Do Linguistic Proficiency and Task Cognitive Complexity Affect Vocabulary Retention of ESL Learners?

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Joseph Kumar A.M., Dr. Revathi Srinivas


Recently a few studies have examined the relationship between learner proficiency and vocabulary acquisition and retention (Kim, 2008; Tekmen & Daloglu, 2006). However, studies that have examined the effects of learner proficiency and task complexity on vocabulary development and retention are scanty. Hence, this study aimed to investigate whether proficiency levels of the sample and task complexity affected their performance and lexical retention while working on vocabulary tasks that made different degrees of cognitive demands. The Cognition Hypothesis of Robinson (2001) claims that increasing task cognitive demands along certain dimensions of the Triadic Componential Framework (TCF) will enhance the quality of L2 production.  Drawing on the TCF, cognitive complexity was manipulated along +/- few elements and +/- single task variables to produce simple, complex, and + complex vocabulary tasks. Sample, comprising of 130 first-year undergraduate students, was divided into two groups – basic and intermediate levels of English language proficiency—based on their scores in a vocabulary test conducted earlier. The sample performed on the tasks and after two weeks participated in a delayed recall test. Results of the study indicated that linguistic proficiency affected the retention and recall of lexical items across the tasks. Learners with basic level of proficiency performed significantly better on + complex task than on simple and complex tasks but retained a greater number of words from the simple task than from the complex tasks. Participants with intermediate level of proficiency performed better on the complex and + complex tasks than on the simple task but retained a larger quantity of words from the simple and + complex tasks than from the complex task. These findings have several implications for the ESL learners of various proficiency levels in terms of gradation of tasks that would facilitate vocabulary development.

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