Fez - The issue of language attrition or forgetfulness has stirred a lot of controversies in the field of language education. The seriousness of this issue can be seen in its direct bearing on all the components of language, including grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary.
Fez – The issue of language attrition or forgetfulness has stirred a lot of controversies in the field of language education. The seriousness of this issue can be seen in its direct bearing on all the components of language, including grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary.
In terms of vocabulary, the lexical competence of language learners is said to diminish if it is not used frequently. In this respect, different techniques have emerged with the aim of decreasing the likelihood of attrition in vocabulary. One of these techniques is called recycling. In the present article, the background of recycling in the history of language teaching and learning will be outlined followed by an account of the different definitions of recycling and the different practical activities for the implementation of recycling in ESL/EFL classrooms.
The emergence of recycling in the teaching and learning of vocabulary has been motivated by several historical factors. One of these factors relates to the ineffectiveness of traditional applied linguistic techniques, such as contrastive analysis and error analysis, in coping with new problems of inter-language development. More specifically, the L2 lexical inter-language is not only influenced by negative transfer, but it is also susceptible to what is called attrition. Although the former can be potentially combated by contrastive analysis between languages; the best way to solve the latter has not yet been agreed upon. By the same token, new methods have emerged to tackle this issue.
One technique that is used in dealing with vocabulary attrition is recycling. Attrition can be considered a vocabulary learning strategy in the so-called 5R model: receiving, recognizing, retaining, retrieving, and recycling. This new model aims to restore vocabulary knowledge by virtue of its focus on memory strategies. The assumption behind recycling language lies in the notion that “Forgetfulness and language attrition seem to be ‘serious’ but inevitable processes unless learners constantly revisit the items they have previously learned” (M.E.N., p. 40). It is through the disuse of vocabulary that vocabulary attrition is more likely to occur. Thus, recycling lexical items, theoretically, reactivates lexical inter-language development. Moreover, M.E.N (2007) stated that “To avoid the problem of forgetfulness, students should constantly revisit the lexical items that they have previously learned” (p. 40).
A Tentative Definition of Vocabulary Recycling
The term recycling is often confused with repetition. The latter has characterized the traditional approaches in which language chunks have to be continuously repeated until they become second nature. This type of learning characterized by repetition is called mechanical, or rote, learning. However, with dissatisfaction with the traditional behaviorist approaches, the mechanical aspects were reconceptualized; it was distinguished from what is called recycling in that the latter involves a meaningful repetition (cf. Ausubel 2000). To recycle is to renew, re-teach, and relearn. In other words, “[Recycling] is not to be mistaken for ‘repetition,’ and it should hence be visualized as a ‘snowball’ that gives a ‘second chance’ to the vocabulary seen earlier to get fixed, expanded and enriched” (M.E.N, p. 40). Thus, vocabulary recycling is a method of not losing traction in the target language. Recycling is also considered a technique. In this respect, Richards and Schmidt (1996) stated:
[R]ecycling is a technique of grading materials in a lesson plan or in the curriculum. It falls within spiral sequencing within which (items are recycled but with new aspects of the item appearing with subsequent appearances) (p. 524).
In a word, recycling can be contextualized within the so-called best practices in language teaching and learning.
On the other hand, vocabulary attrition can be defined as the loss of word knowledge or lexical knowledge. This loss is said to be gradual rather than immediate. In this respect, Richards and Schmidt (1996) described language attrition as “a language loss that is gradual rather than sudden” (p. 314). This gradual loss affects all the subcomponents of vocabulary, including “single words, compound words and idioms” (ibid., p. 229).
Factors behind Vocabulary Attrition
There are several factors behind vocabulary attrition. One factor that results in lexical knowledge attrition is the disuse of language. According to Cohen (1986), the most recently added vocabulary is the most vulnerable and most prone to attrition. Another factor relates to the nature of vocabulary knowledge itself. Following this line of thought, studies have shown that lexical knowledge was forgotten more easily than phonology and morpho-syntax (Seliger, 1985), since the vocabulary of a language is relatively unstructured (Welten et al, 1993).
