1 Imam Khomeini International University, Islamic Republic of Iran
2 Islamic Azad University, Takestan Branch, Islamic Republic of Iran
The present study investigated the effects of three methods of vocabulary presentation, i.e.,
picture, song, and the keyword method on Iranian EFL learners' vocabulary recognition and
production. The participants were 102 Iranian lower-intermediate EFL learners in Zaban Sara
English language institute in Kermanshah. To make sure that they had no previous knowledge of
the target words, a pretest was administered. Those words about which the participants had prior
knowledge were excluded from instruction. After administering the pretest, the participants were
divided into three groups. Each group was instructed through a specified method of vocabulary
presentation including picture, song, and the keyword method for a whole semester. The
participants' receptive vocabulary knowledge was tested through a multiple-choice test and their
productive vocabulary knowledge through a fill-in-the blank test. The collected data were
analyzed using two separate one-way ANOVA procedures. The results of both tests showed that
the group instructed through picture had the best performance, followed closely by the group
instructed through the keyword method. The group taught through the song method performed
significantly worse than both the picture group and the keyword method group.
Knowledge of vocabulary plays a significant
role in almost all domains of language
pedagogy (Alavi & Akbarian, 2008).
Research justifies the fact that vocabulary is
a sine qua non of reading (Nassaji, 2003),
writing (Laufer & Nation, 1995; Lee, 2003;
Leki & Carson, 1994), and speaking (Joe,
1998). Thanks to decades of research in the
realm of vocabulary acquisition, even novice
teachers are well aware of the centrality of
vocabulary to language acquisition process.
However, most of the teachers act as
vocabulary acquisition gardeners; they try to
grow the learners' vocabulary flower to such
an extent that they are able to identify the
meaning of words in a multiple-choice test.
They neglect to take a multi-faceted view of
vocabulary knowledge. As Lee (2003)
contends, word knowledge is formed along a
continuum, from reception to production,
consisting of the following stages: "see the
word, hear the word, understand the word,
say the word and use the word in the
context" (p. 540). In terms of the learner's
ability to recognize or produce words
correctly in the context, there exists a
hierarchy of vocabulary skills; that is,
learners have a great difficulty in producing
words, which they can recognize easily
(Laufer & Goldstein, 2004).
According to Melka (1997), one's approach
to vocabulary teaching should be based on
the learners' requirements of vocabulary
recognition and production. Since the
learners' greatest difficulty is in producing
the words, a language teacher should choose
the method that has the greatest effect on
vocabulary production. In spite of its
significance, the issue concerning the effect
of methods of vocabulary presentation on
the learners' productive knowledge of words
has not received rightfully deserved
attention in research areas. Although there
have been an increasing number of studies
on vocabulary recognition and production in
the last decade, only few of them have
attempted to investigate the influence of
methods of vocabulary presentation on the
development of these two aspects of
vocabulary knowledge. The major focus of
most of these studies has been either
estimating the receptive and productive
vocabulary knowledge or determining which
one precedes the other in the process of
vocabulary acquisition (Webb, 2005). This
tells us about the discrepancy between
receptive and productive mastery of words,
but does not provide much help as to how to
decrease this distance. Our field now is in a
sore need of studies that investigate and
shed some light on the ways to promote
learners' partial knowledge of words to the
higher and more advanced levels of
vocabulary production. In response to this
need, the present study aims to address the
following research questions:
1. Are the any significant differences
among the effects of song, picture
and the Keyword Method on Iranian
learners' vocabulary recognition?
2. Are the any significant differences
among the effects of song, picture
and the Keyword Method on Iranian
learners' vocabulary production?
Review of the related literature
Since vocabulary has a tremendous effect on
students’ proficiency and their production
and comprehension of language (Gathercole,
2006), it can be claimed that “learning a
second language means learning its
vocabulary” (Gass, 1999, p. 325). Studies on
the essential issues in the realm of
vocabulary take into account the learners,
the words, and the teacher (Folse, 2006).
