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Motivation And Vocabulary Learning

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 4644 words Published: 18th Apr 2017

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In current time the demand of learning English is rising tremendously due to lingua franca nature of this language in EFL context which refers to student who study English in non-English language society and ESL who study English in an environment that their mother tongue is English; therefore, so many attention has been given to this field because of economical and educational purposes.

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Back in the days, during methods era and especially in learning-centered methods the lack of explicit focus on grammar cause the vocabulary to gain an important role. They believe that vocabulary cause better comprehension and with this achievement there will be a language development (Kumaravadivelu, 2008). Although with death of method, this component of language is not dead yet, and it still has an important role in current classes with different styles of teaching. In Richards and Renandya (2002) the importance of this fact has been expressed as “in the past , vocabulary teaching and learning were often given little priority in second language programs, but recently there has been a renewed interest in the nature of vocabulary and its role in learning and teaching” (p.255).

1. a. the problems that students have in different tasks

Many linguists define language as a sign system (Hudson, 2000), which consist of lexicon and grammar. According to Hudson, lexicon refers to mental dictionary. And we have different approaches on vocabulary learning that we will study them in detail on following sections. One of them is Lexical approach, in this approach the focus and emphasis is not on the grammar, syntax and structure but on the lexis or word and word combinations (Richards & Rodgers, 2006). Most of these approaches and methods isolating words from the context and teach them explicitly as a single unit or compound (prefabricated) unit, but the problem will come up when the learner wants to use it; they can not place it appropriately in correct situations. For example the word reticent means quiet but the place and the context of using this word is not in the supermarket rather it is in the academic places such as university and college; an English learner will memorize this word and use it when she/he wants to talk to a native sales person or in imaginary role play activity with out awareness of authentic use of it that will cause low motivation. Because when the native speakers feel the lack of language competency they will avoid continuing the conversation.

Other problems that can be find in the realm of vocabulary learning / teaching is the use of complicated words by the teacher in the classes which are not appropriate for the students in basic or intermediate levels. According to my own experience and observation, so many EFL classes experience this atmosphere which makes the learners anxious. One of the main reasons for that is the practice of teachers themselves, when a teacher with good general knowledge of English teaches an intermediate students for a year he /she will lose some of his knowledge according to lack of practice then they will bring that practice into their classes. The supervisor of that institute was happy and when the question has been asked about this problem he mentioned Krashen’s i + 1 hypothesis, but he didn’t bring into consideration the level of 1 is not determined yet and how harmful it can be for learners.

The mentioned problems make the learners overwhelmed and bewildered on how, when and where to use the words. Should they use the writing words (the words that are usually used in writing) in the speaking tasks or use the speaking words in the writing tasks?

This will cause debilitative anxiety and low self-efficacy which refers to external factors. The word self-efficacy is defined in Williams and Burden (1997) as “student’s beliefs about their capabilities to apply effectively the knowledge and skills they already possess and thereby learn new cognitive skill” (p.129). When the learners are confused and can not recognize which word to select or when to use the special word, they will refer it to task difficulty (Williams & Burden, 1997).This low self-efficacy will cause low motivation (which will be studied in detail in the Body of this paper), and when the learners are not motivated they give up practicing and they think that the task is hard but in reality the absence of practice which is due to low motivation caused that. And when this happen, it not only influence their vocabulary knowledge but also it plays a significant role on other four skills, because when the knowledge of vocabulary is low, the comprehension will be low so the production. Richards and Renandya (2002) express “vocabulary is core component of language proficiency and provides much of the basis for how well learners speak, listen, read and write” (p.255). Also in their book they mentioned with out the good knowledge of vocabulary and strategies for learning new vocabulary, learners can not progress in the way that their capabilities are and this will cause low motivation then they won’t participate in learning opportunities around them such as listening to news, watching movies, listening to the native speaker and using the language in different context(Richards and Renandya ,2002).

