An investigation of native language vocabulary and topic knowledge as predictors of foreign language vocabulary learning in healthcare providers
Drumhiller, Marcia Foresee
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The problem of insufficient foreign language acquisition by professional learners through examination of the roles of native language vocabulary and topic knowledge in adult foreign language acquisition is addressed in this study. Research on the role of lexical equivalents in the learner's native language in foreign language processing, acquisition, and use of target foreign language words is limited and merits further study. Moreover, the concept aspect of vocabulary and related topic knowledge has not been well recognized. As foreign language curricular focus favors early presentation of the most frequent words in general contexts, professional learners cannot fully profit from previous vocbulary and topic knowledge. The study of medical Spanish acquisition, due to unusually high levels of representational similarity between English and Spanish medical vocabulary, in addition to unusually deep topic knowledge in the learner population, affords an opportunity to further inform language for specific purpose instruction as well as general foreign language instruction. Medical Spanish is likely more easily acquired than general Spanish due to an increased percentage of Latin-based words in medical vocbulary, as well as deep topic knowledge of medical vocabulary in medical professionals. This study investigates the relationship between native English vocabulary size and topic knowledge of adult learners and medical Spanish vocabulary acquisition. Subsequent to completion of the Nelson Denny Vocabulary Test, a medical Spanish test, and an English medical terminology test, forty-four healthcare workers received approximately 12 hours of Medical Spanish vocabulary instruction. Post test scores indicated that by themselves, both medical vocabulary knowledge and English vocabulary skill were significant predictors of Medical Spanish vocabulary acquisition. Medical vocabulary knowledge, however, explained most of the variance in Medical Spanish vocabulary acquisition. The apparent advantage of this study group for concept is congruent with current models of working and long term memory, where highly organized concepts in long term memory free the working memory to attend to and learn new labels in another language, a process not unlike that of expert learning. A curricular shift toward content-centered vocabulary may be warranted for adult foreign language classes.
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