An empirical study of the vocational college students’ chunk acquisition based on involvement load hypothesis


Представлены результаты эмпирического исследования влияния различных способов введения новой лексики на кратковременное и долговременное запоминание в обучении студентов профессиональных колледжей. Также проанализированы различия в использовании субъективных стратегий освоения новой лексики в зависимости от типа задачи. Даны рекомендации преподавателям английского языка.

Общая информация

Ключевые слова: Involvement load hypothesis, chunk acquisition, vocational college, English lesson

Рубрика издания: Современное образование и проблемы когнитивного развития

Тип материала: материалы конференции

Для цитаты: Ting W. An empirical study of the vocational college students’ chunk acquisition based on involvement load hypothesis // Психология образования в XXI веке: теория и практика.

Полный текст

lexical chunk acquisition is currently receiving more attention in the second language pedagogy and research; more extensive research has to be done in order to improve the effects of vocational college students’ lexical chunk acquisition and to promote vocational colleges’ English teaching performance.

laufer and Hulstijn put forward the Involvement load Hypothesis, which provided us with criteria to observe, to manipulate and to measure learning tasks effectiveness using three elements: need, search and evaluation. Based on the Involvement load Hypothesis and the specific learning features of vocational college students, the study obtained the following conclusions from the analysis:

1) Tasks with varying involvement loads had different effects and influence on vocational college learner’s chunk acquisition. 2) The amount of involvement load was in proportion to the effects of vocational college students’ English chunk acquisition. 3) Even though all the three components of the involvement load had positive effects on memory, the “evaluation” was more effective on vocational students’ both short-term and long-term memory than the other two elements.

lexical chunk plays a crucial role in language acquisition process. It is the fundamental core and the basic root of a language, which means that the learning process is crucial to language acquisition. Although numerous teachers and researchers have already paid great efforts in studying and promoting college students’chunk learning, surveys and statistics from examination board still indicate that the current students’ lexical chunk learning and using are far from satisfactory. There are two primal problems: the first universal problem is that the college students’ English lexical chunk application has always been a weak part of college students’ English competence, and more than half of the students can hardly use proper words and expressions to write coherent sentences or express their ideas correctly and freely; the second one problem is that the subjects of present studies are mainly undergraduates of the colleges or universities and middle school students. These are the reasons that a study that concentrates on vocational college students is also needed.

As a recent theoretical achievement, the Involvement load Hypothesis has given some inspirations to vocabulary teaching and learning. Some researchers have tried empirical studies to check whether the hypothesis is in accordance with vocabulary acquisition under different types of tasks. However, so far the results seem to be rather inconclusive.

The target subjects of most former researchers are mainly full-time undergraduate students and middle school students, with the group of vocational college students ignored. Vocational students have their own feathers and characteristics which should be paid much attention to in the research and language teaching. In light of their little interest and weak foundation in English learning, it’s urgent and more challenging to improve the vocational college students’ lexical chunk acquisition effects and promote vocational college English teaching performance.

The thesis aims to do the related research with vocational college students as the research subjects to make it clear whether the Involvement load Hypothesis take effects and what effects it will have on different groups of students with different learning tasks in English vocabulary learning in vocational colleges. The study is expected to provide some enlightenment to vocational college English vocabulary teaching.

Research Design. Research questions and subjects will be first introduced briefly, and then instruments including testing, questionnaire, and SPSS statistical software.

So far, the lexical chunks have attracted the interest of many researchers and linguists. Based on the Involvement load hypothesis, the present paper attempts to answer the following three questions:

Will different involvement load in English chunk learning tasks have different effects on vocational college students’ chunk acquisition?

Will the amount of involvement load be in proportion to the effects of vocational college students’ English chunk acquisition?

How do the different elements “need”, “search” and “evaluation” influence the vocational college students’ short-term, long-term memory and their vocabulary learning strategies?

The participants who took part in the present research are one hundred and eighty non-English­major students of 2009 in Shandong Zibo Vocational Institute. They were chosen from the 231 students the present author were teaching according to the results of pre-test.

For the sake of validity and accuracy, the investigator applies the following three instruments: testing, questionnaires, and SPSS 13.0. The research procedures consist of pre-test, experiments, post-tests, questionnaire and data collection and analysis.