The Importance of Recycling in Minimizing Vocabulary Attrition
The role of recycling in minimizing the degree of vocabulary attrition can be seen in several aspects. First, it aids in prolonging vocabulary knowledge and retrieving words according to situations. Recycling, then, is necessary for vocabulary building and durability. It is also “a surer way for learners to be able to retrieve the right word in the right time and situation” (M.E.N, p. 40). Learning and relearning vocabulary are important in that they not only help in word retrieval but also foster the understanding of vocabulary. In this respect, Cohen (1986) states, “Each exposure to a word has the potential of increasing [the] learner’s depth of knowledge about that word” (p. 146). Moreover, the lack of recycling would result in a high degree of L1 transfer to make up for the vocabulary items under attrition. This will increase language transfer, which will in turn lead to language attrition. In this respect, Pavlenko (2002, as cited in Kopke and Schmid, 2004) remarked, “The transfer from L1 undeniably plays a role in L2 attrition” (p.6 5); further, Paradis (1985, as cited in Tomiyama, 2000) adds,”Language transfer is a fundamental process in [language] loss” (p. 29). Thus, vocabulary recycling helps not only in minimizing vocabulary loss but also in decreasing the possibilities of language transfer.
First, it is worth noting that vocabulary recycling is in certain regards a practical way of revisiting learned vocabulary. However, there are various practical activities in which recycling can be manifested more clearly. In fact, vocabulary-recycling activities can be divided according to the nature of vocabulary knowledge, namely receptive and productive knowledge.
The activities that focus on receptive vocabulary knowledge are numerous, the first of which is reading. In fact, a large body of research investigations have linked vocabulary learning with reading (Huckin, 1993; Joe 1995; Parry 1991; Zimmerman 1997). However, not all reading activities are conducive to developing receptive vocabulary knowledge. For example, extensive reading is conductive to vocabulary enlargement. However, reading for global meaning alone is less likely to help in developing receptive vocabulary knowledge. In addition to reading, having words in lists and flash cards can be an effective activity where students can stay in touch with the new learned words. Although this activity de-contextualizes vocabulary, it is still effective. According to Ellis (1994) and Schmidt (1990), “De-contextually highlighting the words may be necessary for helping learners to store new words, as giving conscious attention is also important to learn vocabulary” (p. 8). One more practical way of recycling vocabulary is through so-called peripheral activities. In such activities, lists of words are hung on the classroom walls, and students are exposed to these posts whenever they are in class. The assumption behind this is that vocabulary is learnt best when students’ attention is not directed to it. Learning in this way is known as peripheral or incidental learning. In general, reading activities, word list activities, and peripheral activities are considered to be the most practical ways of recycling receptive vocabulary knowledge.
There are several practical activities for recycling productive vocabulary knowledge. One of these activities is brainstorming previous phrases and related words in dealing with new topics. This activity helps activate the internal lexical syllabus of learners. Moreover, writing book reviews can also help in recycling vocabulary in that students will attempt to reproduce the vocabulary they have learned previously in the writing task. Last but not least, testing can be considered a way that encourages students to revisit language. In fact, the productive aspect of vocabulary knowledge is very susceptible to language attrition. In this regard, Tomiyama (1999) argued that “learner’s productive skill in the lexicon was first forgotten while their receptive skill was immune.” Thus, there should be more activities that focus on the productive aspect of vocabulary knowledge.
In conclusion, the way recycling can be deployed in combating vocabulary attrition has taken different paths. Due to the inadequacy of repetition in preventing an acquired foreign language from attrition, recycling arose as a practical way to maintain lexical competence in second and foreign languages. The importance of recycling can be seen in that it helps eliminate the major factors behind language attrition through the use of several techniques that aim to reactivate receptive and productive vocabulary knowledge.
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