Sunday, November 25, 2012

At what rate do learners learn and retain new vocabulary

At what rate do learners learn and retain new vocabularyfrom reading a graded reader?

Rob Waring, Misako Takaki


"This study examined the rate at which vocabulary was learned from reading the 400 headword graded reader A Little Princess. To ascertain whether words of different frequency of occurrence rates were more likely to be learned and retained or forgotten, 25 words within five bands of differing frequency of occurrence (15 to 18 times to those appearing only once) were selected. The spelling of each word was changed to ensure that each test item was unknown to the 15 intermediate level (or above) female Japanese subjects. Three tests (word-form recognition, prompted meaning recognition and unprompted meaning recognition) were administered immediately after reading, after one week and after a three month delay. The results show that words can be learned incidentally but that most of the words were not learned. More frequent words were more likely to be learned and were more resistant to decay. The data suggest that, on average, the meaning of only one of the 25 items will be remembered after three months, and the meaning of none of the items that were met fewer than eight times will be remembered three months later. The data thus suggest that very little new vocabulary is retained from reading one graded reader, and that a massive amount of graded reading is needed to build new vocabulary. It is suggested that the benefits of reading a graded reader should not only be assessed by researching vocabulary gains and retention, but by looking at how graded readers help develop and enrich already known vocabulary."

keywords: guessing vocabulary from context, vocabulary acquisition, graded readers, occurrence rate, vocabulary decay, vocabulary attrition, extensive reading
"The results of this study point to several things. Firstly, the data support the notion that words can be learned incidentally from context. However, these data suggest that few new words appear to be learned from this type of reading, and half of those that are learned are soon lost. Secondly, the test type affects the gain scores that are shown from the reading. Therefore, researchers should be particularly cautious about selecting multiple-choice tests to validate the learning of vocabulary. Thirdly, previous research that used a multiple-choice test format rather than a translation test most probably has overstated learning gains. Fourthly, those studies that did not have vocabulary retention data almost certainly will have overstated natural learning too. Thus, the results here suggest that studies that had both these elements in their design, appear to have substantially overstated their natural vocabulary gains. This should be borne in mind when interpreting their results.
However, we have to be cautious when saying that very little vocabulary can be learned from the reading. This study only looked at the learning of new words from the reading. This study did not attempt to study a myriad of other forms of word knowledge which include lexical access speed gains; the noticing of collocations, colligations or patterns within text; the recognition of new word forms yet to be learned; an increase in the ability to guess from context; a confirmation that a previously guessed word's meaning is probably correct; recognition of new word associations; the raising of the ability to recognize discourse and text structure; an increase in the ability to 'chunk' text; the development of saccadic eye movements and so on, and so on. The jury is still out on these. Research into what effect reading in a foreign language has on these elements of the reading puzzle is welcomed. However, it is our contention that ultimately learners do not learn a lot of new words from graded reading, but in fact graded reading helps to deepen and consolidate already known language. The data presented here should not be interpreted as a case against the need for graded reading.
Also it must not be forgotten that the data have been gathered from the reading of only one graded reader. Clearly, graded readers are not supposed to be used as a one-off learning experience with the vague hope that some new words or language will be learned. Unfortunately, all too often this is the case as graded readers are subjected to the 'supplementary' shelf of the teacher's armory. This research points ever more clearly to the need for repeated and consistent exposure to graded readers if words are going to be acquired and especially if the aim is to learn new words.

While this study has given us a few more insights into what kinds of vocabulary are learned from reading, and the rate at which words need to be met in order to learn them, there are still several unanswered questions. Firstly, we are still not clear whether increasing the number of occurrences of target items will lead to higher acquisition rates. If the subjects had met the target items say 25 or 30 times we can presume that more of them would have been learned, but this is not clear. Another unanswered question concerns whether it is due to the nature of graded reading itself (where the focus is on understanding the message rather than on the learning of new vocabulary) that certain words cannot be learned easily in this way. It may be that the type of cognitive effort expended depending on whether the subject is focused on word learning or on the message may be part of the explanation. This fruitful research area may also investigate whether certain types of words are best learned from reading than others, or whether they are best learned out of context. Other questions relate to how much vocabulary is learned by reading, say, all the titles of one level of a graded reader series, in order to determine just how many titles need to be read to master the vocabulary at that level.