Research concerning the learners, focuses on
the strategies that they employ in learning
vocabulary (Gu, 2003; Kojic–Sabo &
Lightbown, 1999; Nassaji, 2003); the way in
which they make gains in knowledge of
vocabulary (Ellis, 1995; Laufer, 1998;
Laufer & Paribakht, 1998); and their
differences regarding the acquisition of
second language vocabulary (Bauer,
Goldfield, & Reznick, 2002; Speciale, Ellis,
& Bywater, 2004). There are also studies
that investigate the kind of words that
second language learners have to know (Liu,
2003). Furthermore, studies related to
vocabulary teaching investigate the effect of
different types of exercise (e.g., Folse, 2006)
and different methods of vocabulary
presentation on the vocabulary learning
(Brown & Perry, 1991; Zimmerman, 1997).
The present study investigates the effect of
methods of vocabulary presentation on
vocabulary recognition and production of
Iranian EFL learners. For setting the stage,
one needs to know how recognition and
production of a word are defined in these
studies. Gu (2003) specifies two dimensions
of knowing a word: knowledge dimension
and skill dimension. The knowledge
dimension is the learner’s ability within the
scope of recognition and knowing its form
and meaning, while the skill dimension is
related to the learner’s dexterity to use the
word correctly in context, in terms of not
only form, but also meaning and usage.
Laufer and Paribakht (1998) make use of the
terms 'passive' and 'active' to refer to the
recognition and production aspects of
vocabulary knowledge, respectively.
According to Oxford and Scarcella (1994),
knowledge of L2 word is not limited to its
recognition; it can break through the barrier
of recognition, take wings and fly to the
higher level of vocabulary use in an
appropriate context with the aim of
meaningful negotiation. According to
Henriksen (1999), drawing a fine line
between receptive and productive
vocabulary is beyond the realm of
possibility because these two aspects of
vocabulary knowledge lie along a
continuum rather than within a dichotomy.
He contends that lexical competence has
three dimensions: the first dimension is
partial to precise knowledge. The second
dimension is depth of knowledge, and the
third one is receptive to productive use
ability. In terms of the learner’s ability to
recognize or produce words correctly in
context, there exist a hierarchy of
vocabulary skills which has been supported
in a study conducted by Laufer and
Goldstein (2004). The results of their study
showed that learners have great difficulty in
producing words that they can recognize
easily. In another study carried out by
Laufer (1988), it was confirmed that the
extent learners make gains in productive
knowledge of vocabulary is much less than
their gains in receptive knowledge.
Similarly, Lee (2003) believes that the
ability to produce vocabulary in context is
much more complex and usually lags behind
The keyword method
According to Shapiro and Waters (2005),
one of the mnemonic techniques that can
facilitate learning foreign vocabulary, is the
keyword method (KWM). Keyword is a
native language word that is similar in sound
or appearance to the foreign language word;
it plays a key role as a retrieval cue (Hell &
Mahn, 1997). Indeed, the keyword must
have two major features: first, it should be
familiar to the students; and second, it
should be selected based on the acoustic
resemblance to the target word (Avila &
The keyword method has two stages: The
first stage is called the acoustic link in which
the learner selects an appropriate keyword
and learns how to create an association or
acoustic link between the keyword and the
new foreign language word. The second
stage is called the imagery link, in which the
learner develops an interactive image, which
involves the keyword and the meaning of
the foreign language word.
As noted by Richards and Schmidt (2002),
working memory involves two systems for
storing information: the articulatory loop,
responsible for storing verbal information
and visuospatial sketchpad, responsible for
storing visual information. As Shapiro and
Waters (2005) contend, the keyword method
can render the visuospatial sketchpad (visual
memory) strong by the interactive images,
which associate the keyword with the
definition of the foreign language word.