The pretest items come from college English vocabulary, which include 50 words. If subjects choose the first one, they will get score 0, the second 0.5 score, the third 1 score, and the forth 1.5 scores and the last 2 scores. The full score of this pretest is 100. The difficulty level of the items equals to that of Band Four College English Test.

The post-tests include the immediate vocabulary test and delayed vocabulary test. The immediate vocabulary test was taken immediately after the subjects finished the assigned tasks. When the participants finished the tasks, the immediate post test paper was handed out to every of them for inspecting the effects of different assignments on participants’ vocabulary chunks acquisition. The immediate post-test included 18 target words. For each word, there were five chosen items with 5 degrees of mastering.

The current questionnaire covered ignoring strategies, guessing strategies and dictionary consulting strategies only, but adding some other selections in order to obtain the information the present study aimed to get.

Experiments. The present study investigated the effects of six reading tasks with different involvement loads on the target formulaic sequences in an incidental learning setting. The involvement factors: need (N), search (S) and the evaluation (E) (absent, moderate or strong) in the six tasks varied differently by the involvement index. When there is no demand for the component, the index is 0; when there is moderate demand, the index is 1; when there is strong demand, the index is 2. given different tasks, different groups were given different time limit to finish their tasks.

Of the most frequently used task types, see, comprehension questions, multiple choice questions, sentence translation, blank filling, passage writing and sentences making, six are chosen for the present study and each task is described in more detail below and the involvement load indices for these tasks are as follows.

The Involvement Load of the Five Tasks

Tasks (group)

Status of target words





1. Reading but no relevant questions

glossed in text but irrelevant to task


2. Reading and comprehension questions

glossed in text and irrelevant to task



3. Reading with multiple-choicecomprehension questions

glossed in text and relevant to task




4. Reading with multiple-choicecomprehension questions

Not glossed in text but relevant to task





5. Reading with sentence-making questions

glossed and related to task




6. Reading with a short-essay writingquestion

Not glossed but Relevant to task





The author organized six different tasks which vary in involvement loads. After that, the six groups of participants are given six different tasks and each group is asked to finish one task within the given time. The participants are allowed to use any kind of reference books or dictionaries available. The time when participants completed the tasks, the reference answers to the test items were provided to help students themselves to evaluate their performance. All the test papers were immediately collected for later examining and analyzing.

Results and Discussion. In the immediate vocabulary test, the group that had the highest mean was group Six (88.17), which did a reading with a short-essay writing task; while the lowest mean (65.60) was got by the group One. In the delayed vocabulary test, the group that had the highest mean was still group Six (86.73), which did a reading with a short-essay writing task; while the lowest mean (64.17) was also got by group One. Besides, we need to notice that the means decreases in turns from group Six to group One. Differences between different groups are significant at the 0.001 level (F=79.56, p=.000), the difference within every two groups are significant at the 0,05 level (except group 4 and 5) by one-way ANOVA. The results showed that all the six task groups exemplified significant increase in knowledge of the target words.

To sum up, even though all the three components of the involvement load had positive effects on memory, “evaluation” was more effective on vocational students’ both short-term and long-term memory than the other two elements. Therefore, it can also act more effectively in long-term memory program and application ability training.

In conclusion, different tasks have different involvement load, which would lead to a variation in the result of the subjects’ lexical chunk acquisition. If the index is high, the retention of the unfamiliar words will be long. In other words, it is conditional upon that which has set the task, whether the new word has to be searched, and whether it has to be compared, or combined with other words. That is, the greater the involvement loads, the better the retention.

After the whole research procedure, we collected data and results and through SPSS analysis, found that tasks (for instance, reading with a sentence-making task and reading with a short-essay writing task) with higher involvement loads were really effective than tasks (for example, the reading comprehension task) with lower involvement load on the retention of formulaic sequences’ written form. In addition, tasks with varying involvement loads also influence the learners’ short-term and long-term memory program: if the tasks are with higher involvement load, the subjects will do a better job in the delayed vocabulary test, otherwise, the opposite. Finally, though the three components of the involvement load all have positive effects on memory, evaluation is more important than search and need, therefore, evaluation takes more effects than the other two.

Questionnaire Result and Discussion. There are significant differences between the six groups in the items of ignoring strategies using (F=6.735, p=.000) and dictionary consulting strategies using (F=9.238, p=.000). Near significant difference exits between groups in the use of guessing strategies (F=2.201, p=.059).