1. b. passive and active vocabulary learning

There are generally two types of vocabulary in mind, passive and active (Heaton, 1990). By passive vocabulary he refers to reading and listening words (comprehensive). Hunt and Beglar in the book of Richards & Renandya (2002) classify it as incidental learning “in the long run, most words in both first and second languages are probably learned incidentally, through extensive reading and listening” (p.259). We may read so many articles, books, newspapers and texts included different classes of words but it is not possible to use those words in our speaking and writing (production). The emphasis is on speaking because during the utterance we have less time for processing the new words and the speaker tries to use safe words which have been proved before.

The other group is active vocabulary. In this group we have writing and speaking words (productive) that refers to the word we use in our speaking and writing so the classification is “listening: passive/spoken, reading: passive/written, speaking: active/spoken and writing: active/written”(Heaton , 1990, P.51).

It is worth mentioning that the amount of words that we comprehended is much larger than the words that we produced.in the research of Oxford & Crookall (1990) declared that ” spoken vocabulary is often smaller than written vocabulary, which is in turn generally smaller than receptive vocabulary” (p.23).from that statement they conclude that proficiency in speaking is more difficult for the student to achieve than writing and writing is harder than reading and listening ( Oxford & Crookall, 1990). According to my own experience, one of my classes memorized and practiced the 504 essential words but they hardly used those words in their production.

The ideal goal for the learners is shifting from passive knowledge of vocabulary to active knowledge of vocabulary and create an atmosphere for better fluency with the activated vocabulary .for the fluency Richards & renandya (2002) suggest that “fluency is partly depends on developing sight vocabulary through extensive reading and studying high-frequency vocabulary”(p.262) and also they expressed that fluency is cyclic use of already known words so the students can produce an utterance without hesitation(Richards and renandya,2002). To achieve these goal different variables should be taken into consideration such as time, books, methods of teaching, students back ground knowledge and so on. Mentioned variables will effect the learner’s motivation. For example in that class if the time and duration had been extended the result would have been different. Students could use those words so they didn’t think about the hardness of the task (external, task difficulty) and they could have higher self- efficacy and better motivation. And they could realize that vocabulary learning is a formidable and complex life-long task (Stahl & Nagy, 2006). There is a mutual relationship between motivation and vocabulary learning so when the learners are motivated they will learn more vocabulary and when they learn more vocabulary they will be more motivated, like a cycle.

1. C. absence of enough review of related literature

About the title of this paper there are only very few information, studies and review of related literature. the reason for that is scholars and researchers usually consider vocabulary as part of reading skill , Deng (2010) declare ” motivation for vocabulary learning is different from motivation for reading , so the motivation of vocabulary should be studied separately ” (p.4).

2. Body

There are six categories in the dimensions of vocabulary learning: help-seeking, morphology, context, dictionary use, spelling and phonology (Deng, 2010).

The help-seeking is very important in the process of vocabulary learning among EFL students. When the learners don’t t know the meaning of the word they will ask for it from the other peer or authority such as teachers or parents (this will be analyzed in detail in the vocabulary learning strategies). Research on this field show that students usually use this strategy rather than checking dictionary because it is easier and to the point, but it has down side too, using dictionary is a skill and when they get use to it they are exposed to more vocabulary learning and authentic pronunciation. In Richards & renandya (2002) the importance of dictionary is declared through “bilingual dictionaries have been found to result in vocabulary learning (p.263); they also proposed the advantages of bilingual dictionaries over monolingual one. .help-seeking shows that the students are concern about their studies so they have facilitative anxiety. When they realize the meaning, they will be more motivated due to understanding the concept of the text.

The second category for vocabulary learning is morphology. Hudson (2000) defines morphology as “concern the classes of morphemes, and their occurrence in sentences and combination as words” (p.8). We can study morphemes in two ways, based on meaning and based on the form with in two subparts, grammatical and lexical morphemes (Hudson, 2000). Study has shown that the student awareness on this division and the characteristic of each grammatical and lexical morpheme such as concreteness, frequency, open-set membership will help them to overcome the difficulty of the task .as an example, when the learners can distinguish between stem, root, suffix and prefix they not only will realize the meaning and function of that word but also they can use this technique to overcome some other hard and complicated task in the realm of vocabulary learning. In this situation learners become more self- actualized in result they will consider themselves as part of the process and they don’t rely on external factors (luck, difficulty of the task) so they will have a higher motivation. Williams &Burden (1997) declare that “the greater the value that individuals attached to the accomplishment or involvement in an activity the more highly motivated they will be both to engage in it initially and later to put sustained effort into succeeding in the activity”(p.125).