Indeed, the strength of the visual memory is
the result of the nature of visual stimuli,
which lead to a better retention than other
kinds of stimuli. That is why we remember
concrete words much better than the abstract
words that cannot be imaged. To corroborate
this, Shapiro and Waters (2005) investigated
the effect of visual imagery on the retention
of words and on the effectiveness of the
keyword method. Results indicated that the
effectiveness of the keyword method was
less for the low-imagery words than for the
high-imagery ones: the degree of retention
for high-imagery words was 79% and only
14% for low-imagery ones. In another study
by Hell and Mahn (1997), the degree of the
keyword method’s effectiveness for teaching
abstract words was examined. Results
indicated that participants were able to recall
concrete words much better and faster than
abstract ones. Lawson and Hogben (1998)
investigated the effectiveness of the
keyword method for learning abstract nouns.
The keyword method proved to be more
effective for learning concrete words.
The keyword method is an efficient
technique for vocabulary learning (Wyra,
Lawson, & Hongi, 2007). For those learners
who have little or no experience in learning
a particular foreign language, it is an
influential and effective method for the
intentional learning of vocabulary (Lawson
& Hogben, 1998). In a study conducted by
Taguchi (2006), the keyword method was
shown to be beneficial for older learners in
their endeavor to learn foreign language
vocabulary. Avila and Sadoski (1996)
reported similar results. Richmond,
Cummings, and Klapp (2008) investigated
the transferability of the keyword method
for studying new and familiar content in
comparison to other mnemonic techniques
(i.e., loci, pegword) and free study. Findings
showed that the keyword method was the
most transferable technique for studying
similar and dissimilar content.
There are also studies showing that the
keyword method does not have a beneficial
effect on vocabulary acquisition, especially
on vocabulary production. The general
conclusion of the study by Carney and Levin
(1998) is that the long-term effects of the
keyword method are not as strong as the
immediate effects. As Richards (1976)
contends, the main aim of the keyword
method is the retention of vocabulary.
However, the long-term process of
vocabulary learning is beyond the retention
of the word. In fact, it also includes the
production of a word in a natural context, an
aim that will not be achieved through the
Picture and its significance in vocabulary
recognition and production
For setting the tone for our discussion of
picture and its significance in pedagogy, it is
necessary to know the meaning of the visual
literacy (VL). Visual literacy (VL) has been
defined as the use of visible or mental
visuals for learning, communication,
conveying meaning, and having aesthetic
effect (Avgerinou & Ericson, 1997). Based
on this definition, picture is included within
the scope of visible visuals. According to
Avgerinou and Ericson (1997), the concept
of image decoding is of great significance in
visual literacy. There is a positive
relationship between visual and verbal
learning. According to Bush (2007), picture
is an easy way for simultaneous attention to
the building blocks of second language
learning. Using picture for presenting new
vocabulary has been a fundamental principle
in many methods in TEFL or TESL
(Richards & Rodgers, 2001). For example,
in direct method, it is believed that there
should be a direct association between form
and meaning. According to Doff (1988),
demonstration is direct, interesting, and
makes an impression on the class. As
Shapiro and Waters (2005) hold, “it is well
documented within the cognitive literature
that visual stimuli create very strong
memories” (p. 131). Similarly, Richards and
Rodgers (2001, pp. 81-86) believe that the
visual aids are associative mediators that can
show the relationships between form and
meaning and contribute to learning and
recall of new words. As a technique of
second language vocabulary acquisition,
word-picture activities can form a mental
link at the early stages of second language
learning, especially if it is created by the
students themselves (Sokmen, 1997). Lewis
and Hill (1985) also contend that presenting
new vocabulary by visual aids both clarify
the meaning of the word and fix the word in
the learners’ mind.
In an action research carried out by Hopkins
and Bean (1999), the effect of verbal-visual
word association strategy on vocabulary
learning was investigated. Results showed
that this strategy could contribute to the
conceptualization of vocabulary knowledge
in an observable form. In another study
conducted by Tonzar, Lotto, and Job (2009),
the effect of picture-learning and word-mediated learning on the students'
vocabulary development was examined. The
results indicated that picture-learning
method was more effective than word-mediated method.
