In summary, the relationship between incidental vocabulary acquisition and reading comprehension is mutually beneficial. Reading provides context during a learner’s integration process and this leads to comprehension and vocabulary growth. There is a reciprocal relationship between comprehension and vocabulary growth, where both build on one another. However, since all the empirical studies did not take the same factors into consideration, the results have varied. In other words, external and internal factors can have a major impact on incidental vocabulary acquisition through reading. We suggest further research to investigate these factors in order to get a clearer picture of how we as teachers can improve strategies and instructions for vocabulary acquisition through reading.
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