In fact, many examinations have been taken in the morphology and motivation realm, Deng (2010) “examined the motivation of morphological knowledge by measuring students’ motivation to notice and manipulate word parts that contribute to word meanings” (p.11). The result of this study shows the significant relationship between motivation and morphological awareness. Another factor which causes lack of motivation is accessibility to morphemes in our lexicon. Lexicon is mental dictionary of the morphemes and signs (Hudson, 2000). Access to morpheme in our lexicon occurs ” by rhyme, initial sound, and synonym, rough opposite, semantic features, context of occurrence, part of speech and spelling”( Hudson, 2000, p.74).

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Another way for Vocabulary learning is learning the word with in text itself. Contextualization occurs when the unknown meaning of the word is guessed by the reader according to other words and phrases. Contextual use refers to understanding word meanings by scrutinizing surrounding context, including preceding or succeeding phrases and sentences that provide syntactic and semantic cues (Deng, 2010, P.11), it is worth mentioning that this technique is more suitable for advanced learners because vocabulary learning includes learning collocations, associations, and related morphological as well as grammatical patterns ; considering all these elements for guessing the meaning is not possible for basic learners(Richards & renandya, 2003). This is very useful technique for the learners to enhance their self-efficacy as well. When they realize that they do not need to know the meaning of all the words to overcome the test or task difficulty, they will see an open window of opportunity for learning. On the other hand Kelly (1990) declared that “unless the context is very constrained, which is relatively rare occurrence or unless there is a relationship with the known word identifiable on the basis of form and supported by context, there is little chance of guessing the correct meaning” (p.203).

We can learn and access the vocabulary in lexicon with phonology and phonological process. In phonological process the learner can keep the word in the mind by the sound of it and also can have an access to the lexicon by the same application. The Other type is spelling, Deng (2010) presents that “spelling is specified as sub category of students’ motivation in vocabulary learning because spelling helps to learn new vocabulary” (p.11). Spelling influences conceptualizations of vocabulary learning (Ehri &Wilce, 1986). Through the spelling vocabulary l the image of the words can be established in the mind better than when the spelling is not known and this gives the learner stronger self -esteem. Richards & Renandya (2002) express that “language -focused instruction includes focusing on the pronunciation and spelling of words; deliberately learning the meaning of a word; memorizing collocations, phrases or sentences containing a word and being corrected for incorrect use of words”(p.270).

