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The effect of a computerized help resource on the lexical inferencing ability of English as asecond language (ESL) learners during contextualized reading

, University of Florida, United States

University of Florida . Awarded


Although most vocabulary is picked up incidentally through the environment and not through formal instruction, the details of this process are poorly understood. Lexical guesses or inferences about the meaning of unknown words are one of the main means by which new vocabulary is acquired, and this process has been shown to be especially difficult for foreign language learners. In this repeated measures study, thirteen advanced students of English as a second language (ESL) were exposed to two contextualized reading conditions on the computer. The first condition, passage only, involved reading passages alone, and the second, passage plus Word Hints, offered passages with the addition of a hypertextual reading aid. This help resource provided both semantic and graphophonic level clues, but glosses and definitions were withheld. Repeated measures ANOVA results showed that a significantly greater number of guesses and more accurate guesses were made in the presence of Word Hints. Repetition of the study showed that this effect increased over time. Behavioral data was analyzed to determine patterns of use with regard to Word Hints. A comparison of computer usage tracking data to lexical guessing data indicated that proficient readers who made the most accurate lexical guesses were also more likely to ignore graphophonic clues and request semantic help more selectively than others. Individuals who used both semantic and graphophonic level help from Word Hints tended to have lower scores. Overall, the data suggests that readers were competent judges of the kind of help they needed, and they also knew when they needed to obtain further clues about the meaning of an unknown word.

The study found that it is possible to enhance L2 readers' own inferencing processes through the availability of designed help during contextualized reading. Participants seemed especially capable of exploiting additional semantic clues during reading, and it appears that helpful contexts are indeed a key factor in second language vocabulary acquisition. Research suggests, however, that several conditions must be met before lexical inferencing should be considered for use as an independent study strategy.


Abbott, D.K. The effect of a computerized help resource on the lexical inferencing ability of English as asecond language (ESL) learners during contextualized reading. Ph.D. thesis, University of Florida. Retrieved January 18, 2019 from .

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