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Review and Comment about the Effects of Inferring, Verifying, and Memorizing on the Retention of L2 Word Meanings

This recent article, I share the next review of international journal on second language acquisition entitled "The effects of inferring, verifying, and memorizing On the retention of L2 word meanings (An experimental comparison of the “meaning-inferred method” and the “meaning-given method”)" byJan-Arjen Mondria . Read this review carefully.

Analysis Journal

To make it clear, the study is about an experimental comparison of the “Meaning-Inferred Method” and the “Meaning-Given Method”. It was done to know whether learning methods based on inferring the word meaning with the aid of the context lead to better retention than those in which the meaning of a word is “given”.
According to the writer, some researches about vocabulary acquisition have been conducted to first language (L1) and second language (L2). The result shows that inferring could be retention. The expectation is, when students infers the meaning of a word before memorization (the “meaning-inferred method”), they better retains that meaning than when the meaning of the word is “presented” to them such as in the form of a translation (the “meaning-given method”). In other words, the researcher believed that the a good way of vocabulary acquisition for the students is the “meaning-inferred method” than the “meaning-given method”.
As what have been stated above, an experiments research were selected to compare the learning effect of meaning-inferred methods and meaning-given methods. 
On the basis of this review and taking into account the limitations of some of the experiments—incomparable words for inferring and giving, artificial forms 478 Jan-Arjen Mondria of inferencing, interference of intervening inquiries, lack of clarity about the precise activity of the subjects, and absence of a delayed test—the following conclusions emerge for incidental learning.
  1. Looking up in a dictionary (giving), possibly after inferring, led to higher retention than inferring,
  2. Glosses (giving) led to higher retention than inferencing in two experiments; in a third experiment, however, the superiority of glosses on the immediate test had disappeared on the delayed test 
  3. Multiple-choice glosses (inferring) led sometimes to better retention than single glosses (giving). Inferring also sometimes led to comparable retention and sometimes to lower retention.
  4. Vocabulary explanations provided immediately after the unknown words in the text (giving) led to comparable retention and inferencing.

Moreover, as what the writer wrote, for intentional learning, Bialystok (1983) and Grace (1998) found that giving was better than inferring, but it should be mentioned that in Bialystok’s experiment the difference was possibly caused by incorrect inferencing. Schouten-van Parreren (1980, 1985) found, dependent on the test format, that giving was either better than or comparable to inferring, but she also found that subjects in the meaning-inferred condition had forgotten fewer words than those in the meaning-given condition. 

As the final, the writer stated that Hulstijn (1989, 1992) found no differences for intentional learning, not even in those cases where the meaning-inferred method led to higher retention under incidental-learning circumstances, a result consistent with Berlyne et al. 
In brief as has been shown, there is not clear which one of the method is the best one, the meaning-inferred method or the meaning-given method. As what the writer stated, there are two objectives of the study. They are:
  1. it is useful to investigate whether an optimized meaning- inferred method leads to better retention than the meaning-given method. In this method, three stages were established—namely, inferring, verifying, and memorizing (intentional learning)—and incorrect inferencing was prevented as much as possible by using pregnant sentences.
  2. The second aim of the experiment is to investigate the learning effect of the various stages of the meaning-inferred method compared with each other: inferring, verifying, and memorizing.

As what the writer stated, there is a method to to the study. The learners of French as a foreign language learned the meanings of four series of French words with the aid of four different learning methods (within-subjects design). The learning methods were (a) inferring, (b) inferring + verifying, (c) inferring + verifying + memorizing (meaning-inferred method), and (d) memorizing (meaning-given method). The experiment took place in the form of two successive subexperiments. The first was an incidental-learning experiment that used learning methods (a) and (b) to prevent the subjects from memorizing. The second was an intentionallearning experiment that used learning methods (c) and (d). For the sake of ecological validity, the experiment took place during the students’ regular French lessons, and the target words and the majority of the contexts were taken from existing learning materials. The amount of time invested was left to the students’ discretion and was recorded. For each of the two subexperiments, the receptive tests took place 2 weeks later.
As the research subjects, they were 38 Dutch students from two third-grade classes at a school offering general secondary education. The ages of the students were 14–16years, and all of them had been receiving French lessons 3 hours every week for at least 2.5 years. The same teacher of French taught both classes, and there was no significant difference between them with regard to their knowledge of French as expressed by the students’ most recent grades.

Moreover, the researher had prepared seventy target words (nouns and verbs) with accompanying sentence contexts were selected in the following way. From two French vocabulary textbooks words were chosen (a) that did not occur in the textbook used in the school concerned, (b) that were not cognates or loan words possibly known by the students, and (c) whose meanings could not be inferred on the basis of words, stems, and affixes already known. Furthermore, the selection did not contain synonymous word pairs or word pairs whose meanings could be inferred from each other.

Furthermore, as the General Procedure the experiment consisted of four parts: (a) an inferencing training, (b) an incidental-learning experiment, (c) an intentional learning experiment, and (d) a test that subsequently measured the knowledge of the type of target words used in the experiment. The writer stated, the procedures for each of the two participating classes were identical except for the order of the two conditions within each of the two sub experiments, which was balanced over the two classes.
In scoring, it was done by the author and a French teacher. Independently of each other and without any context, they judged the correctness of the answers on the basis of the meanings given in bilingual and monolingual dictionaries. Inflectional forms were treated as lexemes. 

