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Wednesday, August 12 • 4:35pm - 5:00pm
L2 as Computer Operational Language: Incidental Vocabulary Acquisition Through Computer Tasks Unrelated to Language Learning

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Incidental vocabulary acquisition has often been defined as “the learning of one thing, e.g. vocabulary, when the learner’s primary objective is to do something else, e.g. to communicate” (Laufer and Hulstijn 2014: 10). Given this definition, how will vocabulary be acquired when the primary objective is not to communicate, or not even related to language at all? For example, a learner wants to upload pictures to Facebook, but all the toolbars and menus on his computer are in Russian. Will he acquire Russian vocabulary as he completes his non-communicative task?

Frequency also plays an important role in learning vocabulary. Today’s learners are considered very technologically savvy and use computers constantly in their everyday life. If these computers are set to a foreign language, we can conclude that this heavy usage will promote digital literacy in the L2 and force students to be more independent and motivated learners, thus increasing learner autonomy. Moreover, once a computer’s operational language has been changed, most programs will automatically switch into this language; thus Safari will display Google Maps in the L2, iTunes will organize music according to the L2’s alphabet (i.e. Cyrillic versus Latin), and using Skype will give a new perspective on “international” communication. Social media, whether it’s Facebook or a “local” alternative (such as Russia’s VKontakte), can also be set to the L2, if it doesn’t automatically switch once the operational language has been changed. Using social media in the L2 will promote learner autonomy, and can provide motivation for extending traditional learning practices.

This paper explores the theory behind incidental vocabulary acquisition and how it interacts with technology to expand today’s classrooms and learning environments into a more learner-centered, autonomous process. It also examines the possibilities for other learner achievements associated with changing a computer’s operational language to the L2.


Margaret Godwin-Jones

Pyatigorsk State Linguistic University

Wednesday August 12, 2015 4:35pm - 5:00pm EDT
Barker 133 (Plimpton) 12 Quincy St, Cambridge, MA