In conclusion, the results of this study seem to support Nation and Wang's (1999) research that recommends a high volume of reading (a book a week at the learner's reading level), or more. If this amount of reading were done, the rather disappointing forgetting rate evident from reading only one book would be reduced to some degree. The data also support Nation and Wang's contention that graded readers might be best used for recycling already known vocabulary than for introducing new words. This is because the results of this and other studies suggest that few new words seem to be learned from graded reading. As has been mentioned elsewhere, vocabulary growth is not the main aim of graded or extensive reading (e.g., Day and Bamford, 1998, 2002; Waring, 1997; Waring and Takahashi, 2000; Prowse, 2002). Teachers and learners alike would be best advised to be aware of this and not to expect too many new words to be learned from their graded readers. However, learners should be encouraged to read them for the other informational and enjoyable aspects of reading in a foreign language, as well as the many language learning and affective benefits they offer."


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."

Monday, November 19, 2012

New translations reveal new depths of classic works

New translations reveal new depths of classic works
Sunday, Aug. 19, 2007

"Good, new and much needed translations of the stories of Ryunosuke Akutagawa (1892-1927) have recently begun to appear. Last year there was the Penguin edition of 18 stories, translated by Jay Rubin, and now comes this Archipelago edition of 15, translated by Charles De Wolf. Both contain works never before translated into English.
To be sure, these two late (posthumously published) stories are among the Akutagawa works already adequately rendered into English. "Cogwheels" was translated by Beongcheon Yu in 1965 and by Cid Corman in 1987. "The Life of a Fool" was translated by Will Petersen in 1970 and, again, by Cid Corman in 1987.
Translations, however, are a product of their times. Arthur Waley's "Tale of Genji" with its Edwardian prose still has its admirers, but the original is best displayed in the Edward Seidensticker translation. The fusty exoticism still perceived attached to Akutagawa's work can in part be attributed to his early translators.
In building what has been called an identical structure side by side with the original, the translator must choose words and expressions that both mirror and explicate the original. The excellence of the translation (or the lack of it) depends largely upon how good the translator is in his own language. In any event, his interpretation is based upon the stylistic choice he shows us.
Below are two translations of the same passage from the 1927 "Aru Aho no Issho." Rubin translates this as "The Life of a Stupid Man," and continues with "#18. Butterfly. A butterfly fluttered its wings in a wind thick with the smell of seaweed. His dry lips felt the touch of the butterfly for the briefest instant, yet the wisp of wing dust still shone on his lips years later."
De Wolf translates it as "The Life of a Fool," and continues with "#18. A Butterfly. A butterfly fluttered in the seaweed-scented breeze. For an instant, he felt its wings touch his parched lips. Even many years later, the powder on those wings that brushed his lips still glistened."
One translation has no advantage over the other, both impart the purport. The Rubin translation (40 words) is slightly longer than De Wolf's (33 words), a ratio that is maintained throughout both books. At the same time there are indications of intent.
In his notes, De Wolf makes a distinction between "aho" and "baka," feeling that the latter is the more restricted and that the former is not always a term of abuse — as in August Strindberg's "Confessions of a Fool," a work Akutagawa knew well and mentions in the text. Perhaps that's why the translator chose a word like "parched" rather than "dry," the term chosen by Rubin.
"Dry" is a statement, like "wet," but "parched" (like "moistened") implies a cause. I have no idea what the original Japanese is so I can only guess that De Wolf, with reason, wanted to connect this fool with other fools (Strindberg, Dostoevsky) who had anxious reasons for having parched lips.
Rubin in his notes (both collections are richly annotated) would seem to have supported the "stupid" thesis since these notes mention the women in Akutagawa's life and the very similar problems he had with them. Could that be the reason behind the choice "shone?" Doesn't "glisten" imply something less steady, more intermittent — when what the translator perhaps needed (and found in "shone") was a word that implied permanency?
Whatever. Both translations are useful and defendable and their differences are illustrative of varied interpretations. And both offer us the opportunity of meeting old acquaintances in new clothes and introducing us to enchanting strangers."

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The 100 Best Books of All Time

by language

From Wikipedia

The World Library is a list of the 100 best books, as proposed by one hundred writers from fifty-four different countries, compiled and organized in 2002 by the Norwegian Book Club. This list endeavours to reflect world literature, with books from all countries, cultures, and time periods.