Poetry and its significance in vocabulary
recognition and production
Poems and songs have pedagogic value in
language teaching. As Richards (1969)
contends, singing a song can be pleasing for
children because it changes the pace of the
classroom and renders the experience of
language learning enjoyable. Since music
helps learners to unlock their imagination, it
can change their mood as well. In addition,
when students repeat the lines of a poem in a
choral mode, their anxiety will lower (Mora,
2000). According to Moradan (2006),
because of the musical rhythm and rhyme of
the poem, it has an auditory effect.
Widdowson (2003) mentions another
pedagogic property of music, that is,
repetition; a purposeful repetition can
guarantee successful learning. According to
Medina (1990), music and memory are
interwoven and that the recall of the
meaningful information is stronger than that
of less meaningful information and even
stronger for verbal information learned
through song and music. Hess (2003)
considers vocabulary acquisition through
music to be a four-step process:
understanding the word, learning how to
pronounce the word, learning how to spell it,
and learning how to use vocabulary in
sentences. Hanauer (2001) offers a coding
system that describes the kinds of response
which are elicited when reading a poem.
Based on the coding system, initially the
reader’s attention is on the linguistic data
and their interpretation according to which
he can construct meaning, and then on the
cultural issues (cultural awareness). Song
can be considered as a means of incidental
learning of vocabulary, the features of which
are the same as the features of oral story.
The result of the study conducted by Medina
(1990) showed that the amount of
vocabulary acquisition through either song
or picture is higher than the usual practices
and the highest when these two are
As Webb (2005) contends, little research has
been conducted to investigate both
productive and receptive knowledge in a
single study. It is the purpose of the present
study, therefore, to investigate the effect of
three techniques of vocabulary presentation
on both productive and receptive knowledge
The sample of the present study consisted of
102 Iranian lower-intermediate EFL learners
in Zaban sara English language institute of
Kermanshah. 77 participants were male and
25 were female. They had learnt English
within the same established framework, in
the same context, had studied the same
course books, and had been assessed against
the same measurement standards. Therefore,
all of the participants were the same in terms
of educational and language background.
They were divided into three groups in
which new words were presented through
songs, pictures, and the keyword method.
The following data collection instruments
were utilized in the present study:
A. Pretest: To make sure that the
participants had no previous knowledge of
the words to be taught, and based on the
assumption that they might know the
meaning of some words prior to instruction,
a pretest was administered. It included all
the words to be taught during the instruction.
Participants were given the words in context
and were required to write the L1 translation
of each word. It had 70 items.
B. Receptive word knowledge (R) test: to
measure the participants' vocabulary
recognition, a 40-item multiple-choice test
was used in which the students were
required to choose the best choice that
completed each sentence. The test was
assumed to be valid since the content of the
test corresponded to the content of the
materials which had been covered in
instructional sessions. The reliability of the
test was estimated through KR-21 method,
which turned out to be .78.
C. Controlled Productive word knowledge
(p) test: to measure students' productive
knowledge of words after instruction, a 4-item fill-in-the blank test was devised and
used, which prompted the participants to
produce the target words and complete the
sentences. In addition, the definition of
words or the initial letter of the target words
were provided which led students to the best
answer. Like the recognition test, it was
assumed that the test was content-valid. The
reliability of the test, estimated through KR-21 method, turned out to be .69.
The following materials were also used:
Popular Songs and Nursery rhymes: In this
study, the song group participants were
presented with new words through 13 songs.
In each session, one song with musical
effect was used by the teacher; each song
included at least four new words (appendix
Pictures: The Picture group participants
were presented with new words through
pictures. Attempt was made to choose the
best and clearest pictures in which the focus
was on the new words only. For participants
to be familiar with the spelling of the words,
it was considered appropriate to write the
word on each picture (Appendix B).
Persian keywords and visual image: The
keyword group participants received new
words through 52 Persian keywords and
their visual representations, drawn by the
researchers (Appendix C).
