Vocabulary is the basis for receptive and productive language use. Influential theories on second language acquisition and learning consider vocabulary and grammar to be complementary, rather than opposing elements of language. Vocabulary is viewed as an integral component of learner grammars that is worth promoting and consolidating in the foreign language classroom. In recent years, digitialisation has seen the development of many learning apps and platforms that provide new opportunities for students. Concomitant with technical innovation, scientific activity in the areas of Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) and Mobile Assisted Language Learning (MALL) has increased markedly. Nevertheless, there is still a need for research that can substantiate claims about the effectiveness of digital technologies for vocabulary training or the way learners perceive these tools.
By contrast, other aspects of vocabulary learning and teaching are well documented in the literature. For instance, active involvement with words or word chunks is known to promote retainment. As such, effective vocabulary learning is linked with an increase in the depth of processing which should not be too cognitively demanding as this inhibits memorisation processes. Whether the use of digital tools fosters depth of processing or leads to cognitive overload is therefore a relevant issue.
In general, questions on vocabulary learning and teaching can be located along the following lines:
- Language pedagogy: How can vocabulary be learned efficiently?
- Digitalisation: How can digital learning environments and translation tools be used to support vocabulary training?
- Applications: How can vocabulary knowledge be transferred to communicative contexts?
- Individual differences: To what extent do individual skills and abilities (cognitive, language-related or motivational) influence learning?
The present project explores these questions at vocational schools for business, management, and services, where students in the federal vocational baccalaureate programme are required to learn a national language and English. Two field experiments are carried out to examine the effects of different digital vocabulary training methods and the impact of digital aids (online translation tools and dictionaries) on text production.
The project documents how students and teachers currently use digital media and how they rate the advantages of these tools; it also provides information on the effectiveness of digital aids in vocabulary learning in foreign language classes. Teachers can then use these findings as the basis for lesson planning. Moreover, a better understanding of the extent to which digital learning media support text production and vocabulary acquisition enables the development of specific learning tasks and supports students in selecting a useful learning tool. The results will be made available to both teachers and students in two ways: as a pedagogical recommendation on vocabulary acquisition and digitalisation, and as professional development for teachers. An additional goal is to better understand how individual skills and abilities influence learning a foreign language, with the aim of incorporating this information into the classroom.