The books selected by this process and listed here are not ranked or categorized in any way; the organizers have stated that "they are all on an equal footing," with the exception of Don Quixote which was given the distinction "best literary work ever written."

More lists here

Le Monde's 100 Books of the Century

Le Monde's 100 Books of the Century
By language

"Starting from a preliminary list of 200 titles created by bookshops and journalists, 17,000 French voted by responding to the question, "Which books have stayed in your memory?" (« Quels livres sont restés dans votre mémoire ? »).[1]
The list of acclaimed titles mixes great novels with poetry and theatre, as well as the comic strip."


Ideas for a reading list. I have completely forgotten Vercors and many others. English-language books constitute 27% of the list.  I was going to delete them but what the heck.

81The General of the Dead ArmyIsmail Kadare1963Albanian
47The JokeMilan Kundera1967Czech
19The Diary of a Young GirlAnne Frank1947Dutch
7The Grapes of WrathJohn Steinbeck1939English
8For Whom the Bell TollsErnest Hemingway1940English
21Brave New WorldAldous Huxley1932English
22Nineteen Eighty-FourGeorge Orwell1949English
27LolitaVladimir Nabokov1955English
28UlyssesJames Joyce1922English
34The Sound and the FuryWilliam Faulkner1929English
38Gone with the WindMargaret Mitchell1936English
39Lady Chatterley's LoverD. H. Lawrence1928English
44The Hound of the BaskervillesArthur Conan Doyle19011902English
46The Great GatsbyF. Scott Fitzgerald1925English
49The Murder of Roger AckroydAgatha Christie1926English
56The War of the WorldsH. G. Wells1898English
58The Lord of the RingsJ. R. R. Tolkien19541955English
61Martin EdenJack London1909English
67On the RoadJack Kerouac1957English
69A Room of One's OwnVirginia Woolf1929English
70The Martian ChroniclesRay Bradbury1950English
75Lord JimJoseph Conrad1900English
78Manhattan TransferJohn Dos Passos1925English
82Sophie's ChoiceWilliam Styron1979English
88The Catcher in the RyeJ. D. Salinger1951English
89No Orchids For Miss BlandishJames Hadley Chase1939English
95The Rosy CrucifixionHenry Miller19491960English
96The Big SleepRaymond Chandler1939English
99Under the VolcanoMalcolm Lowry1947English
100Midnight's ChildrenSalman Rushdie1981English
1The Stranger
The Outsider
Albert Camus1942French
2In Search of Lost Time
Remembrance of Things Past
Marcel Proust19131927French
4The Little PrinceAntoine de Saint-Exupéry1943French
5Man's FateAndré Malraux1933French
6Journey to the End of the NightLouis-Ferdinand Céline1932French
9Le Grand MeaulnesAlain-Fournier1913French
10Froth on the DaydreamBoris Vian1947French
11The Second SexSimone de Beauvoir1949French
12Waiting for GodotSamuel Beckett1952French
13Being and NothingnessJean-Paul Sartre1943French
16ParolesJacques Prévert1946French
17AlcoolsGuillaume Apollinaire1913French
18The Blue LotusHergé1936French
20Tristes TropiquesClaude Lévi-Strauss1955French
23Asterix the GaulRené Goscinny and Albert Uderzo1959French
24The Bald SopranoEugène Ionesco1952French
26The Abyss
Zeno of Bruges
Marguerite Yourcenar1968French
30The CounterfeitersAndré Gide1925French
31The Horseman on the RoofJean Giono1951French
32Belle du SeigneurAlbert Cohen1968French
35Thérèse DesqueyrouxFrançois Mauriac1927French
36Zazie in the MetroRaymond Queneau1959French
41Bonjour TristesseFrançoise Sagan1954French
42Le Silence de la merVercors1942French
43Life: A User's ManualGeorges Perec1978French
45Under the Sun of SatanGeorges Bernanos1926French
50NadjaAndré Breton1928French
51AurelienLouis Aragon1944French
52The Satin SlipperPaul Claudel1929French
55FridayMichel Tournier1967French
59Les Vrilles de la vigne (French)
[Never translated: The Tendrils of the Vine] [2]
60Capital of PainPaul Éluard1926French
63Writing Degree ZeroRoland Barthes1953French
65The Opposing ShoreJulien Gracq1951French
66The Order of ThingsMichel Foucault1966French
71The Ravishing of Lol SteinMarguerite Duras1964French
72The InterrogationJ. M. G. Le Clézio1963French
73TropismsNathalie Sarraute1939French
74Journal, 1887–1910Jules Renard1925French
76ÉcritsJacques Lacan1966French
77The Theatre and its DoubleAntonin Artaud1938French
80MoravagineBlaise Cendrars1926French
84The Strange Case of Peter the LettGeorges Simenon1931French
85Our Lady of the FlowersJean Genet1944French
87Furor and MysteryRené Char1948French
90Blake and MortimerEdgar P. Jacobs1950French
92Second ThoughtsMichel Butor1957French
97AmersSaint-John Perse1957French
Gomer Goof
André Franquin1957French
3The TrialFranz Kafka1925German
25Three Essays on the Theory of SexualitySigmund Freud1905German
37Confusion of FeelingsStefan Zweig1927German
40The Magic MountainThomas Mann1924German
54The Resistible Rise of Arturo UiBertolt Brecht1959German
64The Lost Honour of Katharina BlumHeinrich Böll1974German
86The Man Without QualitiesRobert Musil19301932German
91The Notebooks of Malte Laurids BriggeRainer Maria Rilke1910German
93United Kingdom The Burden of Our Time
United States The Origins of Totalitarianism
Hannah Arendt1951German
14The Name of the RoseUmberto Eco1980Italian
29The Tartar SteppeDino Buzzati1940Italian
48A Ghost at Noon
Alberto Moravia1954Italian
53Six Characters in Search of an AuthorLuigi Pirandello1921Italian
57United Kingdom If This Is a Man
United States Survival in Auschwitz
Primo Levi1947Italian
62Ballad of the Salt SeaHugo Pratt1967Italian
15The Gulag ArchipelagoAleksandr Solzhenitsyn1973Russian
94The Master and MargaritaMikhail Bulgakov1967Russian
33One Hundred Years of SolitudeGabriel García Márquez1967Spanish
79FiccionesJorge Luis Borges1944Spanish
83Gypsy BalladsFederico García Lorca1928Spanish
68The Wonderful Adventures of NilsSelma Lagerlöf19061907Swedish