Having selected the participants, to
minimize the effect of the participants' prior
knowledge of the target words, the pretest
was administered. Those words about which
students had prior knowledge were excluded
from the posttests. Each group of
participants was randomly assigned to one
of the three experimental conditions: In one
group (no. 30), the new words were
presented through songs: in thirteen
sessions, thirteen songs, each including at
least four new words were presented. The
main methodology applied for teaching
songs was repetition. The song was repeated
several times. Initially, the teacher sang the
song and the participants just listened. Then,
the participants repeated the song after the
teacher. Finally, the participants sang the
song together, and then individually. In the
second group (no. 25), the instruction of
new words was through pictures: in thirteen
sessions, fifty two (52) pictures were
covered. In the third group (no. 47), the new
words were presented through the keyword
method, during which the teacher wrote each
word on the board, wrote its Persian
keyword in front of it, drew participants'
attention to the picture including the
keyword and the meaning of new words and
then repeated it several times. At the end of
the instruction, the participants’ receptive
vocabulary knowledge was tested through a
multiple-choice test and their productive
vocabulary knowledge through a fill-in-the
The first research question
The first research question sought to
investigate which method of vocabulary
presentation is most conducive to the
learners' vocabulary recognition. To this
end, an ANOVA procedure was used.
Descriptive and test statistics for the
ANOVA on vocabulary recognition is
presented in Table 1.
Based on the results in Table 1, the group
instructed through picture has the highest
mean, followed closely by the group
instructed through keyword method. The
group instructed through song has the lowest
mean which is noticeably lower than that of
the other groups. Moreover, The F value and
the significance level show there are
statistically significant differences among
the three groups. Therefore, it can be
concluded that different methods of
vocabulary presentation have a significant
effect on the learners' vocabulary
recognition. To locate the differences, a
post-hoc comparison (Scheffe' test) was
used, results of which appear in Table 2.
Table 2 indicates that although the
difference between the keyword method and
picture groups is not statistically significant,
they are both significantly better than the
group instructed through song.
The second research question
The second research question sought to
investigate which method of vocabulary
presentation yields better results in
improving learners' productive knowledge.
To his end, another ANOVA was used, the
results of which are presented in Table 3.
Based on the results, it is evident that the
differences among the three groups are
statistically significant. To locate the
differences between the means, a post–hoc
Scheffe' test was used. The results appear in
Table 4 shows that the difference between
the keyword method and picture groups is
not statistically significant. However, they
are both significantly better than the group
instructed through song.
The results of the present study indicate that
the keyword method had a significant effect
on both vocabulary recognition and
production, compared with song. This
finding is in accordance with many previous
studies which compare the keyword method
with the usual vocabulary learning strategies
(such as Lawson & Hogben, 1998), with
direct translation (such as Avila & Sadoski,
1996), with other mnemonic techniques,
including loci, pegword, etc. as well as with
free study (such as Richmond, et. al, 2008).
In addition, the finding is in line with the
study conducted by Taguchi (2006), which
indicated that the keyword method was
beneficial for the productive mode of
On the contrary, there are studies which
show that the productive knowledge of
words cannot be achieved through the
keyword method (Carney & Levin, 1998;
Richard, 1976). However, as it was
mentioned, the result of the present study
indicates the beneficial effect of the
keyword method on the subjects' productive
knowledge of words. Different factors seem
to have contributed to the high performance
of the participants. From the psychological
and cognitive points of view, the
effectiveness of the keyword method is a
function of providing visual imagery.
According to Shapiro and Waters (2005),
through providing interactive images, the
keyword method provides visual stimuli
which lead to the better retention than other
kinds of stimuli. Therefore, it is the nature of
the visual stimuli that enable the keyword
method to strengthen the visuo-spatial
Another factor is a kind of prerequisite for
the meaningful learning which is provided
by the creation of links between the new
information and the subjects' schemata.