2. a. types of motivation and vocabulary learning

So far we realized that how motivation is related to the vocabulary learning. In this section, we consider types of motivation and the relationship with vocabulary learning. “Motivation refers to goal-directed behavior” (Masgoret and Gardner, 2003, p.128). It has been studied in different psychological schools of thought such as behaviorist view, cognitivist view and social constructivist view. In behaviorist point of view the concept of motivation is tied to rewards and external factors. Although the behaviorist point of view has been rejected but it can not be fully rejected; some times it plays an important role in vocabulary leaning. The external feedback that learners get will motivate them to continue the vocabulary learning tasks. Some scholars emphasis on the effect of feedback “the effort students put into their work outside of class needs to be acknowledged with sufficient feedback to make them feel that the effort was worthwhile in moving them toward their goal” (“capturing and directing”, 1997, p.4 ).so by giving them immediate feedback they will be more motivated in expansion of vocabulary learning. And, William and Burden (1997) declared that “behavioral psychologist were the first to recognize the power of feedback as a motivating influence” (p. 134). Other perspectives such as achievement motivation can be helpful in vocabulary learning. But it has two phases, one when the learner is highly motivated to accomplish the vocabulary task for external factors such as achieving the first place in the class or for their parent’s satisfaction. The second phase which is debilitative refers to the situations when the learner avoids participating in the task due to stressful nature of that activity. In result, we can see that the early psychologist approaches toward motivation is simple and deficient. Although there are not enough review of literature in the area of vocabulary learning and motivation but it can be studied in the Gardner’s integrative and instrumental orientation. Masgoret and Gardner (2003) Define integrative orientation as “integration refers to an openness to identify, at least in part, with another language community” (p.126). In integrative orientation the EFL learners want to be part of the English language community, and they want to integrate themselves with the English culture. This type of orientation is highly related to vocabulary learning. When learners want to be part of the community and they are highly motivated, they should speak or write in the manner that native speaker does. This will cause the learner to focus on expansion of vocabulary, besides using the words in appropriate place as mentioned on the introduction part of this paper. Also Masgoret and Gardener emphasis the adaption of word sounds, pronunciations, word orders, and other behavioral and cognitive features (Masgoret and Gardner, 2003). There are six variables included in the measure of integrative motivation which the main component, consists of attitude, interests and integrative orientation (William & Burden, 1997). “Attitudes toward the learning situation refer to the individual’s reaction to anything associated with the immediate context in which the language is taught” (Masgoret and Gardner, 2003, p.127).also Deng which is one of the main references of this paper, investigates motivation particularly attitude in vocabulary learning and defines it as “evaluating a particular entity with some degree of favor or disfavor” (Deng, 2010, p.8). Sometimes the students are not interested in the target language group but they can be open to all groups (Masgort and Gardner, 2003); in the case of interest, they make themselves involved in vocabulary learning and participate in different tasks which cause further learning.

The other type is instrumental orientation; which has less effect on the vocabulary learning compare to integrative orientation. When the learners want to overcome the difficulty of the text, task or exam for achieving a passing mark, financial rewards, furthering a career or gaining promotion they usually have instrumental orientation (William & Burden, 1997). This kind of motivation is applicable to vocabulary learning too. When the learners want to get passing mark on an English test they should study appropriate vocabulary for achieving that goal and it is only and only for that purpose.

The other approaches toward motivation are cognitive and social constructivist. In cognitive psychologist approach, the most important part is the choice that learners have on their actions (William and Burden, 1997). And in the social constructivist perspectives , the motivation is because of social factors so when one person is motivated, he/she will continue to achieve the goal and the way they are satisfied is different from person to person( William & Burden, 1997). There are other perspectives to motivation, intrinsic and extrinsic. In the researches on the vocabulary learning both intrinsic and extrinsic motivations play an important role. But intrinsic motivation which in William and Burden (1997) book has been defined as “experience of doing something that generates interest and enjoyment, and the reason for performing the activity lies within the activity itself” (p.123) is very important for the vocabulary learning. Because the learners are interested in the task or vocabulary learning, so they try more to get their goals, and they won’t give up easily.

2. b. the complexity of words

Some times the complexity of words may cause lack of motivation and because there is a mutual relationship between them, it may cause the student to give up the learning. According to Nagy and Scott there are five aspects of vocabulary complexity the first one is incremental- knowing which Deng (2010) defines it as ” knowing a word is not a matter of all- or- nothing, but incremental process based on small scales” (p.9). So it means that the vocabulary knowledge is additive. The learner shouldn’t be overwhelmed and unmotivated due to complex nature of vocabulary learning; when they see that they can add to their base knowledge. The second one is multidimensionality-word that consists of grammar, conceptual meaning and morphology which has been explained in the previous sections. Polysemy -words that Yule (1985) defines it as “two or more words with the same form and related meanings” (p.107). Also yule gives a good example of run that can relate to person or water. When the learner face this complexity he/she can be bewildered, to avoid this ambiguity different strategies are needed that will be discussed in the following section. The other type is interrelatedness – words that Deng explain it with the example of understanding the word bread which is related to understanding of other related words such as powder and wheat (Deng, 2010). And the last one is heterogeneity-word that refers to word class. For example some words are abstract like love and some words are concrete like chair, understanding these two level words are different and the abstract words may cause anxiety among EFL learner and especially between younger ages.