Wires Inserted Into Human Brain Reveal Speech Surprise

Wires Inserted Into Human Brain Reveal Speech Surprise
By Brandon Keim, October 15, 2009

"A rare set of high-resolution readouts taken directly from the wired-in brains of epileptics has provided an unprecedented look at how the brain processes language.

Though only a glimpse, it was enough to show that part of the brain’s language center handles multiple tasks, rather than one.

“If the same part of the brain does different things at different times, that’s a thunderously complex level of organization,” said Ned Sahin, a cognitive scientist at the University of California, San Diego.

In a study published Thursday in Science, Sahin’s team studied a region known as Broca’s center, named for French anatomist Paul Pierre Broca who observed that two people with damage to a certain spot in the front of their brains had lost the ability to speak, but could still think.

Broca’s discovery was made in 1865, but subsequent research has been relatively incremental, reinforcing the language-central role of this area but saying little about what goes on inside it. Speech can’t be tested in any life form other than ourselves, and the standard tool for reading the human brain is fMRI, which averages the activity of millions of neurons at set intervals. It’s useful for highlighting regions of the brain that are involved in cognitive tasks, but can’t detail what’s happening inside those areas.

Sahin’s team benefited from a brain-reading technology called intra-cranial electrophysiology, or ICE, in which electrodes are positioned inside the brain itself. It’s a medical rather than a research tool, used to precisely measure electrical activity in the brains of epileptics who don’t respond to treatment. ICE lets doctors see exactly which parts of a patient’s brain may be surgically removed to prevent future seizures. Though it’s far too invasive and risky to ever be used for academic research, it gave Sahin’s team a chance to watch brains as they processed language.

The patients are “just sitting in a hospital bed, looking at a laptop, and they’re jacked in, with wires right into their brain. And we’re listening to the brain cells talking,” said Sahin. “It’s fantastic that we cold get so close to the actual neural data. Compared to fMRI, it’s like a close-up, high-speed camera where you can see each beat of a hummingbird’s wings, versus taking a picture of the bird flying around a flower.”

