The effects of contextual richness on the guessability and the retention of words in a foreign language

JA Mondria, M Wit-de Boer

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    105 Citations (Scopus)


    One of the ideas that are currently gaining ground with regard to vocabulary acquisition in a foreign language is the view that inferring the meaning of a word from its context makes an important contribution towards the retention of the word in question. A precondition for this is that the meaning be guessed correctly.

    In our study we investigated (1) which contextual factors influence the guessability of words, (2) how these factors influence receptive retention (after guessing and memorizing), and (3) what is the relationship between correctly or incorrectly guessing and retention (after a learning stage). The main conclusions of this study are: (1) a specificfilling-in of the factors subject, verb, and function contributes to the guessability of a word in a particular sentence context; (2) a specific filling-in of the above-mentioned factors in the process of guessing and learning has no effect on the retention (subject and verb) or a negative effect (function); (3) correctly guessing a word does not lead to an improved retention (after a learning stage) as compared with guessing a word incorrectly; for some words retention is even worse.

    To summarize: the factors that are conducive to guessing are not conducive to retention, at least not when after guessing a learning stage occurs with the aid of the same context as in the process of guessing.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)249-267
    Number of pages19
    JournalApplied Linguistics
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 1991



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