Incidental vocabulary learning in reading contexts aided by mobile phones

Gladwin George
Middle East College
Sultanate of Oman

Vocabulary acquisition is an integral part of language learning. In the age of ‘digital natives,’ abounding with technological devices for ‘anywhere, anytime’ learning, the opportunities for gaining knowledge of words are plentiful. Mobile-assisted language learning (MALL) has attained new heights in recent years and vocabulary acquisition is a key area which has reaped good dividends through this. Studies have investigated the effectiveness of mobile phones for vocabulary learning, but most of them have been based on the installation of specific applications on mobiles for activities related to words. Hence, the focus of this research on acquiring intentional vocabulary is quite evident in these studies. This paper intends to explore the efficacy of using mobile phones with Internet access for acquiring incidental vocabulary while learning intentional vocabulary quite naturally, with no applications installed in the mobile devices, by Arab ESL learners who belong to an environment where the significance of reading to gain richness in vocabulary is not taken seriously. The purpose is to view the mobile phone as a tool with Internet access and assess its impact on the students in learning incidental vocabulary devoid of constraints related to course assessments. It also aims to find out the extent to which Internet-enabled mobile phones have aided students in learning new words in comparison with the use of dictionaries in the classroom. The General Foundation Programme students, who were chosen for this research, were divided into two groups, one with total access to Internet-enabled mobile phones and the other with dictionaries for reading comprehension. Three tests were carried out — a vocabulary pretest, an immediate vocabulary post-test and a delayed vocabulary post-test — for analysis. The data examined through tables and figures show that incidental vocabulary learning does occur but at a relatively slower pace, irrespective of the medium used, compared to intentional vocabulary learning, though there is much less effort required in incidental vocabulary learning through MALL.