During the several days that three patients at Massachusetts General Hospital were medically wired, Sahin’s team asked them to repeat words verbatim, and translate them to past and present tense.

In the space of a quarter-second, a small part of Broca’s area — the only part read by the electrodes — received each word, put the word in a correct tense, and sent it to the brain’s speech centers.

This tested only one type of verbal cognition, cautioned Sahin, and the focus was unavoidably narrow, but it was enough to show that Broca’s area is involved not only in translating speech, but receiving it. That role was considered specific to part of the brain called Wernicke’s area.

More broadly, the findings may represent a general rule for Broca’s area, and perhaps other brain regions: Each part plays multiple roles, rather than performing a single task.

“It’s very distinct from a model where part A does job A. Instead it’s part A doing jobs A, B and C,” said Sahin.

In a commentary accompanying the findings, Max Planck Institute cognitive scientists Peter Hagoort and Willem Levelt said that since Broca’s original observations, “relatively little progress has been made in understanding the neural infrastructure that supports speech production.” The fine-grained Science data “suggests that we are witnessing the ‘first go’ process at work here,” they said.

In further ICE studies of patients, Sahin’s team will study other parts of the language process, as well as the role of Broca’s area in music and movement. In addition to illuminating the brain’s complex choreography, researchers hope the findings will eventually be applied to treating language disorders.

“I’m happy to contribute a piece to the puzzle,” said Sahin. “And the puzzle seems to get more complicated each time you put another piece into it.”


Skilled Readers Rely on Their Brain’s “Visual Dictionary”

Skilled Readers Rely on Their Brain’s “Visual Dictionary” to Recognize Words
Georgetown neuroscientists say once a word is known, sounding it out is not necessary

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Skilled readers can recognize words at lightning fast speed when they read because the word has been placed in a visual dictionary of sorts, say Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC) neuroscientists. The visual dictionary idea rebuts the theory that our brain “sounds out” words each time we see them.

This finding, reported at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, Neuroscience 2011, matters because unraveling how the brain solves the complex task of reading can help in uncovering the brain basis of reading disorders, such as dyslexia, say the scientists.

“One camp of neuroscientists believes that we access both the phonology and the visual perception of a word as we read them and that the area or areas of the brain that do one, also do the other, but our study proves this isn’t the case,” says the study’s lead investigator, Laurie Glezer, Ph.D., a postdoctoral research fellow. She works in the Laboratory for Computational Cognitive Neuroscience at GUMC, led by Maximilian Riesenhuber, Ph.D., who is a co-author.

“What we found is that once we’ve learned a word, it is placed in a purely visual dictionary in the brain. Having a purely visual representation allows for the fast and efficient word recognition we see in skilled readers,” she says. “This study is the first demonstration of that concept.”

Glezer says that these findings might help explain why people with dyslexia have slower, more labored reading. “It could be that in dyslexia, because of phonological processing problems, these individuals are not ever able to develop a finely tuned visual representation of the words they have encountered before,” she says. “They can’t take advantage of the fast processing of words using this dictionary.”

Glezer and her co-authors tested word recognition in 12 volunteers using fMRI. They  were able to see that words that are different, but sound the same, like “hare” and “hair” activate different neurons, akin to accessing different entries in a dictionary’s catalogue. “If the sounds of the word had influence in this part of the brain we would expect to see that they activate the same or similar neurons, but this was not the case, ‘hair’ and ‘hare’ looked just as different as “hair” and “soup”. This suggests that all we use is the visual information of a word and not the sounds.”

“When we see a word for the first time, it requires some time to read and sound it out, but after perhaps just one presentation of the word, you can recognize it without sounding it out,” she says. “This occurs because our brain first uses phonology to encode the word and match the sound with the written word. Once we do that and encounter the word a few more times, we no longer need the phonology at first, just the visual input to identify the word.”

“We hope these findings will serve as a foundation to examine reading disorders,” Glezer says. “For example, if people with dyslexia have a problem forming this visual dictionary, it may be that there could be ways of helping train children with dyslexia to form a more finely tuned visual dictionary.”


