Vocabulary learning has been a key aspect of acquiring a second language for many years. Many scholars and linguists claimed that learning languages cannot be successful without a wide range of vocabulary. However, most ESL learners are confronted with recalling difficulties as they tend to forget the word fast that they learnt recently. These challenges are commonly discussed and researched by Cognitivists since they deem that there are several reasons of forgetting associated with memory and mental process. This case study entails the small-scale research on vocabulary retention, reasons of forgetting and some potential solutions to recall words in the second language. For this case study, I have chosen Cognitivism Theory in a bid to investigate and find out remembering challenges of my ESL learner and give her some possible solutions because according to cognitive psychology it is said that systematic forgetting occurs owing to interfering effects, continuation of the very process of subsumption, neurolingustic blocking and other factors (p.83). Relying on their findings I tried to help my seventeen-year- old student who tends to forget English words easily. In this case, the hypothesis of the research is that pictorial texts or stories can be more effective for short and long-term vocabulary learning and retention.
By carrying out this research, I came to realize that vocabulary learning has a crucial role in conveying the language. It is said that knowing 2500 words enables a student to communicate effectively in daily interaction (Schmitt, 2010). Therefore, teaching the vocabulary of the target language should be also of importance for SLA teachers.
However, not all learners can succeed in acquiring the vocabulary due to several reasons and many cognitivists and psychologists have been dealing with these issues. One of the prominent cognitive psychologist David Ausubel stated that meaningful learning is often compared with rote-learning (p. 83). He described that rote learning is the process of associating the recently learnt word with existing cognitive structure. In this way, memory is divided into two main types which are short-term and long-term retention. Short-term memory or working memory was best-defined within “magic seven, plus or minus two“ of Miller’s Law in which people are able to recall a phone number that has just been recited for only seconds (Miller, 1956, p.401), whereas in long-term memory subsumed item is retained for a longer period. For instance, postal codes and street addresses are possibly remembered for a long time as they hold some meaningful relationship with the existence of houses or geographical places (p84).
Besides, a wide range of experiments have been held in order to test memory in cognitive psychology. Landauer and Bjork (1978) were the first psychologists to test students who tried to remember names of faces on prearranged cards with the help of the technique “spaced repetition“ . In this experiment they attempted to compare the retention rates and concluded that recalling words in expanded spacing (increasing break between each repetition) led to higher retention rates. In the experiment used by Ulf Schuetze it was proved that repeating words four times led to higher recall rates in comparison with repeating them three times (Ulf Schuetze, 2015, p.29).
When it comes to systematic forgetting, it is obvious that forgetting also occurs because of proactive and retroactive inhibition (Ausubel, 1965,1968). It means that if the level of interfering effects is relatively lower retention can be more sustainable. Also, Obler claimed that “neurolinguistic blocking“ is one of the contributions of forgetting as well. There are other reasons of language attrition including motivational factors, cultural identity, conditions of initial learning and practice of that second language (p .87).
In order to solve these problems scholars suggested many ways of remembering words and putting them in use. These strategies were classified as cognitive, metacognitive, memory and activation strategies (Gu and Johnson, 1996). Later on “Socioaffective“ strategies were also added to the existing strategies. They also said that all of these strategies help ESL learners to enhance their vocabulary learning process.
Regarding one of the effective strategies it is evident that learning new words through reading newspapers, textbooks, stories and novels benefits students to comprehend the meaning of the words, process them in their mind and remember for a long time (A. Asgari and G.Mustapha, 2012).
Baddeley stated that when the word is first encountered it is important to look at how it is processed. Longer words are difficult to process and therefore they retain in the memory with difficulties. With these perceptions I can surely say that she should go on learning words in this way. In my opinion, cognitivists’ findings and opinions about forgetting and vocabulary strategies are totally right because everyone can face this difficulty and there can be different reasons. It is important to find the primary reason of this forgetting and suggest an appropriate strategy for the learners. I believe that learners can learn and speak more fluently when they know more words and their usage in the context. Reading stories with pictures is a good motivation for learners who would like to recall as many words as possible. Cognitivist theory also plays a great role in teaching and learning a language. When I read about this theory I was so sure about this importance, but after collecting the data from different sources and reading them I came to know that learning the mental development of the learner is very crucial.
All in all, vocabulary development is a significant process of language learning and it helps students in all skills. Even though there can be a large number of difficulties to recall new words there are also several strategies created by cognitive psychologists.
- Azadeh asgari, Ghazali Mustapha(2012). Vocabulary Learning Strategies of Malaysian ESL Students. Pertanika J. Soc. Sci. &Hum. 20(3). 751-764
- Baddeley, A.D. (1999). Essentials of human memory. Hove: Pychology Press.
- H. Douglas Brown(2014). Principles of Language Learning and Teaching, Sixth Edition. Pearson Education. 82-88.
- Manuela Friedrich, Angela D.Friederici (2011). Word Learning in 6-Month-Olds Fast Encoding –Weak Retention. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience. 23 (11). 3228-3240.
- Ulf Schuetze (2015). Spacing techniques in second language vocabulary acquisition: Short-term gains vs. long term memory. Language Teaching Research, 19 (1), 29-42.