Document Type

Dissertation

Date of Degree

Summer 2015

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Second Language Acquisition

First Advisor

Judith Liskin-Gasparro

Abstract

This dissertation study was motivated by an interest in the process of acquisition of Russian vocabulary by a previously unstudied group of learners, American university students. The study identified the vocabulary learning strategies and beliefs about vocabulary learning of 97 university students beginning to study Russian. It also examined relationships between reported beliefs and strategies and their stability over the period of one semester of studying Russian. The data were collected with a self-report online questionnaire administered at the beginning and at the end of the Fall 2014 semester, as well as with interviews with the participants.

Descriptive analysis of students’ beliefs indicated that the participants highly valued the role of vocabulary in studying a foreign language, understood the complexity of the process of vocabulary acquisition, and believed that words and phrases should be carefully studied and then practiced in context. The participants reported high motivation and high expectations of their success as learners of Russian.

Descriptive analysis of vocabulary learning strategies demonstrated that besides active use of a dictionary, guessing, and note-taking strategies, virtually all participants reported frequent use of rehearsal strategies, especially repetition. These findings contradict the view that, in contrast to Asian learners of English, who are believed to value memorization and repetition, Western learners tend to downplay the role of repetition in the process of vocabulary learning. Analysis of the responses to open-ended questions and interview prompts confirmed that the participants frequently used repetition and rehearsal strategies and considered them most effective for establishing form–meaning connections for new words. The respondents also reported frequent use of contextual encoding, activation, and affective strategies. Comparison of the results of the two questionnaires revealed several vocabulary learning beliefs and strategies that underwent changes as a result of one semester of studying Russian. At the end of the semester students reported even more agreement with value of repetition, practice, good memory, and cultural knowledge for learning vocabulary. In contrast, they expressed significantly less agreement that it is easier to learn new words when they are presented in context. Besides, participants reported that while learning vocabulary they less frequently tried to recall sentences in which new words were used. Interviewed students explained this shift by noting the difficulty of Russian vocabulary and cognitive overload while trying to acquire new words in context. These findings once again argue against the claim that contextual acquisition of foreign language vocabulary is always effective in instructed foreign language learning.

Using correlational and cluster analyses, the study identified multiple relationships between groups of vocabulary learning beliefs and strategies, as well as between individual beliefs and strategies. Motivational beliefs were correlated with most groups of vocabulary learning strategies, and memory strategies were correlated with most groups of beliefs.

Public Abstract

The study identified the vocabulary learning strategies and beliefs about vocabulary learning reported by 97 American university students beginning to study Russian. It also found multiple relationships between reported beliefs and strategies and revealed the stability of most beliefs and strategies over the period of one semester of studying Russian.

Analysis of students’ beliefs indicated that the participants highly valued the role of vocabulary in studying a foreign language, understood the complexity of the process of vocabulary acquisition, and believed that words and phrases should be carefully studied and then practiced in context. The participants reported high motivation and high expectations of their success as learners of Russian. Analysis of vocabulary learning strategies demonstrated that besides active use of a dictionary, guessing, and note-taking strategies, virtually all participants reported frequent use of rehearsal strategies, especially repetition. At the end of the semester, participants expressed even more agreement with value of repetition, practice, good memory, and cultural knowledge for learning vocabulary. In contrast, they expressed significantly less agreement that it is easier to learn new words when they are presented in context. Interviewed students explained this shift by noting the difficulty of Russian vocabulary and cognitive overload while trying to acquire new words in context. These findings argue against the claim that contextual acquisition of foreign language vocabulary is always effective in instructed foreign language learning.

Keywords

publicabstract, instruction, learning belief, learning strategy, Russian, second language, vocabulary

Pages

xvii, 278

Bibliography

218-234

Copyright

Copyright 2015 Olga Kulikova

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