As the result, learning words through the meaning-inferred method leads to a similar level of retention as learning words through the meaning-given method. At first, It had been expected that the meaning-inferred method would lead to higher retention than the meaning-given method. This expectation was based on the assumed deeper, elaborate processing as a result of inferring and verifying, thus creating all kinds of links between the word to be learned, its meaning, the context, and the knowledge of the students.

However, for substantial retention it is desirable to add a memorization stage after inferring and verifying, which improves the achievement rate once again.

Ability to infer the meaning of unfamiliar words while reading has an important role in learners’ foreign language word knowledge development. The main discussion of the journal is about methods in vocabulary acquisition. In this case, there are two methods as the topic. First, “Meaning-Inferred Method” in which the students infer the meaning of unknown words from the context, subsequently verify the meaning with the aid of a word list, and finally memorize the meaning. Second, “Meaning-Given Method” in which the meaning of unknown words is given to the students in the form of a translation so that they can immediately start memorizing. The purpose of the study is to know whether the first method which have been explained above is better than the second one.
Moreover, the first method that is the meaning-inferred method (inferring, verifying, and memorizing) has been conducted. As the result:

  1. The first method (Meaning-Inferred Method) has a similar level of retention as the second method (Meaning-Given Method), but the former is considerably more wasting time and that why it is less efficient. 
  2. Each different stage of the first method (Meaning-Inferred Method) leads to retention, but the learning effect of memorizing is the greatest, and the learning effect of verifying is about the same as that of inferring.

Even if most vocabulary is learned from context such kind of Meaning-Inferred Method, one should not conclude that this “is the fastest or most efficient way of learning specific vocabulary. 

The explanation that the students lacked familiarity with the meaning-inferred method also cannot account for the results. We know the fact is that, before the crucial comparison between the two methods, students were familiarized with the specific stages of the meaning-inferred method by means of an inferencing training and two conditions in which they inferred and inferred and verified. Moreover, the amount of time to be spent was left up to them so that a possible unfamiliarity with the meaning-inferred method would not be at the expense of the amount of time to be spent usefully. The conclusion is also robust in other respects. Much attention had been paid to the validity of the experiment, and the conclusion holds both for students with a good knowledge of French and for those with less knowledge of French.

The explanation for the fact that the meaning-inferred method is not superior probably must be sought in the method itself. In particular, it must be explained why the meaning-inferred method does not lead to improved retention in spite of its two extra stages (inferring and verifying)—stages that entail search and evaluation activities and that both lead to retention. 

The following two explanations are possible.

First, the quantity of the memorizing activity in the meaning-inferred method is less than that in the meaning-given method, as has been found on the basis of the time recordings in the reseach activity. the researcher stated that there are at least three possible accounts for this. The first is that inferring and verifying already lead to a certain level of retention, and as a result students need to invest less time in memorizing to achieve the intended level of knowledge. The second possibility is that inferring and verifying together already take so much time that students are less motivated to invest the same amount of time in memorizing as in the meaning-given method. The third possibility is that inferring a word correctly may give students the impression that they know the word already, and as a result they will spend less time memorizing.

Next, an explanation for the fact that retention in the meaning-inferred method is not higher in spite of the two extra stages is that the quality of the memorizing activity in the meaning- inferred method is inferior to that in the meaning-given method. The fact that inferencing draws attention mainly to the association of context and meaning might influence subsequent memorization in such a way that less attention is paid to the association of word and meaning that is essential for retention.

The result did not find a significant difference between the two methods. However, the other research of the meaning-inferred method was inferior to the meaning-given method, possibly as a consequence of inferring incorrectly. A comparison with the result found by Schouten-van Parreren that learners on the delayed test had forgotten fewer words in the meaning-inferred method than in the meaning-given method is not possible because in the present experiment no immediate test was administered.
The researcher stated that with regard to the amount of time spent, it can be concluded that the meaning-inferred method takes considerably more time (about 25% more) than the meaning-given method, which conforms to the expectations. As retention in both methods is similar, the achievement rate of the meaning-given method is higher than that of the other method: Per word learned, the meaning-given method uses about 25% less time. In my opinion, it could be happened because the students need more times to find the meaning of the words which are given to them.

Because less time has to be invested for a similar level of retention, the efficiency of the vocabulary acquisition process is the main objective, the meaning-given method is preferable to the meaning-inferred method Inferring, Verifying, and Memorizing L2 Word Meanings. In my opinion, it is suitable with the facts that the method is effective.
Additional advantages of the meaning-given method are that the method sets less stringent requirements for the learning materials and no requirements for the inferencing skills of the students.

However, vocabulary learning is more than individual word learning. By learning words in context, the learner acquires not only linguistic knowledge of a word, such as phonetic, syntactic and semantic rules, but also the knowledge of how to use the word properly in a context. The translation of the word which is given will make the students becomes familiar with just one meaning of the word and this leads to only a shallow level of word knowledge, and it does not increase comprehension of the text containing the instructed words.
It is noteworthy that context-based and definition-based are neither the only vocabulary learning techniques nor the best techniques that are available for learning. Introducing and having learners practice using a variety of alternative vocabulary learning strategies can be considered an effective way of enabling learners to achieve more effective independent vocabulary learning in the future.

The conclusion of the research is within the meaning-inferred method, the achievement rate of intentional learning (memorizing) is clearly higher than that of incidental learning (inferring + verifying). Furthermore, within the incidental-learning part, the achievement rate of verifying appeared to be much higher than that of inferring, a result that has not been shown by earlier research.

Read Also: The Analysis of International Journal About Vocabulary Knowledge

Written by
Shinta M, Islamic University of Malang
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