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Inferring word meaning from context: A study in second language acquisition

by Thomas H. Huckin, Zhendong Jin


A study investigated the ability of native-Chinese-speaking graduate students (N=18) at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh to infer word meanings from context in two passages written in English. One passage came from the "China Daily" and the other from an editorial in a student newspaper. Glosses were provided for the few non-target words, and 20 words in each passage were chosen for the study. All subjects were given the article from the "China Daily" and were asked to follow three steps: (1) to guess, in either English or Chinese, what the target word meant; (2) to translate the text into Chinese; and (3) to explain what strategies the student used to guess word meanings. Subjects were then divided into control and test groups. The test group was given 15 minutes of training in how to guess the meaning of unfamiliar words in context. The control group did not receive any training. Then, all subjects followed the same three steps with the other passage. The general observations resulting from the study are reported. (DJD)

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