Date of Award

8-1-2015

Degree Name

Master of Arts

Department

Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages

First Advisor

Lakshmanan, Usha

Abstract

Vocabulary acquisition plays an important role in second language students’ performance. In the process of learning vocabulary, students are exposed to different sorts of input that might affect the way their working memory processes, retains, and recalls the new information they are exposed to, which can be visual, auditory, haptic, or multimodal (Paivio, 1991). Research has been extensively done on the effects of input modality on working memory in L1 word recall tasks in individuals with normal development and also in individuals with visual disabilities; however, no attention has been given to the effects of input modality on working memory in word recall tasks in blind individuals in the realm of second language learning. The current research sought to investigate the effects of input modality on working memory in L2 word recall tasks with the goal of determining if the lack of access to visual stimuli would have any substantial effects on L2 word retention and recall. It was predicted that participants would do better on those word recall tasks that involved the use of more than one modality simultaneously and that lack of access to visual stimuli would not negatively affect L2 word recall. To address these issues, we devised two word recall experiments: experiment 1 for the blind participant of the study (a 24 year old female graduate student who is an English native speaker), and experiment 2 for the sighted participants. Both experiments comprised a Digit Span Test, 4 word recall tasks in which participants were exposed to four different lists of high frequency Spanish words and their English translations in different modalities (Oral, Written (Braille), Oral+Written (Braille), Haptic/visual+Oral), and an interview. Thirty (16 females, 14 males) American English Native speakers who were sighted with ages ranging from 19 to 37 participated in this study; half of them were blindfolded for the last word recall task (Haptic+Oral). The results for both experiments showed that contrary to our predictions and to what dual coding theories claim, our participants were able to recall more words in those tasks that involved the use of only one modality. In part this may be attributed to 1) the fact that it was the first time these participants were exposed to Spanish vocabulary and so it made it more difficult for their working memories to integrate modalities and 2) an information overload since the stimulus words were presented with their translation. Moreover, the lack of access to visual stimuli did not have a strong effect in those participants who were blindfolded, which may be explained by the fact that the oral and haptic input triggered the use of mental imagery when retaining and recalling the words. Finally, the practical and pedagogical implications of the findings of the present study, as well as recommendations for the future research are discussed.

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