The Effect of Mediated Glosses on Vocabulary Retention and Reading Comprehension with English Language Learners in Saudi Arabia

Mansour Hussain Al Ghafli, Ph.D., The University of Kansas, 2011.


This study investigated the effectiveness of mediated glosses for understanding technical terms with foreign language learners. Previous research has found that online glosses improve information access, comprehension, vocabulary retention, and efficiency. Pavio’s dual coding theory and Mayer’s generative theory both posit that learning should improve when multiple coding systems are engaged through different media representations.

An expert panel in petroleum engineering identified critical technical terms (e.g. compress, velocity, and permeable). The designers then used an iterative process to refine definitions, pictures, and animations in developing three gloss conditions. For condition 1 (audio and text), the term was written in English and Arabic, pronounced in English and defined in English. Condition 2 (audio, text and picture) had condition 1 features with a picture. Condition 3 (audio, text and animation) had condition 1 features with an animation.

Participants were 222, 18-24 year-old male native Arabic speakers enrolled in petroleum engineering courses. Three groups under three gloss conditions read an online story in English with 50 glossed words, and completed a 22-item multiple-choice comprehension test. The three groups then reviewed 59 glossed terms without the story, and completed a vocabulary test immediately following and two weeks later. Demographic and attitude questionnaires were administered.

Results found that, when controlling for language ability, those who received audio, text, and picture glosses (M=9.72) had higher comprehension scores than the text-based group (M=8.35), F (2,218) =3.07, p<.05. Those who received the audio, text, and picture gloss (M=3.88) agreed that “Online texts are better than paper-based texts” more than the audio and text group (M=3.41); F (2,216) =3.10, p<.05. There was a positive relationship between students’ language-learning anxiety and reading comprehension (r=.203, p<.05), immediate vocabulary test (r=.229, p<.05), and delayed vocabulary test (r=.207, p<.05). Moderate anxiety levels seem to facilitate language learning.

Online glosses with dynamic pictures were found to be more effective in supporting comprehension and were rated higher than text-based glosses. The design process revealed that pictorial and animated representations should include negative and positive examples. Dynamic pictures may often be as effective as animations. Further mediated gloss research with more advanced language learners is warranted.