Another perspective to words is the division of word knowledge to receptive and productive. Richards & Renandya (2002) define the receptive knowledge as “one of the aspects of knowledge through reading and listening, and productive knowledge means being able to use in speaking and writing” (p.261). The concept of word knowledge is closely related to the passive and active vocabulary. Zhong in his research explain the concept of receptive-productive word as “the mastery level of vocabulary knowledge reflected in the learners’ comprehension and production abilities” (p.118) and also in the same paper he demonstrate progressive process of learning a word. The reason that I brought these parts of word and vocabulary learning in to this paper is that in conclusion part we will see there is a mutual relation between learning vocabulary and motivation. According to Zhong the first dimension is partial -precise dimension, “it shows the knowledge moves from recognition to vague understanding of the meaning and later to the mastery of precise comprehension” (p.118). The second is depth dimension which is the quality of knowing word and the last dimension is receptive and productive dimension.

2. c. vocabulary learning strategies

In order to simplify the complexity of the word and vocabulary learning that has a significant role on student anxiety and motivation, some strategies are needed. When the learners are motivated they will seek some ways for better understanding of the text or making use of these strategies for longer retention of words. For this purpose in Richards and Renandya there is a great emphasis on these strategies for inferring words from context as well as those which can help learner retain the meaning (Richards&Renandya,2002). There are different categorizations for vocabulary learning strategies according to different researchers.

Oxford & Crookall divided the techniques for vocabulary learning in to four categories decontextualizing technique that extract the word from the context completely which help the learners remember how the word is used as a part of language; semi- contextualizing in this technique the new word is related to the learners already known word but still they are not part of the context; the third one is contextualizing technique that the word will be studied in communicative context; and the last one is adaptable that reinforce other techniques (Oxford & Crookall , 1990). Decontextualizing technique consists of word lists that are divided into unpaired list and paired list, flashcards and conventional dictionary use; semi contextualizing which is consisted of words grouping ,visual imaginary ,key word ,physical sensation and semantic mapping; contextualizing technique that is processed with in the four skills in general English proficiency; and the last one , adaptable technique which they use structured reviewing (Oxford & Crookall, 1990).

In the Asgari’s research, the division is based on Schmitt classification, and he divides it in discovery strategies and consolidation strategies with five sub- categories consists of determination, social, memory ,cognitive and metacognitive strategies ( Asgari,2010). In the research that has been done by Asgari, she tries to related the learning strategies to vocabulary learning ,although it is acceptable but more specification is needed , because a specific classification for vocabulary learning strategies has been given. Other strategies which are related to learning in general term, can be associated to vocabulary learning as well , such as circumlocution when we describe the unknown word for the listener ; using prefabricated pattern , word coinage , approximation and so on (William & Burden, 1997).the mentioned techniques are part of the compensatory strategy, which is crucial for learner productive vocabulary knowledge. When they use this type of strategy they will continue the production and this will cause low anxiety and high degree of motivation.

3. Conclusion

So far different aspects of motivation and vocabulary learning have been investigated, the problems that EFL learners have in the classes and generally as the process of learning the second or foreign language beside the kinds of motivation and kinds of words. Also different strategies have been mentioned to compensate the above problems. The reason for this division is first there is not enough literature on this specific subject and second from my own understanding there are mutual relationship between vocabulary learning and motivation. By that I mean when the learners are motivated they will learn vocabulary better and when they learn a word they will be more motivated. So the reason for bringing all the above problems, kinds and strategies is that they are like a chain and they are related to each other. Deng in his research found no difference between male and female in motivation for vocabulary learning and he found a significant relationship between vocabulary learning and motivation (Deng, 2010).and also Fernandez & Terrazas (2012) in their research found that there is a significant positive relationship between the level of motivation and receptive vocabulary tests grade” (p.49). so by considering the level of motivation we can improve vocabulary learning among the EFL learners.


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