The subjects in group One adopted much more ignoring strategy than those of other groups especially group Three, Four, Five and Six. Because group One took the Task 1 with no need, no search and no evaluation requirement. What they needed to do was doing the reading without any other tasks. So during the reading process, without dictionary, when they met with the new words, they had not any desire to refer to the dictionary or tool material or even guess their meaning. The subjects of group Two also took more ignoring strategy than the other groups. In their reading material, the meanings of target words in the passage were glossed, and even though the questions were related to their meaning, they might use the glossary directly. And some subjects in group Two also took guessing strategy. In order to make sure of the precision rate of the questions, some of them wanted to understand the passage deeply and thoroughly, so when they met with new words they would guess the meaning according to context or the related words. But the use ratio is much less than the subjects in other groups.

The group Three with Task 3 adopted more dictionary consulting strategy than the first two groups. Because even though the meanings of the target words had been glossed, the usages of the words were related to the questions. Sometimes, the Chinese meaning could not reveal the grammar usage of the words. So in order to finish the Task 3, the subjects chose dictionary consulting strategy. As for group Four and Six, the subjects adopted much more dictionary consulting strategy, because the meanings of the target words were not glossed, only when the subjects know the meanings of the target words could they understand the basic meaning of the whole passage and then did the multiple choice questions. And only when they took the consulting strategy, knew about the usage of the word could they make the short-essay writing.

The subjects in group Five and Six took both guessing and consulting strategy more than the other groups. According to the context and related words, by taking the guessing strategy they could guess the basic meaning and usage of the words. And then after they took the dictionary consulting strategy, the target words would leave the deep impression in the memory.

In the questionnaire, there were some questions related to the detailed consulting strategy. group Five who did task 5 made sentences with need (+), search (-) and evaluation (++), and group Six who did task 5 finished a short-essay writing with need (+), search (+) and evaluation (++). In order to finish the tasks well, they needed to not only know the basic meanings of the words but also know about their grammar usage. Therefore, these two groups got higher score in these items.

From the above analysis and discussion, we may conclude that different tasks with different load do affect the learners’ vocabulary learning strategies. Ignoring strategy is not very helpful for knowledge learning. Taking both guessing strategy and dictionary consulting strategy would be helpful for lexical chunk acquisition.

Teaching Enlightments. According to the researcher’s experiments and results, referring to the involvement load hypothesis, some important teaching implications can be put up with.

Firstly, in consideration of the influence and effects the involvement loads on the vocabulary chunk acquisition, during the second language teaching process, teachers should adopt the involvement load approaches to the teaching. Because high involvement load will give students deeper impression, the words with high difficulty level should be put in the task with high involvement load so that students can grasp them well. The important words or vocabulary chunks can be put in the tasks such as making sentences or an essay. In a word, in the teaching process, teachers should give full play to students' initiative by putting the proper involvement load in different tasks for the different vocabulary.

Secondly, the passage of time will influence the soundness of the learners’ immediate memory and delayed memory, so after teaching procedures vocational teachers must adopt proper way to review what have been taught. Timely review is so important for vocational college students.

Thirdly, considering the importance and difficulty of questions, vocational college English teachers need to adopt different approaches. Put the need, research and evaluation to the different tasks so as to help learners to remember all the focus of the vocabulary.

Fourthly, what vocational college teachers should pass on to the students is not only knowledge about vocabulary itself but also the learning method as well. A good learning strategy is a key to progress and success. We know that some students can not make any progress even though they are working hard partly due to their ineffective learning strategies. leading them to useful learning strategies is necessary. For example, teaching students to use use consulting dictionary strategy when necessary will deepen their impression and understanding of new words.

Fifthly, during the process of designing tasks, even though more involvement loads will take more positive effects on vocational college students’ chunk acquisition, if the single task with only high involvement loads is usually used in teaching, it will bring negative effect on learners’ learning interest. During the teaching process, teachers should design the tasks with different involvement loads in accordance with the learners’ actual situation and syllabus’ different requirements for different target words so as to help students not only strengthen the chunk acquisition consciousness but also keep and improve their learning interest as well.

Информация об авторах

Ting Wang, Lecturer of Zibo Vocational Institute, e-mail:



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