Speaking and Understanding Speech Share the Same Parts of the Brain

Speaking and Understanding Speech Share the Same Parts of the Brain
ScienceDaily (Aug. 16, 2011) — The brain has two big tasks related to speech: making it and understanding it. Psychologists and others who study the brain have debated whether these are really two separate tasks or whether they both use the same regions of the brain. Now, a new study, published in the August issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, finds that speaking and understanding speech share the same parts of the brain, with one difference: we don't need the brain regions that control the movements of lips, teeth, and so on to understand speech.

Most studies of how speech works in the brain focuses on comprehension. That's mostly because it's easier to image the brains of people who are listening quietly; talking makes the head move, which is a problem when you're measuring the brain. But now, the Donders Institute at the Radboud University Nijmegen, where the study was conducted, has developed technology that allows recording from a moving brain.
Laura Menenti, a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the University of Glasgow, co-wrote the paper along with Peter Hagoort of Radboud University Nijmegen and the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Sarah Gierhan and Katrien Segaert. Menenti was initially interested in how the brain produces grammatical sentences and wanted to track the process of producing a sentence in its entirety; looking not only at its grammatical structure but also at its meaning. "What made this particularly exciting to us was that no one had managed to perform such a study before, meaning that we could explore an almost completely new topic," says Menenti.

The authors used functional MRI technology to measure brain activity in people who were either listening to sentences or speaking sentences. The other problem with measuring brain activity in people who are speaking is that you have to get them to say the right kind of sentence. The authors accomplished this with a picture of an action -- a man strangling a woman, say -- with one person colored green and one colored red to indicate their order in the sentence. This prompted people to say either "The man is strangling the woman" or "The woman is strangled by the man." (The experiments were all carried out in Dutch.)

From this, the researchers were able to tell where in the brain three different speech tasks (computing meaning, coming up with the words, and building a grammatical sentence) -- were taking place. They found that the same areas were activated for each of these tasks in people who were speaking and people who were listening to sentences. However, although some studies have suggested that while people are listening to speech, they silently articulate the words in order to understand them, the authors found no involvement of motor regions when people were listening.
According to Menenti, though the study was largely designed to answer a specific theoretical question, it also points towards some useful avenues for treatment of people with language-related problems. It suggests that while it sometimes seems that people with comprehension problems may have intact production, and vice versa, this may not necessarily be the case. According to Menenti, "Our data suggest that these problems would be expected to always at least partly coincide. On the other, our data confirm the idea that many different processes in the language system, such as understanding meaning or grammar, can at least partly, be damaged independently of each other."


Speaking and Listening Share Large Part of Brain Infrastructure

Speaking and Listening Share Large Part of Brain Infrastructure

ScienceDaily (Aug. 16, 2011) — What areas of the brain are involved in the linguistic processes underlying speech and listening and are there large differences between these? Neuroscientists from the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour at Radboud University Nijmegen are the first to have successfully investigated this question using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). In what may come as a surprise to many scientists, the researchers have established that there is a large degree of overlap between the areas involved.

The results are published in the journal Psychological Science.

Within the scientific community there is a lot of discussion about whether the brain functions involved in speech production are also involved in the comprehension of speech. In the area of mirror neuron research in particular (a hot topic for the past 15 years), research has viewed the overlap between the areas of the brain involved in speech and listening as reaction and observed action, says neuroscientist Laura Menenti, who is currently working at the University of Glasgow. However, speaking and listening are more than just action and observation. They also involve linguistic processing. Menenti and her colleagues mainly focused on this last aspect: which areas of the brain are involved in the semantic (production and the comprehension of meaning), lexical (making and recognising words) and syntactic (being able to use and recognise grammar) processes?

Talking in the fMRI
One unique aspect of this research is that it is the first study to have investigated the production of sentences in detail using fMRI. Speech comprehension had already widely been studied in this manner. However, for speech production the problem up until now was that too much noise was present in the measurements due to study subjects moving their mouth, facial muscles and head, and the variable quantity of air in their mouths.
This noise cannot be prevented, but at the Donders Institute a method has been developed, which allows a more powerful signal to be measured, compared to the noise. Menenti said: "In a nutshell, whereas we usually make an image with the fMRI every two seconds, we now we make five images every 2 seconds, from which we take the average for further processing."

