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The Five Principles of Effective Second Language Acquisition

Vocabulary Instruction in Byki

I. Introduction

For years, the popular methodology for learning a second language was to focus on grammar and sentences first and then on vocabulary. Recently, however, there has been a shift toward recognition that learning vocabulary first leads to more success. Having a base of vocabulary to draw from makes learning grammar and sentence structure easier. The Byki program from Transparent Language was based on this concept of building a solid foundation of vocabulary before tackling other aspects of the language. Byki is an acronym for "Before You Know It". This paper describes how Byki makes use of the five principles of effective vocabulary learning described in Joe Barcroft's Second Language Vocabulary Acquisition: A Lexical Input Processing Approach. Following these guidelines helps make this program the best way to vocabulary mastery and ultimately to learning a new language.

II. Barcroft's Five Principles of Effective Second Language Vocabulary Instruction

  1. Present new words frequently and repeatedly in input.
    The more frequently language learners are exposed to foreign vocabulary; the more likely they are to remember it. Studies suggest that most learners need between 5-16 'meetings' with a word in order to retain it. Byki does an excellent job providing this repeated exposure. Every word and phrase must be correctly identified multiple times to obtain the highest score, while the variety of exercises and activities prevents this repetition from being boring. Language learners are thus more likely to use and enjoy the program long enough to accomplish a sufficient number of 'meetings' to master the new vocabulary terms. At the same time, a proprietary algorithm tracks each learner's progress and presents the words that need the most work more often than those that have already been mastered. In that way, language learners get more exposure to the words that they find most difficult. By seeing these words more often, they can focus their attention where it is needed most.

  2. Use meaning-bearing comprehensible input when presenting new words.
    In order for learners to successfully make the association between a foreign language word and its meaning, that meaning must be conveyed in a comprehensible manner. One method for making foreign terms comprehensible and thus promoting vocabulary learning is to present each word in a variety of ways. Byki therefore uses a number of techniques to make foreign language vocabulary memorable for language learners. For example, every foreign language term is presented not only as text, but also as audio, so that language learners can hear the correct pronunciation as many times as they need to fix it in their mind. The pronunciation can even be slowed down to help language learners focus on the smaller nuances. Many of the foreign language terms in Byki are also presented along with pictures that convey the meaning in yet another form. This additional input reinforces the word's meaning and assists the learner in remembering it.

  3. Limit forced output during the initial stages of learning new words.
    Forcing language learners to rush into sentence formation can interfere with vocabulary learning during the beginning stages of acquiring a new language. Instead, learners should be given time to absorb the meanings of individual words at their own pace before being required to use them in a larger context. Language learners who take that time are far more likely to use the words correctly when they do choose to form sentences. Byki gives language learners all the time they need to focus on foreign language terms. It allows learners to concentrate exclusively on words, so that they can master the necessary vocabulary before moving on to the next stage of learning a new language. When language learners who use Byki do feel ready to form sentences on their own, they will have a solid base of vocabulary with which to do so.

  4. Limit forced semantic elaboration during the initial stages of learning new words.
    In addition to not forcing beginning language learners to immediately produce whole sentences, a vocabulary program should also avoid other kinds of elaboration that might produce negative effects on the learning of new words. Some learners may find it distracting or confusing if they are asked to perform other tasks at the same time that they are trying to commit new words to memory. Studies have shown, for example, that learners who were asked to either list their emotional associations for foreign language terms or count the letters in each foreign term they were learning actually had poorer recall for those vocabulary words than learners who concentrated just on the words themselves. Byki focuses on creating accurate one-to-one associations between the foreign language terms and their native language meanings. Each flash card displays one foreign language term and its meaning, with no extraneous information to distract the learner. The association between the word and its meaning is further enhanced by allowing the learner to translate the word from both language directions - first, by seeing the foreign word and having to produce the native language meaning, then by seeing the native language word and having to produce the foreign language equivalent. Byki thus sets the stage for truly effective vocabulary learning.

  5. Progress from less demanding to more demanding vocabulary-related activities.
    Vocabulary learning is most effective when learners start off with a small group of words, then gradually add more terms as the first ones are mastered. Byki handles this process automatically, by keeping track of the words that a learner has worked with and introducing new vocabulary at the most appropriate times. The exercises in Byki also progress from easier to more challenging, allowing learners to steadily build their confidence and their ability to produce the foreign language.
Byki is thus an excellent first step in the language learning process. After language learners have made their way through the Perfect Recall learning cycle in Byki, they are ready to move onto other, more advanced aspects of language learning.

III. Conclusion

The methodology of Byki is based on the theory that learning vocabulary is a great place to start when learning a foreign language and that concentrating on individual words and their translations is an effective method of vocabulary learning. The foreign language words and phrases should be reinforced along the way with pictures and pronunciation, but elements that could distract from vocabulary learning - such as sentence building - should be avoided at the beginning stages of language learning. A solid vocabulary is an important foundation for successfully mastering a new language.

Barcroft, J. Second Language Vocabulary Acquisition: A Lexical Input Processing Approach, Foreign Language Annals Vol. 37 No. 2
Barcroft, J. Semantic and structural elaboration in L2 lexical acquisition. Language Learning 52(2) 323-363
Nation, I.S.P. (2001) Learning vocabulary in another language. Cambridge University Press
Waring, R. Basic Principles and Practice in Vocabulary Instruction, The Language Teacher 2002

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