Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Vocabulary Demands of Television Programs

Vocabulary Demands of Television Programs
Stuart Webb,  Michael P. H. Rodgers
Article first published online: 8 MAY 2009

"This study investigated vocabulary coverage and the number of encounters of low-frequency vocabulary in television programs. Eighty-eight television programs consisting of 264,384 running words were categorized according to genre. Television shows were classified as either British or American and then put into the following genres: news, drama, situation comedy, older programs, children's programs, and science fiction. The results showed that knowledge of the most frequent 3,000 word families plus proper nouns and marginal words provided 95.45% coverage, and knowledge of the most frequent 7,000 word families plus proper nouns and marginal words provided 98.27% coverage. The vocabulary size necessary to gain 95% coverage of the different genres ranged from 2,000 to 4,000 word families plus proper nouns and marginal words; 5,000 to 9,000 word families plus proper nouns and marginal words to gain 98% coverage. The analysis also indicated that there was great variation in coverage between episodes. The results showed that there were relatively few encounters with low-frequency vocabulary. However, if learners knew the most frequent 3,000 word families and they watched at least an hour of television a day, there is the potential for significant incidental vocabulary learning."

Selecting Television Programs for Language Learning: Investigating Television Programs from the Same Genre

Stuart Webb


"The scripts of 288 television episodes were analysed to determine the extent to which vocabulary reoccurs in television programs from the same subgenres and unrelated television programs from different genres. Episodes from two programs from each of the following three subgenres of the American drama genre: medical, spy/action, and criminal forensic investigation were compared with different sets of random episodes. The results showed that although there were an equivalent number of running words in each set of episodes, the episodes from programs within the same subgenre contained fewer word families than random programs. The findings also showed that low frequency word families (4000-14,000 levels) reoccur more often in programs within the same subgenre. Together the results indicate that watching programs within the same subgenre may be an effective approach to language learning with television because it reduces the lexical demands of viewing and increases the potential for vocabulary learning."

"...Webb and Rodgers (2009a) findings also shed light on differences between television genres. Children’s programs were found to have the smallest vocabulary load; the most frequent 2000 word families, plus proper nouns and marginal words accounted for 95% coverage. The most frequent 3000 word families plus proper nouns and marginal words accounted for 95% of American drama, older programs, situation comedies and British programs. The genres with the greatest proportions of low frequency words were news stories and science fiction programs. Results also indicated that coverage is likely to vary between episodes of programs leading Webb and Rodgers to suggest that randomly viewing programs may limit comprehension...

The findings indicate that it may be more effective to watch different episodes of the same television program rather than episodes of different programs because the vocabulary load is likely to be lower when watching episodes of the same program."

...Research on incidental vocabulary learning from reading indicates that from six (Rott, 1999) to 20 encounters (Waring & Takaki, 2003) may be needed to learn words with the amount of knowledge gained dependent on the contexts in which the words are encountered (Webb, 2008). In corpus-driven studies, Nation and Wang (1999) used 10 or more encounters with unknown words as the number of encounters necessary for incidental vocabulary learning through reading, Cobb (2007) used six encounters, and Horst (2009) used 10 or more encounters for learning through listening. Because the number of encounters necessary for learning can vary from word to word (Webb, 2008), it is useful to look at different numbers of encounters with words. One or two encounters is likely to lead to gains in knowledge of form but minimal gains in knowledge of meaning, five to nine encounters may lead to partial knowledge of a number of aspects of knowledge, and 10 or more encounters with words may Indicate a good chance of learning the meanings of words and other aspects of knowledge...

Research investigating incidental vocabulary learning through watching television indicates that both L1 viewers (Oetting, Rice, & Swank, 1995; Rice & Woodsmall, 1988) and L2 viewers (d'Ydewalle & Pavakanun, 1995; d’Ydewalle & Van de Poel, 1999; Koolstra & Beentjes, 1999; Neuman & Koskinen, 1992; Pavakanun & d’Ydewalle, 1992) do incidentally learn words through watching television. Although there has not been any research examining the number of encounters necessary to learn words incidentally through extensive viewing, it is likely that learning words through watching television is similar to learning words through reading...However, with television it may also be a function of the clarity of the discourse, the speed of the discourse, and the amount of semantic overlap between the imagery and the vocabulary.


The present study provides some direction on how television might be effectively used. Watching L2 television programs is likely to be difficult at first. Initially the speed of the dialogue, the unfamiliar spoken forms of words that have only been encountered previously in text and the amount of spoken input may be overwhelming. If comprehension is challenging, it may be more effective to watch television programs with related content and storylines than programs with unrelated content. Watching similar programs is likely to reduce the lexical burden and may also increase background knowledge which may aid comprehension when viewing subsequent episodes with similar content. The primary aim when teaching with L2 television programs should be to support comprehension because if viewers can understand L2 television programs they are more likely to watch them regularly. The findings in this study suggest that regular viewing of related programs may lead to large incidental vocabulary learning."

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