Striking result, especially for the scientists
The results reveal a considerable overlap between brain areas (a shared 'neuronal infrastructure') which are involved in the linguistic processes associated with speech production and comprehension. Menenti explained: "Within linguistics and brain science this is a striking result. Based on studies with aphasia patients one might equally expect that speech production and comprehension would show some neuronal overlap but would otherwise each cover their own areas." Even more striking was the fact that in their research, Menenti and her colleagues did not find any results which indicated that the motor system in the brain, involved in action and movement, makes a crucial contribution to speech perception. "From the perspective of mirror neuron research that is also an unexpected result."


Second Language Vocabulary Growth

Second Language Vocabulary Growth


The vocabulary knowledge of 166 English as a Foreign Language (EFL) learners in Taiwan was measured annually over a five year period using a bilingual version of the Vocabulary Levels Test (VLT) (Nation, 1983, 1990; Schmitt, Schmitt, and Clapham, 2001). The five years of data collection involved English language instruction in high school and university. Test scores were examined according to the amount of English language instruction the participants received. The results indicated that one group of participants learned as few as 18 words in one year, while another group learned as many as 430 words. The findings also revealed that in the final year of the study only 47% of the participants had mastered the 1,000 word level, and 16% had mastered the 2,000 word level. The results suggest that vocabulary learning within the institution could be greatly improved. Key features of a vocabulary learning plan within institutions are outlined. (Contains 7 tables.)


Comment: "The results suggest that vocabulary learning within the institution could be greatly improved." No kidding! Always great to see the pros at work.

The impact of watching subtitled animated cartoons on incidental vocabulary learning of elt students


Ali Karakas, Arif Sariçoban

"This study aimed to find out whether watching subtitled cartoons influences incidental
vocabulary learning. The study was conducted with 42 first grade English Language Teaching (ELT) department students at the University of Mehmet Akif Ersoy, Burdur. To collect data from the subjects, a 5-point vocabulary knowledge scale was used and 18 target words were integrated into the scale. The pre-test and post-test group design was selected for the administration. After subjects had been randomly assigned into two groups (one subtitle group and the other no-subtitle group), they were given the same pre- and post-tests.
The findings of study did not support the assumption that the subtitle group would
outperform the no-subtitle group, since there were no significant differences between two groups according to t-test results. However, there was significant improvement in both of the groups from pre-test to post-test scores. This progress was attributed to the presentation of target words in cartoons. In this way, the target words were contextualized and it became easy for participants to elicit the meanings of the words."


Saturday, November 17, 2012

In Immersion Foreign Language Learning, Adults Attain, Retain Native Speaker Brain Pattern

In Immersion Foreign Language Learning, Adults Attain, Retain Native Speaker Brain Pattern
March 28, 2012
Neuroscience News