According to Lawson (2005), this factor is
one of the most beneficial factors which lead
to the success of the keyword method in
vocabulary acquisition. In addition, from the
practical point of view, in this study the
optimal conditions for the use of the
keyword method in second language
learning were met. For example, using the
keyword method for teaching concrete
words (according to the studies conducted
by Shapiro & Walters’s (2005), Hell &
Mahn (1997), and Lawson & Hogben
(1998)), using the keyword method for
inexperienced EFL learners (Hell & Mahn,
Another finding of this study was that the
students instructed through picture had the
best performance in both vocabulary
recognition and production. This is in
accordance with such studies as Bush
(2007), Avgerinou and Ericson (1997), and
Hopkins and Bean (1999). The results are
also in line with studies that compared the
effect of picture on the students' vocabulary
knowledge with explanation and translation
(Lewis & Hill, 1985) and with word-mediated learning method or translation of
the new words in L1 (Tonzar, et al., 2009).
From the theoretical and psychological
points of view, three major factors seem to
have contributed to the better performance
of the participants instructed through
picture. The first explanation is that picture
provides a direct association between form
and meaning and acts as an associative
mediator (Richards & Rodgers, 2001). As a
second explanation, the order of vocabulary
acquisition through picture is similar to that
of one's mother tongue, especially if the
picture is created by the learner
himself/herself. Another factor may have
been the physical foci provided by the visual
image. Indeed, picture highlights a particular
word through associating it with a
memorable image and therefore creates very
strong memories and facilitates student
recall (Doff, 1988; Shapiro & Waters, 2005;
Richards & Rodgers, 2001).
The present study also showed that the
group who learned new words through song
had a considerably lower mean than the
picture and the keyword method groups. The
lower achievement of the learners instructed
through song may be attributed to cognitive
and practical factors. From the cognitive
point of view, when listening to the songs
and nursery rhymes, one's attention may be
directed towards the whole picture rather
than the elements that comprise that whole.
Indeed, it could be the case of not seeing the
trees for the forest, in which you get the
main idea and do not see the small details,
such as the vocabulary. In addition, since the
language of song is conveyed through the
musical devices and because of such
features as rhythm and rhyme, such
purposes as vocabulary learning may take a
low priority. From the practical and cultural
points of view, songs are not widely used in
our language learning classrooms as a
vocabulary learning instrument. Therefore,
people are not accustomed to listening to
music in order to learn vocabulary. In
addition, English nursery rhymes may not be
culturally suitable for the Iranian context.
Based on the findings of the present study, it
can be concluded that of the three techniques
of vocabulary presentation, the ones that
involve the simultaneous presentation of
verbal and visual information (picture and
the KWM) are superior to the one that
presents verbal information in a rhythmic
manner (song) in both vocabulary
recognition and production. This finding can
have both theoretical and practical
implications for syllabus designers and
teachers. Theoretically, it may help resolve
part of the controversy surrounding the issue
of (the extent of) the use of the mother
tongue in L2 teaching since the KWM
involves the incorporation of the L1 words
in L2 lexical learning. The finding may also
lend further support to the dual coded theory
wherein it is claimed that receiving
information through more than one channel
(here verbal and visual) facilitates learning.
With regard to practice, a clearer
understanding of the kind and nature of the
effect of each of the three techniques on
vocabulary recognition and production can
help teachers and syllabus designers make
more informed decisions as to how to deal
with words at the level of course book
development as well as classroom
presentation. Syllabus designers, for
instance, may choose to allocate a greater
space in their course books to the pictorial
presentation of the lexical items, or design
special vocabulary course books to teach
vocabulary to learners with specific L1
backgrounds, thus making it possible to
associate L2 lexical items with L1 words.
This, of course, entails a more thorough
investigation into the factors under
consideration here as well as others factors
which may directly or indirectly relate to
those studied here. For instance, the age of
the learners, their proficiency level, the
learning styles and preferences as well as the
orientation (visual versus verbal orientation)
of learners may all prove to be determining
factors in the effectiveness of the variables
investigated here. This study only scratches
the surface of the issue, but hopes to arouse
enthusiasm in interested researcher to carry
out further research in this area.
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