"A first-of-its kind series of brain studies shows how an adult learning a foreign language can come to use the same brain mechanisms as a native speaker. The research also demonstrates that the kind of exposure you have to the language can determine whether you achieve native-language brain processing, and that learning under immersion conditions may be more effective in reaching this goal than typical classroom training. The research also suggests that the brain consolidates knowledge of the foreign language as time goes on, much like it does when a person learns to ride a bike or play a musical instrument.
The latest in this series of studies was published online in today’s PLoS ONE by researchers from Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC) and the University of Illinois at Chicago.
“In the last few years, research has begun to suggest that adults learning a foreign language can come to rely on the same brain mechanisms as native speakers of a language, and that this might be true even for those parts of a foreign language that are particularly difficult to learn, such as its grammar,” explains Michael Ullman, Ph.D., a professor of neuroscience at GUMC and senior investigator of the studies. “We confirmed this in our studies.”
However, even if it’s true that foreign language learners might be able to achieve native-like processing of grammar, Ullman says it has not at all been clear just how they can get there ? that is, what exactly allows a learner to attain native-like processing.
Ullman and lead author Kara Morgan-Short, Ph.D., from the University of Illinois at Chicago, first tested whether the conditions under which a person learns a foreign language matter. Specifically, is the type of foreign language exposure typically found in classrooms, with a lot of explanations about the grammar, more or less beneficial than the type of exposure in an immersion situation, in which there are no such explanations, but simply many language examples?
“Surprisingly, previous studies have found that the type of exposure typically found in classrooms leads to better learning than that typically found in immersion. However, no studies have looked at the actual brain mechanisms after different types of exposure,” Morgan-Short says. Also, because a foreign language is so slow to learn, previous studies have not examined the outcomes of different types of exposure beyond the early stages of learning, since it would take far too long to wait until participants reached high proficiency, she says.
To get around this problem, the scientists came up with a clever solution. Rather than teach people a full foreign language, they taught them a very small one, with only 13 words, which referred to the pieces and moves of a computer game. The language itself was made-up, and its grammar was constructed so that it was like that of other natural languages, but differed from the participants’ native language English in important respects, such as its grammatical structure.
The scientists found that after a few days, adults had indeed reached high proficiency in the language, whether they had undergone classroom- or immersion-like training. However, measures of brain processing showed that different types of training led to different brain mechanisms.
“Only the immersion training led to full native-like brain processing of grammar,” Ullman says. “So if you learn a language you can come to use native language brain processes, but you may need immersion rather than classroom exposure.” (These results were published online Aug. 23, 2011 in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience.)
For the study published in PLoS ONE, the researchers asked another very interesting question: What happens after you’ve reached high proficiency in a foreign language, if you’re not regularly exposed to it? Do you lose the use of any native-language brain mechanisms that you’ve attained? Many learners do not always have ongoing exposure, which makes this is a critical question, Ullman says.
So, without having warned their research participants beforehand, the researchers called them an average of five months later, and asked them to come back for another round of brain scanning. Because the language was made-up, the scientists were sure that the participants hadn’t had any exposure to it during this entire time.
The researchers weren’t sure what they would find, since this was the first study examining the brain after such a period of no exposure. However, previous studies testing only proficiency changes found, not surprisingly, that foreign language learners generally did worse after such periods, so the scientists assumed that the brain would also become less native-like.
“To our surprise, the participants actually became more native like in their brain processing of grammar,” Ullman says. “And this was true for both the classroom and immersion training groups, though it was still the case that only the immersion group showed full native-like processing.”
Ullman believes that, over time, memory of the language was “consolidated” in the brain, probably by the same mechanisms that also underlie native language. He says this process is probably similar to the consolidation of many other skills that a person might learn, such as learning to ride a bike or play a musical instrument.
Interestingly, the participants showed neither improvements nor loss of proficiency during the same five month period, even as their brains became more native like, Ullman says. The scientists are uncertain why this might be, though it is possible that proficiency changes might in fact have been observed with more precise measures, or that improvements had occurred some time after training but then were gradually lost in the absence of practice during the five months.
Ullman says that even without any observed changes in proficiency, the brain changes are important.
“Native language brain mechanisms are clearly well suited to language, so attaining their use is a critical achievement for foreign language learners. We suspect that this should lead to improved retention of the language as well as higher proficiency over time.”

Open access research article : “Second Language Processing Shows Increased Native-Like Neural Responses after Months of No Exposure” by Morgan-Short K, Finger I, Grey S, Ullman


"Although learning a second language (L2) as an adult is notoriously difficult, research has shown that adults can indeed attain native language-like brain processing and high proficiency levels. However, it is important to then retain what has been attained, even in the absence of continued exposure to the L2—particularly since periods of minimal or no L2 exposure are common. This event-related potential (ERP) study of an artificial language tested performance and neural processing following a substantial period of no exposure. Adults learned to speak and comprehend the artificial language to high proficiency with either explicit, classroom-like, or implicit, immersion-like training, and then underwent several months of no exposure to the language. Surprisingly, proficiency did not decrease during this delay. Instead, it remained unchanged, and there was an increase in native-like neural processing of syntax, as evidenced by several ERP changes—including earlier, more reliable, and more left-lateralized anterior negativities, and more robust P600s, in response to word-order violations. Moreover, both the explicitly and implicitly trained groups showed increased native-like ERP patterns over the delay, indicating that such changes can hold independently of L2 training type. The results demonstrate that substantial periods with no L2 exposure are not necessarily detrimental. Rather, benefits may ensue from such periods of time even when there is no L2 exposure. Interestingly, both before and after the delay the implicitly trained group showed more native-like processing than the explicitly trained group, indicating that type of training also affects the attainment of native-like processing in the brain. Overall, the findings may be largely explained by a combination of forgetting and consolidation in declarative and procedural memory, on which L2 grammar learning appears to depend. The study has a range of implications, and suggests a research program with potentially important consequences for second language acquisition and related fields."